Thursday, April 22, 2010

Please Visit my New Site

Thank you for visiting me here...
However, I have a new home for my blog and many other things. Please visit me there at

I look forward to hearing from you!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Drum Circle

The ostinato starts

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

I nod to the group
and slowly they come in
Some mimic my rhythm
others add their own

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

someone shakes maracas
another scrapes the sand
one clicks on the claves
another taps the bells in her hand

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

comes out of nowhere
but it seems to fit right in
eggs shshshshshshake
alllllllll along

ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta


ta, ta, ti-ti, ta
ta, ta, ti-ti, ta

Then slowly 4
But steady 3
Preparing 2

The silence now is deafening
And we are satisfied
Want more?

Ostinato - a short rhythm that is perpetually repeated throughout a piece of music. Here, it serves as the structure in which others have the freedom to play.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Erosion Blues

This past week, my students and I had a great experience as we created a makeshift recording studio in our school and recorded an original piece of music: The Erosion Blues.

It is a great example of integration, collaboration and freedom in structure.

The blues was meant to be a culminating project for our unit on Land and Water which focuses on erosion. Students were to explain a type of erosion (water, wind or ice) and use some content vocabulary to show they know the meaning of the words.

Collaboration: The music teacher taught the students the form of the 12 bar blues in music class. In fact, nearly all the students are able to play the structure on xylophones (Orff Instruments) and some were even taught it on recorder. In our recording, you only hear piano and vocals, but there may be an opportunity for the kids to lay down another track or two at their next music class!

Freedom in Structure:
The 12 bar blues creates one structure in which we sung our lyrics, but there is another structure that helped focus the small groups of 3-4 students to compose the lyrics. They follow a simple AAB form which means there is a line of lyrics (A) that is repeated (A) and then a different set of lyrics (B) completes a verse. The ends of lines A and B rhyme. For example:
A - Rivers can erode rocks, mountains and canyons wear away.
A - Rivers can erode rocks, mountains and canyons wear away.
B - It still erodes, no matter what you say!

The After Effects:
I asked my students to reflect on their experiences as we drafted, practiced and recorded our blues song. Here are some of their words:
"I thought it was fun because everyone had a lot of enery and was able to share it."
"It made me feel special...made me feel musical and unique."
"It was fun because when we sang the chorus, everybody was singing."
"I want to do something like this again. The blues is fun."

My students, in general, are excited about the blues. In fact I have two girls who are actively writing their own blues lyrics. One is completed and posted here and the other girl is presently writing her own "Moving Blues" about her family's move to another house.

This lesson transitioned me from our TIC focus last month in "Creating Community" to this month's "Freedom in Structure". It was one of those experiences that fed off of my talents and those of my students: from the students volunteering to sing out loud to the boys in charge of the recording device (my netbook powered by Audacity). The smiles were big and the excitement was contagious. There was a lot of inspiring going on!

Here are all the links you may be interested in. Please check them out and leave your comments. I will share them all with my class.

Other posts in reference to this project:
Musical Experiences - Composing in the Classroom

Balancing Testing with Creativity

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What is Freedom in Structure

Freedom in structure is something we can give our students, our children, ourselves and others. It is laying the foundation and allowing for creativity.

As a parent, I know that I’m supposed to set the ground rules for my kids, that children NEED structure, WANT structure. (That’s what all the books and online articles say.) But I know that the structure I give them does not stifle them, instead it gives them the boundaries they need in order to explore.

So is true for our students at school and I’m not just talking about the school or classroom rules, I’m talking about how we teach: the lessons and activities we do with our students as well as our philosophy in teaching.

This month, I will explore they ways in which I do this, where I fall short and how it benefits me as a teacher and my students as learners.

  • What activities do I do to practice this skill?

  • Is it beneficial or practical in today’s society?

  • What foundations do I lay down for my students?

  • What foundations are there for me?

  • Is there too much structure for my students? For me? Too little?

I’m excited to begin this series and ask you to participate by adding comments, ideas, activities or submitting your own blog or article.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Effects of Quality community Building

Shared experiences are what bond a group together. Whether the group is taking a nature walk, creating art, or sharing personal reflections about music or literature, it is all part of the process we need to share with our students. I believe that these experiences can all be linked to and integrated into the curriculum you teach.

But it is also true that you don’t have to justify everything you do by attaching a standard or strand to it. In fact, just last week, my principal emailed the staff saying this would be a good time of year to take some time and revisit those community building experiences. Sharing experiences and building community can and should be done just to be done. It creates that safe learning environment you want in your room and with your students. It allows students to share their work, ideas and plans more openly with you. And building community is a skill our students will need for the rest of their lives.

One year, I had a second grade class who truly loved our daily listening time during snack. We listened, reflected and shared every day. Students talked about the music freely and after a while, even spoke about it in their free time to one another.

“I liked your idea about how Beethoven must have really felt sad and angry at the same time when he composed that piece of music,” I heard a girl say to another one day at recess. It was then that I had that “great teacher feeling”. What I was doing was working! Those students were connecting on a new level. They felt comfortable talking with one another even outside of our Active Listening time in class.

That year I also got a great compliment about my class during field day. “Your kids work really well together,” said a parent volunteer in charge of one of the stations. “They have great communication and really look around to see what and who is where.” That made me beam!

Of course this hasn’t happened every year and I probably can’t attribute all that great teamwork to actively listening to music each day. BUT I know that those times, those experiences we shared were real and they surely contributed to a sense of community.

So, as I finish this series for the month, what have I learned? Here is a list:
• Take the time to create experiences.
• Start early in the year.
• Continue throughout the year.
• Be spontaneous sometimes.
• Keep in mind the life skills that are being taught!

It's All About Experiences

Community building in the educational profession is important for teachers, students, administration, staff, parents and the whole community. This month, I have enjoyed reflecting about how I try to build community in my classroom with my students. In the future months, the topic of community will certainly be further explored.

What I have discovered and rediscovered is that the biggest part of building community is in creating experiences with your students. When I stop and take time and really DO something with my class, the benefits are nearly immediate. We smile together, laugh together, realize things together but mostly we share – share a common experience with one another. It’s a beautiful thing…

Just yesterday, I was able to share a great experience with my class as we continued to write our Erosion Blues. There I was playing the piano as groups of students came by and started singing the lyrics they had written. As I looked up, I saw the rest of my class singing along, tapping their feet, moving and dancing - PURE JOY! Wow! That will be a memory for all of us.

I know a second grade teacher who is not afraid to bring her students outside during the school day. No worries about not sticking closely to the plan for the day, because she knows how much her students will get out of an outside experience. This is not a teacher who one would call aloof, her feet are firmly set and she is very serious about education. The thing is that she is certain that her students will benefit from a common experience and from that experience she shapes ways for her students to learn. They learn about nature and about the value of getting inspired by something. Oftentimes their experiences are what prompt them to write - to really write from the heart and gut.

When we have a true experience, then we can really learn more about ourselves and others. And that’s one thing that can really help build community!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

You Can Learn a lot from A Slinky

Every month I give my students a little gift that reminds them of the value we study for the month. For example, in December we focus on determination and I give the students chomping teeth to illustrate tenacity.

This month, our focus is on patience and, quite honestly I wasn't sure what to get them. I came across some toy Slinkies that I had bought a few weeks back and figured I could use them even though I wasn't sure how to tie it in with patience.

First, I decided to make them wait for it. I didn't give it to them until later in the month, and then I thought it would make a cute gift to give on their first day of MCAS, our high stakes test.

I put one slinky on each desk as I prepared the room for the day. The kids were so excited to see them! "Slinky!" they exclaimed as they ripped them out of the plastic. It wasn't long before they discovered that these (cheap) toys didn't work right away... you had to pry them apart to make them slink. Another bonus for having them during our patience month!

Before I asked the students to put the Slinkies in their desks, we talked a little bit about the plastic toys and I worked in additional links to patience.

"These Slinkies are here to remind us to be patient during this testing process. Be patient with me as I read instructions, be patient with others around you and most importantly, be patient with yourselves as you work and write. We are in no rush!"

Then it was time to get up and stretch before we began. We all stood, many students with their Slinkies, and stretched. After sitting back down, I reviewed with the students how to stretch at their seats and when they feel overwhelmed to do a small stretch break before getting back to work.

As I looked around the room, I saw so many kids stretching their Slinkies. So I said, "Be like your Slinky today. Stretch when you need to, and then put yourself back together and smile."

Many of them stretched their Slinky, compressed it and smiled at the smiley face printed on the toy. It was cute and it made me smile.

"See, you can learn a lot from a Slinky," I said, "Now put them in your desk where you know they will be and let's begin!"

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Balancing Testing with Creativity

Our MCAS test begins today. Three days of testing in ELA (English Language Arts). Today, students are asked to write a personal narrative and the other two days, students will be given all other means of ELA testing: reading selections, multiple choice, essay response (open response), grammar, conventions, etc.

I do agree with these types of tests. That is, I do agree that students need to be proficient in these skills. However, the approach and the stress on these scores, I do not, but that’s another blog, another day. These tests are a reality for me and teachers across the country and it is during this time that we need to get into high gear as teachers and help our students balance themselves and their minds with some time for fresh air and creativity.

This is also a great time to build community in my classroom. Not only are we “in this together” as we prepare for and take the test, but the activities I choose to do when not testing this week can be crucial to community building.

One activity I will be doing is having students move before testing, during breaks and after testing. And by moving I mean having the students do a combination of aerobics, sports drills, dance and Tae Bo moves I’ve learned along the way. This is fun for me too! I get to do everything from “high knees” to plies in the classroom with my students. It gets our blood pumping and helps us to refocus. (BTW – a tip I’ve learned is to have students move their limbs across their bodies for the best “brain wake up”.)

In the afternoons this week, I will also be working with my class to compose some music! We will be writing the Erosion Blues as a culminating project for our unit on land and water. Integrating with our music teacher has helped prepare the kids for this composition experience.

We already began yesterday morning by taking time to listen to some blues music together, discovering how blues lyrics are written (A,A,B) and starting to write our lyrics to fit the form. The kids are excited about this, especially at the idea that we will (hopefully) have a completed song to record by the end of the week…maybe even with instruments!

Taking this time throughout the week to work on things collaboratively will help us to balance out the severity of the test and more importantly, will help us to bond as we create something new together.

For more about the blues project, visit Composing in the Classroom.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reflections on Beat Night – Poetic Experiences

This past Thursday a group of teachers took their third field trip organized by The Inspired Classroom. We attended Beat Night at the Press Room in Portsmouth, NH. What fun! It was a great night of relaxin', groovin' and inspirin'.

The evening began with an hour of featured poets reciting their original poems. There they stood, poets of all ages and backgrounds sharing their experiences with us - unhinged, unrated, truthful and full of life. They spoke of love and pain, emotion and faith. And all this was recited to the backdrop of live, improvisational music. The poets asked for a certain feel and the musicians started to play, laying out the landscape on which the lyrics of the poems rested.

The second hour was open mic and those who felt it, signed up to recite a poem with or without the band. I, knowing I would regret it if I didn’t, decided to put my name down before I lost my nerve. Ayanna Gallant, the hostess of the night (and guest blogger on TIC) introduced the readers one by one and they got up to read.

One poet was a former student of mine who gave an emotional poem about a tragic childhood experience. And in the end of the poem we heard her be at peace. It was beautiful and poetic, it sucked me in to her experience and emotional past. Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how poetry must have been a healing agent for her and how fortunate for me to have been able to witness this beautiful young lady share this part of her with all of us.

A couple of poets later, it was my turn. Once introduced, I got up to the mic, asking the band leader, Larry Simon to play something rhythmic and sultry with lots of drums. He instructed the rest of the band and the music started to play…

It was like magic how my words melted together with the music. We complimented each other with each nuance of melody and lyric. The words poured out my mouth like satin and I was entranced in the moment created by the sounds all around me.

It was a great experience and I’m glad it was captured on video, or at least you can hear the audio.
Later, as I listened to the performance and remembered the experience, it got me thinking.

Why don’t we do things like this more often? Be creative, share our experiences and build community through these art forms in true, raw, and meaningful ways? For me, reading my poem was pure enjoyment, a thrill, but for others it can be a way to get a message out, to tell a story or act as therapy for their soul.

Why don't we ask students to do this more - write from their experiences, from the gut!?

Another teacher near us had some of his high school students there. Two were being featured that night. HE allows for this in his classroom. He inspires his students to write gutsy poetry that means something real for them in their lives.

We need to do more of this for our children and for ourselves. I am thankful for these field trips. They have helped me to stay inspired in my own teaching so that I can inspire my students!

Next month is jazz and poetry month. What a great excuse to use to try out some poetry writing with my students.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Musical Experiences – Listening in the Classroom

Listening to music with your students can be a huge community builder. AND it is something that nearly any teacher can do in his or her classroom. (Even I can do it working in an open concept school!)

It’s a simple concept, really: to listen to music each day with your students. It can be ANY music: classical, jazz, rock, music you love! When you take the time to listen to music together as a group many things can happen.

  • You share an experience together.

  • You can discuss your opinions about the music.

  • You can share your interpretations of the music.

  • It can open students eyes to how we are different. (And that's ok!)

  • You can move together.

  • You can make memories together.

  • It can open the door for great discussions.

My class listens to music every day during snack time since that is a time we have consistently each day. After we listen, we discuss our ideas, thoughts and interpretations of the music.

If any of your students are hard of hearing, invite them to put their hands on the speakers you are using. The vibrations will stimulate their senses in a similar way that the music stimulates our ears.

The kids get so much out of this! Not only do they enjoy taking a break from the norm and simply listening to music, but they love having the opportunity to share their own opinions about something and having it be accepted as valid. It's not that this can't happen in at other times, but when we take time especially for it, it becomes a special part of the day (for my students AND for me).

Just the other day, we were listening to music by Chopin and when asked what they thought of as they listened, student had so many different interpretations. One student though the piece sounded sad, while another thought it represented love, and still another thought it was joy. They all thought this about the same piece. And when they heard the opinions of others in the class, it was obvious that some of the students were in the midst of an “a-ha” moment: “People really CAN have different opinions about the same thing.” It led itself perfectly to a small discussion about different people’s perspective and how our opinions can be shaped by who we are and the experiences we have had.

This type of learning is so vital to our education and it helps to build community as it allows students see and accept people’s differences.

Listening to music with your class is simple and takes little prep work. Do it a few times a year or every day. You will surely build community in your class if you do.

For more information about sharing listening experiences with your students, check out this article and this resource book.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Musical Experiences – Composing in the Classroom

In the spirit of Music in Our Schools month, I would like to reflect some more on how music can build community, this time through composition. With MCAS (Massachusetts’s high stakes test) next week, I think it is necessary to give my students a balance of testing with play. We WILL go outside and run around more than usual, but I also have something fun, creative and collaborative planned – composing some blues!

Well, yes, I could ask them to write the “testing blues”, but that would be the wrong way to focus their energy! Instead, we will write the Erosion Blues as a culminating activity to our unit on Land and Water.

COLLABORATION – My fourth graders will already have a basic understanding of the blues from what they learn in their music class. They learn and play the 12 bar blues. In fact when I wrote this form on the board yesterday, they clearly remembered it and were ready for a refresher. This kind of integrated project is one that I always strive to implement – one that is true to the integrity of the art form and to the curriculum I am teaching. It also provides a time for real collaboration between myself and the music teacher. She has given them a basis of knowledge in the structure of the blues and I’m going to bring other content to the table. Together, the students will synthesize two important areas of study.

CREATIVITY WITHIN A STRUCTURE – The blues has a relatively easy form for writing lyrics: AAB. For each verse there are three lines of lyrics. The first line is (A), then (A) repeats itself, and the last line is different (B). Once students know this basic form, they can really get creative. I will assign a group of students a specific topic in erosion (water erosion, ice erosion, wind erosion, other vocab terms to use) and let them compose.

COMMUNITY – This type of project, where students create together will surely add to the sense of community. With each verse, students will be collaborating as they show what they know about erosion. The part I am looking forward to is hearing how it will all come out in the end. Each group will perform their verse, creating one unified song through the structure of the blues. And for some added greatness, some students will be able to play the 12 bar blues on Orff instruments from the music room.

This musical experience of composing a piece of music is something I’ve been looking forward to doing with my students. (This year I have a particularly musical class.) It is my hope that I’ll be able to post a performance online. More to come!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

PLaiC - Process, Play and Balance

PLaiC is now a new venture for me. It is a Professional Learning Community centered around Arts Integration. What a wonderful example of community. In this case it was a community of teachers getting together to talk freely about their profession and their passion for seeing true arts integration in their teaching.

There were a couple of themes we seemed to keep returning to: Process, Play and Balance.

In PROCESS, we discussed the importance of stressing the process by which we accomplish things and not just the product. I am reminded of how this does not happen in things such as “on-demand” writing like in much high stakes testing. When my students are asked to write a narrative they must do it in a matter of hours independently. There is no inspiration except for a worded prompt, no time to chat about your ideas before planning a story and no time to walk away from your draft before expecting to edit and revise it. What a shame! The writing process is taken out of the equation.

In art, process is important. When I was in grad school we learned to “Trust the Process” as McNiff’s title states. How pertinent it is to work through things, reflect, and revise in order to come out with quality work.

For more, see this collection of articles about “The Process”.

PLAY also came up quite a bit. Unfortunately, it was the lack of play that was mostly discussed. When that time is not there, the places in our brains that thrive on discovery, experimentation and play start to lose their vitality.

I am sad at the fact that as students get older, the less time they have to play. They need it. We need it. We need that time to create new things, work with new materials and discover new ways of doing things.

In terms of BALANCE, we all seemed to agree that we need balance in all things, including curriculum. It’s like the whole language/phonics based language debate – there needs to be balance. So is true in our teaching and integration of the arts. Our students need the basics (the 3 Rs), but they also need the creative. Our job is to teach with that balance, but we need the autonomy in our classrooms to be able to provide that for our students.

For more on balance, see the article “ Kids”

I am so glad that I am now meeting and collaborating with other teachers in my district that share my views on the importance of the arts. There are more out there and it is my hope that this group will grow in the years to come. For now, this community is just what I need to continue my work as a professional.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Musical Experiences – Playing in the Classroom

Music is a powerful tool to use in your teaching. It gives students a chance to be creative, to play and find structure – all at once! Best yet, is that it will help you to build community with your students.

It’s all about experiences – building experiences, sharing experiences, reflecting on them and learning from them. With music, you can create these experiences by playing, creating and listening to music.

This blog, I would like to focus on how I encourage my fourth grade students to play music in the classroom. Playing music might include singing, playing instruments, chanting and doing finger plays. We are all naturally drawn to play music. Sometimes there may be nervousness to it or an anxiety to it, but there is a desire. Some ways you I try to include playing into my teaching are:

    Start each day with a Patriotic song
    Sing your way through the day
    Sing transitions from one activity to the next
    Play or sing some eye openers or motivators to gives students breaks in their day
    Take out the instruments and play with your students
    Have students play using body percussion: clapping, slapping, stomping, etc.

To build community through playing music, I love to bring out the percussion instruments and play in a drum circle! [caption id="attachment_298" align="center" width="300" caption="Some of my former 2nd grade students play percussion instruments together!"][/caption] The first time I did this this year, my students’ eyes widened. After discussing instrument protocol and other necessary things, instruments were in students hands and we started playing. I started with an ostinato and soon students found their own voice through the instruments. The shy girl shook her egg, and the boisterous boy clanged his cymbals, the normally soft spoken little lady was giggling as she swirled her maracas. It was a beautiful thing! And I had given them a change to be individualistic, creative and collaborative all at once.

Sure we made a lot of noise (we actually went into a different part of the school to do this) and sure a teacher walked by, peeked in and, noticing I wasn’t the music teacher, gave me a perplexed look (to which I shouted, “Come join us! I know you want to!”), but we weren’t just having fun – we were building community!

I would like to say that I have kept my promise to myself that I would do this every week, but that is not the case, sadly. BUT I try. We have done it maybe once a month. Even so, it has helped us as a class to focus on ourselves for a period of time, to PLAY, to get our creative juices flowing and to connect with one another. It is truly a wonderful thing!!

Next blog - Musical Experiences - Creating Music!

4th Grade Boys and Chopin

Every month, I introduce my students to a new composer or genre and for that month, we listen to the music of that composer or genre everyday during snack. Last month, our focus was on Chopin.

Undoubtedly, there are students that make a connection with the music or composers that we listen to, be it Beethoven for his power and popularity or jazz for its emotional drive. Sometimes students make connections with the music they are exposed to in other parts in their life. And sometimes parent-musicians come out of the woodwork.

That's what happened yesterday when one of my 4th grade boys came to me upon arrival and showed me several piano books his mother shared with him the night before from when she took lessons. He was excited to fan through the books: Bach's Well Tempered Clavier, a collection of Rachmaninoff and Chopin's Nocturnes. I, catching his enthusiasm, looked with him for a moment, opening a page in the book of Chopin's works looking for a familiar theme to sing with an operatic air. The kids laughed.

But it wasn't until later that day, when the kids were cleaning up from snack that I saw the coolest thing: 4th grade boys excited about Chopin's scores.

“Dude look at these notes. There’s notes on top of other notes. There’s big ones and little ones and this thing… I mean, how do you PLAY that?” Flipping through the pages of a Chopin book of Nocturnes, one boy exclaimed to another and then another one stopped by his desk. I stopped and stared at the scene and smiled... This was awesome! Pure delight, pure amazement!

Then, as if playing air guitar, the boy who brought in the books started followed the notes with his fingers singing the runs of notes.

(That's when I whipped out my camera!) This was truly a day I was proud to be a teacher!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Community Built Through Music

March is Music in Our Schools month. So let’s focus a couple of blogs on it! It is not an accident that we chose “community” as the focus for this month either, because music is a very powerful community builder!

Years ago, I came across this wonderful quote:

No art form creates community as quickly as music.” ~Bobbie McFerrin

I whole heartedly agree. I’ve seen it happen so many times with people of all ages. I’ve been part of the community and played a role in helping to lead a community into creation.

A few years ago, I entered into a master’s degree program in Arts and Learning, where the cohort had already completed two courses. So, I was the newbie. Fortunately for me, the cohort’s next class was in music. Regardless, I was nervous about walking into a situation where others were already acquainted with one another. BUT then we were given instruments and asked to introduce ourselves to one another by playing in turn around the circle. I sang out through my drum and when I was done, all those once strange faces looked back at me with wide grins and an air of acceptance.

A little later we were all invited to play as a drum/percussion circle and after the ostinato began we all joined in: playing to the rhythm, finding our instrument’s place in the piece, getting our groove on and playing as one. And then the most magical thing happened. After quite some time, we all just finished – together. I don’t know what it was, or what causes this to happen, but we, as ONE without communicating with anything else but our instruments and expressions, knew the piece was over and finished it off. It had been our first time working and playing as a group; our first shared experience. From that moment on, I knew I was part of one amazing community – built through music!

Another example of this is from my very recent past – this past Saturday when I was conducting a workshop entitled “Building Creativity, Character and Community Through Music.” We discussed various ways to do this including listening. I took these ladies through the process of having an Active Listening experience using Chopin’s Prelude in A Major, Opus 28 No.7. That 48 seconds of beauty so inspired this group of teachers! They came up with the most wonderful images, stories and poems that they shared. It was in this sharing that we built an immediate community. As we listened, we shared a common experience, and as we shared our interpretations and the poetry inspired by the piece, we built bonds that would otherwise not be explored in a short 3 hour education workshop. (Check out their wonderful poetry here!)

I’d like to think I create these types of opportunities for my students in my classroom too. We listen to music, create music and play music together! Yes, I get them to make some noise and I even get a couple of odd glances from time to time. But I am fortunate to work in a place where community building and arts integration is smiled upon more often than not. This is such an important part of our students’ education, and I wouldn’t dream of leaving it out of my teaching.

Next blog – Ways to integrate music community building in your teaching. Due out Thursday, 3/11.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Poetry Written by Workshop Participants

This is a special collection of poems composed by workshop participants at the TIC Workshop “Building Creativity, Community and Character Through Music” on Saturday 3/6.

These were inspired by Chopin's Prelude in A Major, Op. 28 No.7


The Mountain

Tip Tip Tip Tip Toe

Climb up up up High

Slide down down down Low

And Stop-and-Re-lax


The Pink Slippers


tip toes and down

quick – slow, moving around.

Breathe in – hold

then let it go.

Anticipate, feel

repeat again.

End with peace

before you kneel.


Tender moments

in a lyrical way.

I capture the prize

but it is bittersweet.

I must release it and

find acceptance.

The loss still haunts.


Making Memories


Finally, filled with love and wealth.

Our two lives joining as one.

How romantic life really is


Making memories.


Waltzing at the Shoals

Quiet voices – Seagull’s cries

1, 2, 3, 4

Morning chill to the air

1, 2, 3, 4

Freedom of pressure

1, 2, 3, 4

Skirts swirling

living for the moment

1, 2, 3, 4

Smells of coffee + breakfast


1, 2, 3, 4

Swirling in firm arms

1, 2, 3, 4

Waltzing at the Shoals

See Dawn perform her poem here:


Light and soft

finished but not

peaceful, sweet


Maybe goodbye,

maybe hello,

holding fast,



Wedding Dance

Come together

Love, youth

memories, treasured

Special day

Happiness, excitement

Holding on / letting go

Love, tears


Moving on

Wedding Day


Saturday, March 6, 2010

Community Built Through the Arts

One very effective way to build community in the classroom is through the arts. You may be an arts teacher or a general ed teacher, a special ed teacher, a musician, an arist or not. It doesn’t matter! If you have a group of students in your room then using the arts to build that safe learning environment can be a powerful tool.

Think about it. If you move with your students, create artwork with them, play or listen to music with them then you are sharing experiences that are special and bonding. As you do and make art together more and more, students will become more trusting of you and their peers and, in turn share more of themselves personally and academically.

When a group, no matter how small or large, creates something and reflects on it, they begin to share pieces of themselves. That process is powerful and if done over time, can be bonding as well. You may start with something as simple as sharing and reflecting on the process students went through to complete a visual art project in science. Or you may decide to listen to music together as you prepare for you day. Yes, your artful community attempts can be connected directly to the curriculum, but they don’t always have to be!

Here is a visual art community activity you might try:

Objective: to create a piece of community art as a group of learners where each person is both valued for their individuality and as part of the whole.


Large piece of paper, about 12 feet long.

Tons of coloring materials including crayons, markers, cray-pas, and colored pencils


  • Lay out the large piece of paper on the floor or long table.
  • Have students kneel or stand around it and place their two hands on the part of the paper that is in front of them. This is their space to use.
  • With a black marker, have students draw a border around the large piece of paper in turn. Students draw a piece of the border on the paper that is in front of them and pass the marker to the next person to continue the border until the whole large paper has one continuous boarder.
    • Note – Everyone’s border will be a different design. It does not need to be a straight line. They might do waves or jagged points, etc.
  • Tell students that they will now color in their section of the paper how ever they desire using any of the materials you have provided. Their sections will over lap a bit and should “blend” into those of the peers around them. They must color inside the border.
  • Once everyone is done, step back and admire your work!

Prompts to give:

  • What do you notice about this artwork we have made?
  • Talk about the movement/color/shapes in the piece.
  • What makes it unique?
  • Each person, in turn, give one word (or phrase) about this artwork/the process/the experience.
  • Move to another place around our artwork and look at it from a different perspective.
  • What else do you notice?

Start to discuss COMMUNITY:

  • We are all part of a community.
  • We all bring ourselves to this class and each one of us is unique just as each of our pieces in this large piece of art is unique.
  • We all fit together.
  • Sometimes you need to walk to a different place and look at things from another person’s perspective.
  • We will hang this artwork up to remember what we did today and remember that we are a community that works together in this classroom.

There are ways to connect this activity to your curriculum (math, ELA) and you can even take this activity further by discussing it more and adding to it. But I’m going to save that for another blog…

Next blog – Community Built Through Music! due out Tues 3/9

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Creating a Safe Learning Environment

Why is it important to create a sense of community in your classroom? Easy – it helps with everything, all year. When students feel like they are part of a community, they are more apt to participate in activities, contribute to discussions and work hard. They take pride in what they do, because they feel as if what they do matters. Taking the time to build community helps to create a safe learning environment for both you and your students.

Whether you see your students all day, every day or once a week, this can be a challenge, but it’s possible (and important!). I know teachers that use teambuilding activities at the beginning of the year to help create community. Others assign projects where groups of students poll the class and post the results. Regardless of how, it shouldn’t be overlooked.

What kinds of things do you do to build community in your room?

What are the effects of that work you do?

Please share by commenting below.

Next blog – due out Sat. 3/6 – Building Community Through the Arts (will include an activity to try!)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Sense of Community

The sense of community can be an essential piece to a successful classroom. Nearly all teachers strive to create community in their classrooms in the first weeks of school and try to keep that feel throughout the year. But how?

I’ve talked to many teachers about this topic and we all seem to agree that students not only need to feel like they belong to a community in their classrooms, but in their schools and in their town communities as well. (Not to mention teachers need to feel a belonging to a community.) Community can be a very large topic and this month we will focus on ways we teachers create community within our own classrooms. In months to come, we will look at other ways “community” plays a part in our profession.

Team building activities, ice breakers and other games are ways in which we can start to build community with our students. But, other ways to build a trusting community is through shared experiences within your own curriculum. The arts can play a large role in this too. I can’t wait to blog about this topic and I encourage you to add comments, ideas and insights.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Message to My Followers

Hello Blogger Followers,

I am so honored that you are following me online. The list is growing and that is very exciting! I want to mention to you especially that my new website has relaunched and I would encourage you to visit and add comments there.

Honestly, I am at a crossroads and am unsure as to whether I should continue to blog here or blog exclusively on my new WordPress website. YOUR comments are what drive me to stay here and add my blogs here as well as on the website. I just don't want any visitors to miss your valuable comments.

So...what do you think?


Saturday, February 27, 2010

Change from The Ground Up

Education, in some areas is changing and, if it’s not, it needs to be. I firmly believe that in order for this to happen successfully, we teachers need to be the driving force. No longer can we sit back and have change happen from the top down. Instead change needs to happen from the ground up, at the grass roots, from us.

This type of leadership and motivation will come the more empowered we feel. And to be empowered, we need to work together and get the professional development that is necessary for us to teach in this new era of education.

I turn again to Daniel Pink a guru in the field of business management and motivation. In this video he talks extensively about motivation.

If you have 20 minutes, than this is worth your while. If you have a shorter time, fast forward 12 minutes in and listen to the end. Even though Pink talks about the business world his ideas transfer seamlessly to education in two ways: 1) We are professionals! 2) We educate the professionals of the future! These are two things we can never lose sight of.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

My Biggest Need - Time

My biggest need as a professional is time, and in particular, time to collaborate with other teachers.

There is just no time to do what I really want to do at the level of quality that I would like to do it. I am fortunate enough to have an hour long prep time each day. (I know many schools don’t even allow for that.) However, much of that time is taken by meetings: IEP mtgs, pre and post observational mtgs, RtI mtgs, etc. Much of my work such as correcting and lesson planning is taken home in order for it to get done.

But it’s not even the housekeeping stuff that I’m talking about in terms of time. It’s also the time to collaborate with my coworkers: other fourth grade teachers including the arts and specialist teachers. Many times, during a 5-10 minute chance meeting, we will get a great idea, but then it is hard to follow through because our schedules don’t allow it. We are contained in our own classes with little time to reach out to the other talented adults with whom we work.

This needs to start changing and I’m sure in some districts or schools across the country it is. (I would love to hear from you!)

For now, I’d like to go back to my notes from that PD day with Mike Wasta. He said that in some areas of the world such as in Finland, Sweden, the UK and Australia, up to 50% of a teacher’s working day is spent away from direct instruction. That is unheard of in the US. The general public would go crazy thinking, “WHAT are those teachers doing the rest of the time?” and, “Where are the students?”

Well, the students, I’m assuming are still working and studying, just with another teacher. Collaboration! And as for the teacher who is not with students, well he or she is working on their craft of being an educator. In the dream school in my head, I can picture teachers collaborating and working on integrative lessons for students, reviewing student work and data, getting updated professional development and even teambuilding within themselves.

In terms of teacher’s work, here is a comparison again from my notes with Wasta:

“Old” Ways

“New” Ways

Teacher Isolation

Teacher Collaboration



Intuitive Decision Making

Data Based Decision Making

Time as Constant

Achievement as Constant

Rigid Top-Down Management

Flat Management

The world is changing and it is calling for a new educational system. One that is based on teachers collaborating and becoming respected leaders in their own field. We have a need for this kind of system, but in order for that to happen, we need the time to make it possible.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 27, 2010) – Ending thoughts on Education in a New Era

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Needs of Today's Teachers

In today’s educational system, teachers find themselves in need, especially if they want to integrate, collaborate and educate the WHOLE child!

Here is a list of some needs I hear about daily in schools and online.

  • Less stress from high stakes testing
  • Quality professional development in everything from new methodologies to brain research
  • Freedom to teach creatively
  • Autonomy over our teaching
  • Leadership roles in our schools
  • Leadership roles in our profession
  • TIME
  • Money
  • Support from administration
  • Support from our students’ families

We teachers know the value of arts education and integration, but are hindered as mandated curriculum, budget cuts, data driven teaching, meeting AYP and high stakes testing puts a damper on our creativity as educators.

Every profession has their own set of needs. Teachers are no different except that their needs directly affect the children they teach. If teachers’ needs are not addressed and soon, then education will be in danger of being sub-par.

(This topic alone could be its own series…maybe it will.)

I know you have a comment to add. Please do!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

New Website Almost Ready

I am so excited about the new website I am building through WordPress. YAY! It's almost ready to launch and the only thing that will hold it back a few days/weeks will be connecting it to our actual domain name of If you want a sneaky peak, here is where the new website is right now:
I would love to hear what you think so far and if you have any suggestions for improvements.
After the initial getting used to WP, I have been enjoying, nay, becoming addicted to adding plugins and widgets to improve on the user-friendly-ness of the site.

Some great new features:

  • The BEST part is that it's all on one site: information and resources as well as the blog/magazine and ability to create community.
  • Anyone can comment on posts without having to sign in. I hope this will encourage people to write a comment and/or add to a discussion without feeling like they have to think of and use a new username/password.
  • You can click on a TAG to gain access to a topic of interest.
  • You can search the whole site by entering a key word or phrase.
  • I can set up users and authors to add content to the site. SO - if you are interested in becoming a guest blogger, I can set you up to do that and you can post anything you would like!

I hope this new website is more conducive to your needs and our need to have a PLC online.
Please let me know if we can do anything to help you in the future with the wonderful teaching you do every day!


Friday, February 19, 2010

How the Arts are Connected to 21c. Skills

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in a New Era”.

The arts are not just about expressing your emotions, they are much more than that. I, in no way want to devalue the arts as a means to express oneself. In fact, I don’t know how I could have made it through much of my adolescence without a piano or a tape player to help work through my emotions. (Am I dating myself? Yikes!) But, in honesty, I think I developed many critical skills along the way through an education that was steeped in the arts. In my case, mostly music.

An education in the arts can really develop most of those skills referred to in previous blogs, those critical skills that students need to succeed. Maybe innovation and creativity is obvious, but what about some of the others?

For example, take initiative, motivation, reflection and self-criticism? Here are skills that are sought after, but how do you practice them? When anyone puts together an aesthetic piece, be it a poster, a sculpture, a movement or sound, there is time for this.

I think about my fourth graders who will be putting together a biographical poster to accompany themselves as they become an historical figure in a grade level wax museum. It is my hope that as they work toward a final product, they take the time to reflect, self-criticize and revise the content. So is the same with the one-minute speech they will make. Students will need motivate themselves ad they write it, practice it and present it many times for the audience of “museum-goers”. Presenting this information through a visual piece and drama not only teaches content, but allows students to practice some of these other skills.

In a study by Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland, the value of the arts for art sake was brought to light for many people. Too often the arts are credited to raise test scores or make you smarter, but the truth is that the arts do so much more. These “habits of mind” that Winner and Hetland discovered through their research are very much related to the skills discussed by Pink, Wagner and the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

Because art is a process, students not only learn content, but practice skills including collaboration, self-direction, critical thinking and accountability. Think of a musician playing alongside another. The accountability of that person to know their part is very high. If they don’t practice, they are letting themselves and their teammates down. Think of the collaboration dancers achieve as they move together in various degrees of tension and fluidity. By working and practicing together, they create something beautiful.

These skills take practice and the arts provide a way to do so.

For the full article by Winner and Hetland, Art for Our Sake, click here:

Next Blog (due out on Tuesday, February 22, 2010) – What Today’s Teachers Need

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

High Stakes Testing

This is my vacation week – February vacation – and I am enjoying it greatly. The thing is, I know that when I get back to work on Monday, everything is going to hit. In fact a couple other teachers and I call it boot camp – MCAS boot camp. We will be in high gear to prepare for our high stakes test. Fourth grade is a big year and boy, do we feel the pressure.

I am sad to say that I succumb to the pressure. What option do I have? I need to teach to the test and even though the real boot camp begins next week, the preparation really began the first weeks of school. Students learn about how to read and understand both question and petition prompts, develop a plan and produce a response. These responses have a bit of a formula to them and I teach it to my students.

Now, this is where I do have many mixed feelings. To some degree, I can’t help but think these are good writing skills to get under your belt, (at least while students are learning the basics of writing) but I have issues with this as well. When we stress the importance of producing a quality piece of writing in a DAY (such as in our “Long Composition” section of our test) are we deemphasizing the importance of each part of the writing process real writers go through? I think so!

I can’t help but wonder if we could find a new way to assess students’ writing capabilities and still find a way to standardize it across the state or even nation. (That is a whole other blog series.)

But it’s not just the writing piece of the assessment, it’s the others as well: grammar, comprehension and math strands. I know these are important skills, basic skills that students need to learn and master, but sometimes I feel as if I’m cramming for the test as I put my class in high gear boot camp. I can’t help but wonder, how much will stick? Am I doing my students a disservice?

Dr. Richard Hersh, a leader in education who addresses assessment, is often quoted, “Life is not a multiple-choice test.” This rings true and is something I need to keep in mind especially at this time of year. Even if my name is attached to my students’ scores, I need to remember that my methods of teaching need to continue to be reflective of my beliefs that students need more than good grades. They need skills that will allow them to be successful in all aspects of life.

This can be done in creative ways that are supported by arts education and integration. In fact that is the topic of the next blog in this series.

So while they do their MCAS prep books and practice filling in circles, I need to make sure that my students never lose sight of what it really means to explore new topics, challenge themselves, try new things and find the joy in learning.

And I can’t lose sight of what it means to find the joy in teaching.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 20, 2010) – How the Arts are Connected to Today’s Education Needs

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Skills Our Students Need

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in a New Era”.

In the last blog, I threw out ideas about how our society is changing and how that is affecting the workforce of the future and the current trends of education. But now, let’s look at other effects this will have on our children or, more accurately, what skills they will need to succeed now and in the future.

It’s not all about memorization of facts and figures anymore, it’s about how to process all the information we have at our fingertips.

It’s not how well you can do a menial task, but what innovation you can come up with when given a challenge.

And for us teachers, it’s about stepping back and letting students do something and fail, but then giving our students time to really reflect on their mistakes and learn from their experience.

Talk of these skills is not only a hot topic in education, but it is in the business world too, and rightfully so! People all across the professional spectrum are concerned with the skills students are acquiring and, too often not acquiring. Tony Wagner calls them “Survival Skills”, Daniel Pink’s concept is in developing six high-concept, high-touch senses. You may have heard about the Partnership for 21st Century Skills which developed their own set of necessary skills and there are many organizations who work to promote the development of media literacies – something so important in this media rich world we live in.

Regardless of the person, organization or terminology, they all have many skills in common: innovation, creativity, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, initiative and flexibility. Click here to see a comparison of three sets of skills.

These are all arts-based skills!

When children and young adults look at and interpret a painting, they are thinking critically, when they work with a new type of media, they are problem solving, when they play in an ensemble, they are collaborating, when they play a game in PE, they are practicing good team work skills. But it’s not only in arts classes that students learn and develop these skills – it shouldn’t be!

All teachers do crave to teach these skills in their classrooms but can feel bogged down by curriculum demands and testing, let alone we do not have sufficient training in HOW to teach these skills effectively. Personally, I am only beginning to create my own repertoire of arts-infused teaching. Yes, I do activities that foster these skills, but I can do more and I hope to do more as I grow as a teacher.

But first, I guess I need to explore a bit more of the roadblocks before I can free myself of their grasp on my teaching.

Next Blog (due out on Tuesday, February 16, 2010) – High Stakes Testing and Other Creative Roadblocks.

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you! What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Workforce Preparedness

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in New Era”.


At a workshop I conducted just last week, we got into a small discussion about 21st century skills and workforce preparedness. One person echoed a statement I’ve heard many times before:

We are preparing students for jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.

We do, in fact live in a global society that is ever changing. Yet how we find ourselves teaching is all too often just as Pam Harland says, “Teachers now simply type their lecture notes into PowerPoint instead of writing in chalk.” And by we, I do mean me.

It is hard to take a good look in the mirror and see what it is that I am doing as a teacher and realize what I should be doing as well. Yes, from time to time I will share a BrainPop with my students as I join the class next door or encourage my students to practice their math facts for a period of time in the computer clubhouse, but the reality is that in my classroom, there is one piece of technology – my computer that I hoard to myself throughout the day for my own needs.

Grant it – I teach fourth grade, so I wonder, “Do my students really need to be utilizing technology in order to learn the 3 Rs that are so basic and important to their success?” I answer myself in many ways:

  • No, they just need to learn those skills and the traditional way is best! At least in elementary school.
  • Yes, there have to be resources out there that can assist in their learning and practicing of these skills.
  • Yes, and it is my responsibility to teach students media literacy too!
  • Yes, and I can also allow for them to use the technology they already do to respond to and discuss their learning.

Usually the yeses outnumber the nos. But then I think of the inevitable – our reality: there are constraints and pressures and test scores and AYP. But, what it boils down to is, regardless of what grade you teach, students are using, will continue to use and will be expected to use technology throughout their lives.

This is what leads to workforce preparedness. Is seems middle school and high school grades feel more pressure in this realm, since they are closer to the students who are actually out in the workforce. But we need to remember, I need to remember, that a students’ education is not just for a period of time, but throughout their lives and I play a large role in that. Even workforce preparedness, even in fourth grade! We all link to each other and all play a part in the gradual process of coaching students to become skilled workers for the future.

Technology is not the only skill we should be discussing, either. There are other skills too. We will explore some of those in the next blog. For now, ponder the idea of the future for which we are preparing our children.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 13, 2010) – Skills Our Children Need

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Education Yesterday and Today

This is part of the Education in a New Era blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Edu in a New Era”.

The theme of 21st century skills is high on the priority list of things to discuss and understand. In my experiences with professional development and continuing education, the idea of change and closing the global achievement gap is a hot topic. Education is changing, but very slowly and we need to help that change along or we are going to be sorry we didn’t prepare our students better for the skills they need now and for those we are unaware of in the future.

The arts can be a huge piece of the solution to get students from compliance to creativity, from rigidity to innovation. Over the course of the next few weeks, I hope we can discuss this topic more and more online. Join the conversation by adding your own comments and insights!

To begin, I’d like to offer you some of my notes from a professional development day my district sponsored for our entire staff. Mike Wasta of outlined for us the differences between education yesterday and today:

Yesterday / Today
Industrialized / Economy Knowledge Society
Compliance / Creativity
Efficiency / Efficiency
Strict Boundaries / Porous Boundaries
Success is possible with limited skills / Success is required with high skill levels
Opportunities are local/regional / Opportunities are global
Stable / Continuously changing

“In the beginning” schools were modeled after factories. Those privileged students were expected to memorize facts and figures in order to show their smarts and do well for themselves in life. Now, our job as educators is quite different. We are expected not only to teach ALL students regardless, we need to take responsibility for them if they don’t learn. But the biggest challenge is that the traditional school model doesn’t seem to be enough anymore. Our students need to be taught another layer of skills.

Wasta is not the only person from whom these ideas are heard. Daniel Pink, a best-selling author and speaker on business transformation and Tony Wagner, an education consultant have authored books about the state of our country at this time and the part education plays in preparing our students for the workforce. And of course there is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, an organization that advocates for the readiness of children in the 21st century. We will be looking at their work in future blogs.

Amidst it all, there is truth (and hope) in how arts education and integration can not only help, but teach some of these skills we are finding necessary for our young people. People like Ellen Winner and Lois Hetland have done research on this, showing the intrinsic skills that studying the arts can instill.

I hate to admit it, but I often find myself teaching in that industrialized way. Through these blogs, I hope to come to an understanding of why and discover ways to change. It is my hope that your comments, ideas and insights will add to this journey.

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, February 9, 2010) – Workforce Preparedness

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What are your thoughts on this topic? What insights do you have to offer to the discussion? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Norman Rockwell - End Notes

This is part of the Norman Rockwell integration blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Norman Rockwell”.

Doing this blog series, showed me the possibilities of Norman Rockwell’s paintings. The expanse of Rockwell’s works seem limitless – what an amazing collection of masterpieces. They always entertain and always bring emotion to me. I smile, I smirk, I swell up with tears. Each painting has its own story and everyone can find their own collection of Rockwells that truly speak to them.

It is my hope that other teachers will continue to try some of these ideas out and also share their experiences and ideas. For the complete blog series, click the "Norman Rockwell" tab.

So, look out for old calendars, prints and resources online and create displays so that students can enjoy a piece of Americana while learning!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Norman Rockwell - Activity 7 Cause and Effect

This is part of the Norman Rockwell integration blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Norman Rockwell” when accessing the Magazine on this site.

You are encouraged to try out these activities and to comment on the blogs, activities and ideas. You might even find that you can share other ways to integrate Rockwell into what you do! Your voice and ideas matter!

Muse Away!

ACTIVITYCause and Effect

We see cause and effect everywhere around us and it can also be seen in a snapshot moment of a Norman Rockwell painting. An effect is what happens. A cause is why it happens. With a little prompting, students will be able to identify these within the situation of the painting.


1. Have students look closely at the painting and allow for some time for first impressions and conversations about the characters and the situation.

2. Ask students to take a closer look at the painting and state the prompt that allows them to find details that lend themselves to cause or effect. For example:

  • What is happening in the painting?
  • What do you think caused that to happen?
  • What will happen next as a result of that action?

3. Assist students in completing a t-chart that has cause and effect as the titles of the two columns. Sometimes you will fill out the left side first and other times you will fill out the right side first.

4. After a short introduction to the activity, invite students to work in small groups or on their own with a new painting. You may want students to complete the WORKSHEET.

Worksheet link:

Implementation Ideas: (review)

  • Have a copy of a painting for each student. (They do not have to be the same.)
  • Give students a copy to use in small groups.
  • Place copies of paintings around the room and have students do the activity while traveling from piece to piece in an “around the world” format.
  • Do a shared lesson or activity with your whole class or with a small group.
  • Create a center in your room where students can visit and complete the activity.

Extensions and Variations:

  • Ask students to change the situation of the painting. A student states a cause and then says how that will effect the situation. For example, a student may state, “I will throw a ball at the boy.” The effect may be, “The boy will try and catch the ball and will drop the bottle in his hand.”
  • Do the reverse of the above extension. Have a student state an effect and then state what could cause that effect to happen. For example, if the effect is, “The girl hits that boy,” the cause may be, “The boy pinched the girl.”

Final Blog in this Series (due out on Saturday January 30, 2010) – Wrapping it All Up

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What do you think of this activity? Any extension or variation ideas? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Norman Rockwell - Activity 6 - Character Studies

This is part of the Norman Rockwell integration blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Norman Rockwell”.
You are encouraged to try out these activities and to comment on the blogs, activities and ideas. You might even find that you can share other ways to integrate Rockwell into what you do! Your voice and ideas matter!

Muse Away!

ACTIVITY – Character Studies
Norman Rockwell paintings are perfect for character studies. Each painting has at least one character that draws you into their story with their position, expression and action. With the right prompts, you can talk about one character for quite some time.


1. Have students look closely at the painting and allow for some time for first impressions and conversations about the characters and the situation.

2. Ask students to take a closer look at the painting and state the prompt that allows them to find details in the character. For example:
• What do you know about this situation by looking at the painting?
• What can you conclude from the expression on this character’s face?
• What can you tell about the character by his/her body language?
• What might this character be saying?
• What might this character be thinking?
• What would be a good name for this character? Why?

3. Ask students to complete the sentence starters from the worksheet to deepen their ideas of
the characters

4. After a short introduction to the activity, invite students to work in small groups or on their own with a new painting. You may want students to complete the WORKSHEET.
Worksheet link:

Implementation Ideas: (review)
• Have a copy of a painting for each student. (They do not have to be the same.)
• Give students a copy to use in small groups.
• Place copies of paintings around the room and have students do the activity while traveling from piece to piece in an “around the world” format.
• Do a shared lesson or activity with your whole class or with a small group.
• Create a center in your room where students can visit and complete the activity.

Extensions and Variations:
• Ask students to practice their quote writing skills by having students write a monologue of what the character is saying or a dialogue between characters in the painting.
• Practice point of view by asking students to write a short story about the situation in the painting from the character’s point of view.
• After students have completed the worksheet, ask them to put the character into a new situation or story. You could put the character into another NR painting. Ask students to elaborate on the new situation or story with the character they are studying.

Next Blog (due out on Thursday, January 28, 2010) – Activity 8 - Cause and Effect

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What do you think of this activity? Any extension or variation ideas? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Our Own Interpretations

It is fortunate that the blog series this month has been centered around the visual art of Norman Rockwell since it has coincided with our teacher field trip to a most wonderful museum in Boston – the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum. Though none of his works are in this museum, the ideas of viewing, appreciating and enjoying art seems to be the main focus within the museum as well as the basis for all the Rockwell activities in this series. Another thing to point out is that all the activities found in the series can be adapted to ANY piece of work – for it is in looking closely at and studying visual pieces, be they paintings, sculptures or pictures, you can become more observant, more thoughtful and more gratified in your experience.

The trip to the museum was wonderful, but this blog is not about that, instead it is meant to be about our own interpretations of art. Quite frankly, the best part about Gardner’s museum is that the emphasis is not on art history or the artists, it is on us – the public, the viewers and appreciators of art. We are there to enjoy, experience and interpret in our own ways. This is the most unique part about art, all art. There is an artist and there is the receiver of the art. We all bring to art our own experiences and interpret what we see and hear in different ways than those around us.

And that is OKAY!

Yes, there is a story behind every piece of artwork, but that story is not the same for all those who experience the art. And the story the artist envisions is simply not exactly or consistently what we receive. It is in these personal interpretations that we can deepen our own thinking and, if experienced with others, can create a new community among people as we share a piece of art. There is a story in the piece, but it’s ok if you don’t get it. Just the experience itself, if you give yourself the chance to have it, is enough. It is much more about looking, observing and making connections.

So, how can this be applied to us in our teaching? Allow yourself to be a receiver of art and share that with your children and students. Encourage searching in a piece, encourage observations and questions. Through these observations, allow students to draw conclusions and make predictions, and question some more. These are real life strategies and they can be practiced and refined through the arts!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Norman Rockwell - Activity 5 – Making Predictions

This is part of the Norman Rockwell integration blog series. To gain access to all the blogs in this series, click the tag “Norman Rockwell”.

You are encouraged to try out these activities and to comment on the blogs, activities and ideas. You might even find that you can share other ways to integrate Rockwell into what you do! Your voice and ideas matter!

Muse Away!

ACTIVITYMaking Predictions

Another skill students can practice while enjoying, studying and appreciating works by Norman Rockwell is making predictions. When examining the stories within the paintings, we not only figure out what the painting means to us in that moment, we continue the story. If we give ourselves time to do this, we find ourselves using the same skills as in making predictions in reading.


1. Have students look closely at the painting and allow for some time for first impressions and conversations about the characters and the situation.

2. Ask students to take a closer look at the painting and state the prompt that allows them to find the details and facts that will help them make a prediction. For example:

  • What do you know about this situation by looking at the painting?
  • What are your observations?
  • Let’s list some facts found in this painting.
  • What are some details you notice in this picture?
  • Out of our list/brainstorm of observations, what facts can we group together to help us form a valid prediction of what will happen next?

3. Write three facts and/or details in a graphic organizer like the one on the worksheet and discuss what prediction you might make about the painting.

4. After a short introduction to the activity, invite students to work in small groups or on their own with a new painting. You may want students to complete the WORKSHEET.

Worksheet link:

Implementation Ideas: (review)

  • Have a copy of a painting for each student. (They do not have to be the same.)
  • Give students a copy to use in small groups.
  • Place copies of paintings around the room and have students do the activity while traveling from piece to piece in an “around the world” format.
  • Do a shared lesson or activity with your whole class or with a small group.
  • Create a center in your room where students can visit and complete the activity.

Extensions and Variations:

  • Arrange the paintings around the room and ask students to find two paintings to use to make predictions. Students will roam the room, locating two paintings they enjoy. Once they do, they write down the title of the piece and complete one half of the worksheet. Then they continue to the next painting.
  • If students are using different paintings, have them write their prediction on a strip of paper. Display all the paintings, have the student or group state their prediction and ask the other students to match the prediction to the painting.
  • Have students use their predictions to make the title of the painting that would be the next scene. For an additional challenge, ask them to draw the next scene that they predicted.

Painting suggestions for kids: Lion and His Keeper, Prom Dress, Swatter’s Rights, Missing Tooth, The Graduate, The Babysitter, Tough One, The Gift

Next Blog (due out on Saturday, January 23, 2010) – Our Own Interpretations

Make a Comment - We want to hear from you. What do you think of this activity? Any extension or variation ideas? Comments are welcomed and encouraged.