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Around the Campfire: Essays and Tigers and Poetry, Oh My!

 

Let’s talk middle school.

In our CORE materials for middle school—Level 3 Reading & Writing Discovery Guides—students will continue the good work of writing ideas  they began in the Level 1 & 2 units.  With Blackbird & Company, your middle school students will develop the skills and confidence that will prepare them for high school reading and writing.

Tip #6

LOVE the red pen.

All writing comes into being through a process:
1. First comes the IDEA. Without an idea, the writer will simply stare at the blank page.
2. Once there is an idea in the mind of the writer, the pencil steps in to translate thoughts to words on the page.
3. When the pencil’s work is complete, the job of the writer is to become a reader. Encourage your students to RE-READ everything they write.
4. Empower students to use the RED pen as they re-read. Teach them to use strong words, to fearlessly re-arrange, and not be afraid to strike through.
5. Polish the draft, preferably in cursive…

Tip #7

Write in cursive!

Writing with a pencil by hand is a foundational skill. But it’s also a beautiful endeavor. I have fond memories of learning to form the ABCs in cursive. This work was quiet, slow, and mysterious. Yes, mysterious. My grandmother, who raised me, wrote little notes by hand and left them in various places around the house to my great delight. Her cursive was one of a kind, a lovely extension of her loving self.  It was not like any other by-hand note I’ve ever encountered in life. That’s the thing about penmanship. Penmanship is personal.

Tip #8

Essays are ideas!

An essay by definition is an attempt or endeavor. An essay is an exploration of an idea, a meandering journey like following a river. An essay is an opportunity to simultaneously explore an idea and to navigate your reader through its wonder. Great essays have the power to encourage, empower, and enlighten. For this reason essay writing should never be treated as a mechanical endeavor, but rather,  a pathway for the writer to communicate the depths of the heart and mind.

BIG ideas can be communicated through a range of forms. The essay is a specific form. But often students hear the word and suddenly experience writer’s block! Some become frozen by fear. This should not be the case! Remind students, an essay is simply an opportunity to explore an idea in more depth.

Introduction to Composition: The Essay, for  middle school students, provides the scaffolding that will enable students to shape meaningful essays.

Tip #9

Read poems // Write poems

T.S. Eliot said: “Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood.”

Poetry is a close cousin to visual art. Poetry is an opportunity to paint—to paint with words. Writing poetry helps students not only learn that words have specificity, but that sometimes less is more. Writing poems help students discover, when it comes to words, possibility is vast. But the best lesson learned is this: it is always better to SHOW versus tell.

The snow is white.

Or

Winter wind gently lifts sparkling flakes, little rainbows floating and drifting around my head.

Your middle school students will discover the delight of reading poetry and the craft of writing poems as they are guided through Exploring Poetry.

 

~Kimberly

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Meet Clare

Clare Bonn

My best memories with my children are of us snuggled up together reading books. We would be on the bed or on the couch, blankets over us. Little bodies breathing evenly in my lap. Little hands touching mine or flipping pages. We would read for hours, baking banana bread, stopping only to eat and sit again.

During these early reading days, I had no idea I was going to homeschool my children. What I did know was that I didn’t want to send them to school, and I couldn’t find an alternate option that could satisfy me! Those days continued and the only thing that changed was that the children sitting on my lap were not only mine, but the tribe we formed along the way. Stories came with us as we journeyed out into the world. Books on CD played on the car radio, King Author, Greek Myths, Fables, Dickens….it was endless.

“Another one!” The kids would cry. I never thought of myself as teaching my children but learning right beside them. I loved books as a kid and found myself endlessly daydreaming. Not a good quality when you are in traditional school and the teacher is calling your name!

I loved the choose-your-own-ending books when I was young. I loved that idea of being able to write a story over and over with so many different possibilities. The adventure didn’t have to end—not ever! The Narnia Chronicles transported me to another world where good faced evil and prevailed. I can’t tell you how many times I would go into our closets at home wishing it would open to Narnia as the children’s wardrobe did.

My kids are older now, two in their teenage years. I still have shelves filled with books from their childhood. We have moved several times over the years, and I have cleaned out many of shelves. Every time I gather them to look through the books to see what they are ready to get rid of we are transported back. We have found ourselves cuddled up, bigger bodies and limbs, reading through stories that make us smile, laugh and yes, have even made me cry. We are not ready to let go of any of our treasured books and maybe we never will be. I still come home weekly with a new book, from the library or a used bookstore or a library box… I can’t help myself! I feel like I am holding a treasure in my hand. I feel the excitement before I even open the book. The possibilities are endless! Where will I go today?

—————

Clare Bonn graduated from Cal State Long Beach with a BA in Sociology. She has worked for 22 years with school age children in childcare, recreational classes and classroom learning. She taught at Waterhouse Guild for 3 years utilizing Blackbird & Company materials. She believes every child’s voice should be heard, unique gifts valued, and learning differences embraced. Clare has three differently-abled children who all learned to tap into their giftedness through writing using Blackbird & Company curriculum. You can find Clare most of the time in her garden or reading a good book.
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Around the Campfire: Writing is a GIFT

Tip #5

Writing is a gift.

I’ve been teaching the art of writing for over 30 years. I DO NOT insist my students wrangle a lasso to subdue their grammar. Remember, Form follows Function. I DO insist they value their ideas, and engage in the art of communicating authentically. I tell them:

Wrap your idea like a gift you would like to receive.

Would a beautiful gift be wrapped in sloppy handwriting? Would it contain run-on sentences with no end marks e-v-e-r?  Would it be tedious to read with holes in the flow that confused the reader?

I don’t think so!

I tell my students: Your writing is a gift!

When it comes to learning language arts much of the exceptional work that your students will accomplish is subjective in nature tied to their ideas. As we moms and teachers value these ideas and challenge them to catalog and craft these ideas over time, literacy skills soar.

Ideas spring from a wealth of knowledge tied to curiosity. During the elementary years students from grade 3 through grade 8 will read 36 (yes, THIRTY SIX!) novels!  Their discoveries from reading tied to their observations and inspired by imagination and curiosity will enable them to engage in the weekly writing exercise—a simple paragraph communicating an idea unique to the writer. Students will compose 144 paragraphs. What is unique about our approach is that the paragraphs being composed will be meaningful to the writer. Unique. Authentic.

Each of our Literature & Writing Discovery Guides is designed to guide students into the art of reading and writing and thinking.  But there is an added bonus, Section 5. Please don’t skip Section 5!

Section 5 sets aside a week to think about, absorb, and apply the story as a whole. The goal of Section 5 of is to create a project to remind readers that stories are gifts that  keep giving.

This project is tied to the story City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. This student used singular words related to the story, themes, and quotes to decorate the outside of a little box. Inside they found an object—a lightbulb vase—and filled it with glow-in-the-dark paint to visually represent the conflict of the story:

What will happen when the generator finally fails?

I love this little project. I love the story City of Ember. The takeaway for this teacher: If we were to reduce writing to mere mechanics, darkness would fall on ideas and we would be sorry readers!

Let then write ideas!

 

~Kimberly

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Around the Campfire: Growth IS robust!

During my 25+ years in the field of education I’ve encountered teachers and administrators throwing around the phrase “growth is not robust” over and over and over again. This euphemism breaks my heart. They are referring to our children after all!

I’m thinking of a young person who became my student when she was in the 10th grade. When well-meaning colleagues found out, they called to give me a heads up: “She’s a nice enough person, but growth is not robust and I’m certain she will not amount to much. Kim, you are a saint for taking her on.”

A saint? Really?

In my eyes, this young person was seeded with ideas that simply needed encouragement, cultivation, to blossom. The end of the story is that she went on to win a National, Scholastic Arts and Writing Award the very next year for a really brilliant poem she composed. I called my friend and gently broke the news: Growth is robust.

All it ever takes for people to write an idea is:

1) a listening ear;  2) ENCOURAGEMENT;  and 3) an invitation to SHARE.

Here is a little secret that I share with my writing students:

Writing an idea is first and foremost a gift.

 

More on this to come midweek…

 

~Kimberly

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Campfire: Let’s Talk Marshmallows

Sinking your teeth into a marshmallow is like biting into a cloud!

Let’s make marshmallows! Before we do, let’s ask a beautiful question: Where did the idea come from? Marshmallows, after all, are not naturally occurring.

If we want to encourage our children to engage in the work of writing their ideas, sharing stories of successful idea-making is a terrific inspiration.

Did you know that this treat has a long, sweet history?

Begin by teaching your children that marshmallow is a plant. It has a scientific name: Althaea officinalis. You might point out that scientific names are capitalized differently than names of people. Only the first name is capitalized. It got its name because it is a “mallow” plant and grows in marshy areas. Marshmallow sprouts light pink flowers and grows very tall.

Next share a bit of history. As early as the 9th century, Greeks used marshmallow medicinally by making a balm from the sap. They discovered it soothed wounds, stings, and tummy aches. Later the Romans discovered  marshmallow worked well as a laxative. By the Middle Ages, marshmallow was a treatment for a wide variety of ailments including insomnia! But it was the ancient Egyptians who made a sweet treat by combining marshmallow sap, honey, and nuts. The French took it from here. Their concoction was still semi-medicinal (used often as a throat lozenge), but interestingly it was also advertised as anti-aging cream! Eventually, through France, marshmallows landed as a sweet indulgent treat.

Marshmallows arrived in the USA in the 1800s. And we can thank the Girl Scouts for S’Mores.

Before you begin to cook, share this amazing fact: We consume 90 million pounds of marshmallows every year!

Here is a simple recipe:

For the syrup: Combine in a saucepan with a candy thermometer: 3/4 cup Water + 1 1/4 cup corn syrup + 3 cups sugar + pinch of salt

For the body of the confection: In a heavy-duty mixer, sprinkle 3 tablespoons gelatin over 3/4 cup water

NOW:

  1. Let the gelatin dissolve in the water in the mixer with the whisk attachment ready to go.
  2. Boil the syrup mixture to 240 degrees. Immediately pour the syrup slowly into the mixer. Increase to high and beat until very thick!
  3. Add flavoring—a tablespoon of vanilla, or 1 1/2 teaspoons of almond or peppermint. Here you can be creative!
  4. Now pour the marshmallow mixture into a greased with spray oil 13″ x 9″ baking pan. At this point you can sprinkle sparkle sugar to decorate. Let set overnight.
  5. Turn pan over onto a large cutting board heavily dusted with powdered sugar. Cut the set marshmallow into cubes. Roll each cube in organic powdered sugar—you will need about 1 cup.

Even if you have never made marshmallows from scratch, remember the kitchen is a classroom. Enjoy the adventure creating this campfire friendly confection!

 

~Kimberly & Sara

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Around the Campfire: Kitchen Tales

Let’s talk kitchen literacy.

That’s right.

Think recipe for fun and for learning!

In the kitchen, reading and writing and thinking is delicious!

Once upon a time we had a little wooden step stool in our kitchen that my four would climb up to help me stir up whatever was cooking. In the kitchen, everything your little ones are learning is applied—counting, fractions, addition, subtraction, reading, writing, sequential thinking and so much more. In the kitchen, children experience the complexities of chemistry. They will witness right before their eyes the difference between a mixture and a compound. They will watch matter change right before their very eyes! Like magic, chemical reactions lead to yummy treats!

Let’s talk kitchen words: measure, cup, spoon, knife, pan, water, sugar, butter. Encountering words in the realm that they belong is an excellent opportunity for students to put their language arts skills to task. I used to make moveable labels on 3 x 5 index cards and place them on kitchen nouns. After cooking (and clean up!) I would have them draw pictures on the back of the cards so they could have fun reading and spelling words using the moveable alphabet. The kitchen list of words is endless and will provide your little ones hours of academic fun. One word that is very important in the kitchen is dozen. This wonderful word is also an important mathematical concept  introduced in kindergarten.

About a dozen years ago, Sara wrote her first post. She imagined cooking from scratch akin to educating a child. This brilliant extended metaphor rings true all these years later:

I believe every child is like a blank recipe card and that our job as educators is to teach them how to bring their unique spice to a bland world. Each child possesses a unique cabinet brimming with flavor. One might be like chili powder (which you really need to make a good pot of chili), another cinnamon mixed with sugar, yet another oregano (which gives a great background flavor to many dishes).

And she left us with a brilliant question:

What if our job is to challenge our children to explore the potential of their flavor? Let’s help our children develop their unique recipe for life

So this winter, let’s get cooking!

~Kimberly & Sara

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Winter Campfire: Let’s Play!

During the primary years, the journey begins…

Tip Number 4.

Play!

Play is an opportunity to practice new academic skills.

Play is an opportunity to foster independence.

Play is an opportunity to grow confidence.

 

Kindergarten

Once students understand that each of the 26 letters of the alphabet have unique sounds that can be combined to represent the words we speak, they will be off and running! But this is just the beginning. Use the Hatchling Phonetic objects and corresponding deck for matching games. Utilizing the moveable alphabet, the possibility for “play” is endless. Children will quickly learn that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card. That’s right, the  teacher is built in, and this helps students confidently enjoy their important work.

 

1st Grade

By the time students have reached 1st grade, they are confidently reading and writing simple three and four-letter short vowel words with consonants, consonant blends, and digraphs—cat, mug, splat, chin, this, shop, and more. Again, utilizing the moveable alphabet, set up opportunities for students to independently practice the new phonics introduced each week, matching objects to cards and spelling the playful way. Children will have a longer attention span for this activity that is familiar from their kindergarten year. But even students new to Hatchling, will quickly catch on to the fact that they can check their work by simply flipping the phonetic card.

Second Grade

In the 2nd grade, students have been introduced to the whole of phonics, have spent many hours in playful, multi-sensory practice activities and are growing  in their ability to apply newfound skills of reading and writing. During 1st grade students composed simple sentences—statements, commands, exclamations, and questions. They will have acquired a sizable sight vocabulary, words they were introduced to and practiced during kindergarten and 1st grade. Again, utilizing the moveable alphabet, set up opportunities for students to independently review using the phonetic objects and decks from Hatchling. If your student is jumping in to 2nd grade without having utilized Hatchling, we recommend using the moveable alphabet to practice making words. Whether you are a seasoned Blackbird user or new to our program, this is the year to begin our spelling program (it’s free!). Remember, 2nd grade is the year to settle in to ELA skills acquired during kindergarten and first grade. It is the year to begin putting it all together—reading and writing and thinking.  This is the year to begin a word collection, the year to see just how wonderful a word can be!

Writing is an art that takes children on a journey through many, many years. We believe the best way to travel the path towards literacy is to PLAY—especially in the primary years of education! The road to mastery should never be arduous. Idea-making, after all is not boring!

~Kimberly

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Around the Campfire: Slide of Imagination

The metaphor “summer slide” is one of my pet peeves. This phrase (used for as long as I remember) describes the essential skills that are supposedly lost over the summer when children are out of school.

Summer is the time for hands in the sand, hikes on the mountains, digging into a city garden, swimming in the community pool, trips to the library. Summer is an extended time of experiential learning. And these experiences will provide fodder for learning all year long. These experiences will pay richly into your child’s fund of knowledge, the knowledge that sparks ideas. Think of summer as an opportunity to mostly unplug from electronics, to engage with nature, family, friends, community, and books!

Let’s talk learning loss. Being deprived of something is loss. When it comes to language arts, I’ve sadly crossed paths with scores of children struggling to write who have simply been deprived of the opportunity to imagine their ideas. Is summer the culprit? I think not!

Review Tip Number 2.

What is your BIG idea?

When it comes to writing: Form always follows function.

When learning an art form—and writing is an art form—the rule to follow is: form follows function. This means that language arts should not be approached or taught the same way that we teach math. We can not simply give our children a mountain of grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization rules and expect them to compose their ideas eloquently. In this case we are giving children “form” (building blocks) without any concept of “function” (purpose). Function is key to using form effectively.

Without ideas, writing becomes a meaningless chore.

Before the pandemic, literacy levels were in decline. But global shutdowns  pushed close to 1.5 billion students out of school. And these disruptions gave us all an opportunity to see that perhaps our approach to teaching language arts is broken. It gave us an opportunity to make a change. Truth is, on average nationwide, 66% of 4th grade children in the U.S. could not read proficiently in 2013, seven years before the pandemic! And children who do not read proficiently, do not write effectively!

Lacking basic reading and writing skills is a tremendous disadvantage. But lacking the ability to value ideas, well, that is tragic.

Literacy not only enriches an individual’s life, it creates opportunities for people to develop skills that will help them provide for themselves, their families, and humanity at large. Literacy is the ability to read, write, and think in ways that enable us humans to communicate effectively and authentically. Literacy helps us make sense of the world.

Tip Number 3.

Climb the Slide of Imagination

If we are to use metaphors, let it NOT be the “summer slide” or the COVID slide”.

Please let it be the: Slide of Imagination!

When children engage with ongoing spelling lists, endless grammar exercises, and cookie-cutter writing exercises, they will become exhausted and disheartened climbing an endless ladder.

When it comes to writing an idea, at first, children (even adults!) might see the blank page and feel a little frightened, like getting on a two-wheeler for the first time. But with a bit of encouragement: “You can do this!” the pencil in hand will begin to fill the page. The climb up will always be UP, but the slide of imagination will never disappoint.

Try this writing exercise (yes, you):

Look at the photo above. What did the little girl think climbing the ladder to the top of the slide? What did she think when she reached the top and looked down? What was going through her head when the photo was snapped?

You are seeing blank lined-paper, right?  It’s not easy to begin, right? Is your imagination holding its breath?

  1. Sometimes, in this moment, I give my students permission to pretend!
  2. If I were in the room, teaching you, I might encourage you to dictate your idea so that your first draft would simply involve copy work. For reluctant writers, dictation is akin to training wheels.
  3. When students are really intimidated by the page,  I might offer a few “hooks” and let them choose how to begin. Here are some examples: At the top of the slide, she was so delighted by her favorite color that she burst into laughter.  Arms up, feet down, head back, big smile, you go girl!  She’s committed now! 
  4. Sometimes all it takes is getting a first sentence on board for the idea to flow.

Now it’s your turn. Write your idea. Write through all the stages: Idea brainstorming, first drafting, re-reading, editing, polished copy. And once you’ve completed this exercise, teach someone to write through the prompt. You can do it! You be a writing coach!

Encouraging your students to write their ideas is inviting them to climb the ladder into their imagination and slide into the art of writing joyfully.

Instead of worrying about catching up this winter, think about gathering around-the-campfire.  Around the campfire we warm up, roast marshmallows, make s’mores, sing songs, and best of all, we share stories.

 

~Kimberly

GIVEAWAY(S)

Enter to win an easy light up fire pit built for the backyard and beyond from our friends at Solo Stove – plus, a Blackbird & Company Yeti Thermos (2 total)!

ENTER TO WIN NOW

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Campfire Season is Here!

For those of you who are new to Blackbird & Company, and those who are seasoned users, pull up a log, and gather round the campfire!

During the month of January we’ll share stories and offer ideas to ignite curiosity and motivate enthusiasm as you and your students move into the long stretch of this coming school year.

Tip Number 2.

Begin 2023 by making the most important question the centerpiece of your approach to language arts:

“What’s your big idea?”

Valuing ideas is key to authentic writing . If your  student does not care, then the pencil will reflect this fact. The act of writing will be boring. The simple truth is that, once a student develops the confidence to write an idea, the work of writing becomes an intrinsically valuable exercise.  Our CORE Literature and Writing Discovery Guides challenge students to journal their ideas week after week.

Learning to Write Well! is simply-one-step-in-front-of the-other, I promise! If you partner with us and encourage your students to journal their way through six stories per year, you’ll be amazed by robust growth in your child’s ability to take an idea from a tiny seedling of imagination to a carefully crafted sentence, paragraph, poem, essay, and more.

There is NO substitute for consistently encouraging your children to write their ideas. No matter the level, kindergarten through high school, the long stretch of the school year is looming. We urge you to courageously press into coaching your child in the daily art of writing! Don’t give up! Come June, your students will have brought shape to significant original ideas as they moved through the CORE of our program!!! And, more importantly, they will have gained confidence in their ability to communicate.

GIVEAWAY(S)

Enter to win an easy light up fire pit built for the backyard and beyond from our friends at Solo Stove – plus, a Blackbird & Company Yeti Thermos (2 total)!

ENTER TO WIN NOW

 

Each student’s work is important work!

Read well! Write Well! Think well!

 

~Kimberly

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Welcome 2023! It’s campfire time…!

We want our students to read and write well. We want them to think creatively and to value their ideas.

Learning, no matter the subject, can be an awesome journey. The path can be filled with wondrous sights to delight the intellect and warm the heart .

But the opposite can also be true.

The opposite of an awesome journey would be an arduous one. The opposite of a path with wondrous sights to delight the intellect and warm the heart is one filled with brambles and thorns that discourage and weaken. On this journey, this path, learning is thwarted, the heart is discouraged, and some form of illiteracy is a common outcome.

Here are some literacy facts to ponder, some fact’s that we desire to change:

21% of adults in the US are illiterate in 2022

54% of adults have a literacy below 6th grade level

The state with the lowest adult literacy rate is California

In autumn 2020, research carried out by the Department for Education (DfE), the Education Policy Institute and Renaissance Learning found a learning loss of up to 2 months in reading in both primary and secondary pupils, based on STAR assessments of more than 400,000 pupils (DfE, 2021).

In October of 2020, an assessment of 112,000 children’s writing skills by No More Marking suggested that year-7 students were 22 months behind where they should be. (Christodolou, 2020).

Together we can do better! Right?

Learning to read and write and think is a lifelong journey.

We are creatures with an enormous capacity to enjoy and enact language.

Tip Number 1.

Enjoy the journey!

 

Join us ’round the campfire this month as we share tips to inspire happy learning and literacy.

As we look back on 2022, we Blackbirds are considering what is happening at large in the realm of literacy with a heart to help—one student at a time. Looking forward to 2023, the happiest news will be hearing stories of your students—your dear children—pressing happily into their important work, the work of becoming literate.

Read well! Write well! Think well!  =   Happy New Year!*

 

GIVEAWAY(S)

Enter to win an easy light up fire pit built for the backyard and beyond from our friends at Solo Stove – plus, a Blackbird & Company Yeti Thermos (2 total)!

ENTER TO WIN NOW