Courage is tiny pieces of fear all glued together.
The end of every school year is bittersweet, but for students making the transition from elementary to middle school, the last day of school is truly an end, and not merely a pause between grade levels.
I wanted to send my fifth graders off with a simple but powerful message. Words basic enough for them to understand as a 10- or 11 year-old, but compelling enough to ring true their whole life.
Sitting at my kitchen table, I stared into space, drumming my fingers lightly on the keys of my computer. “What are my hopes for these children? What kind of lives do I hope they will make?” I wondered.
I hoped they would stay smart…and remember our conversations about the myriad of ways a person can be smart.
I hoped they would be strong…resisting peer pressure and becoming their own unique selves.
And I hoped they would have beauty in their lives…beauty they would find and beauty they would create.
Now I had my message, but how to deliver it?
On the last day of school, I gave each table group different building materials. One group got the shoebox full of Uno cards, one group got the crate of wooden blocks, the third got a bag of dominoes, and the last got tubs of pattern blocks. I told them that their challenge was to work together, using the materials they were given, to create something smart, something strong, and something beautiful.
Predictably, the block group didn’t think they could make anything beautiful. The playing card group didn’t think they could make anything strong. None of them were sure how to make anything smart.
I compared the task to their lives. Rather than wasting energy envying what resources someone else might have to work with, each of them would need to use the skills and circumstances they’d been given to build their own unique life. They should always remember the power of collaboration. We can often accomplish more by working together than we ever could by working alone. And in all things, they should be creative.
With that, I turned them loose to build. As I circulated amongst the groups, the words ‘strong,’ ‘smart,’ and ‘beautiful’ could be heard echoing through the room. They were happy, they worked together to do the best they could with the materials they were given, and we ended our last day together with a feeling of energy and optimism and community. They felt ready to move on, and I felt ready to let them go.
Mary Lee Hahn
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Mary Lee Hahn has been teaching 4th or 5th graders for more than 20 years. She is the author of Reconsidering Read-Aloud (Stenhouse Publishers). Mary Lee and her colleague in the Dublin City Schools, Franki Sibberson, blog about their reading lives at A Year of Reading.
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Here are two features from the archives exploring different types of classroom bravery.
Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is to let others take charge of their learning. In Sense of Little Engines, Heather Rader writes about her experiences with agency in both a third-grade classroom and a professional development setting:
Katie DiCesare works with Evan, a first grader who shows little willingness to read on his own. She shares her strategies for promoting independence and enthusiasm for reading:
Meenoo Rami’s book, Thrive: 5 Ways to (Re)Invigorate Your Teaching is just out this month. In a new podcast, she talks about ways teachers can bring energy and joy back into their teaching:
If you’re looking for read alouds exploring courage, Reading Rockets has a booklist on Being Brave:
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Ruth Ayres tells the story of Noah, a brave first grader with a hard home life who has few happily ever afters as a writer:
It takes courage to use your own writing as a model for students. In this week’s video Tony Keefer does just that in a minilesson with fourth graders on manipulating time in personal narratives:
In a bonus video, Ruth Ayres confers with first grader Alexis about her visit to the doctor for a shot. The conference focuses on illustrations and labeling:
Earth Day is celebrated on April 22. Sarah Klim presents some favorite titles to share with students and build awareness in a new booklist:
New PD2Go: Gretchen Taylor meets with three sixth graders for a small-group conference involving shared reading and annotation. She begins with information that she gathered from a Google Doc about their annotation process and supports their development of strategies to better understand The Outsiders:
This video and workshop guide support Common Core State Standard ELA-Literacy W.6.9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
That’s all for this week!