Childhood is a tricky business. Usually, something goes wrong.
Almost 100 years ago, Maurice Sendak was a child walking down the street in his city neighborhood when he glimpsed an image of the deceased Lindbergh baby on the front page of a newspaper being hawked by a young boy. That image haunted Sendak for his entire life, leading to a morbid fascination with babies and death. In interviews, he talked about the babies he would insert in random spots in his drawings. If you look closely, you can see them in many of his illustrations. What makes his picture books endure as transcendent art may be the darkness that lurks just below the bright images and upbeat prose.
I think about Sendak when I look at children today. I wonder what they are taking away from the horrific acts of violence that are so commonplace now, splashed across screens daily. The images of blood and carnage are impossible to avoid. As teachers, we are constantly asking ourselves, how can we help children get through the realities of living in a violent, image-rich world?
One small way is to hold fast to the truth that writing is drawing, and drawing is writing. Children need both words and images to make sense of things they have seen that may haunt them for years. It’s why teachers resist having students turned into worker bees, with their main task churning out ever-higher scores on ever-changing yet mostly irrelevant exams. As Cathy Malchiodi writes in “Art as a Path to Peace in a Violent World”:
Art making also capitalizes on the senses in ways far different from a joystick and a digital screen. It provides a brain-wise, hands-on experience that helps us to feel better through experiences of rhythm, pattern, color, play and movement that mediates depression and anxiety.
Maurice Sendak managed to turn a horrific glimpse of a dead baby into a lifelong pursuit of producing vivid art that has delighted generations of young readers and their families. We have to believe it’s possible to make something beautiful out of something tragic. Otherwise it would be impossible for so many of us to go on. It’s why the families of gun violence victims inspire us to speak out and show up at school board meetings. And it’s why we insist that even the youngest among us has the right to pick up a pen, crayon, or paint, and try to make sense of what cannot be unseen.
This week we look at struggles in writing workshops, and how to overcome them. Plus more as always — enjoy!
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Here are Matt Renwick’s three favorite moves for helping struggling writers:
Carly Ullmer assesses how she can give consistent and meaningful feedback to every one of her many middle school students at least once a week:
Pernille Ripp offers some profound advice for helping students raise their voices in troubling times:
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Suzy Kaback meets with a group of teachers to talk through struggles in the writing workshops. Using a fitness analogy, they come up with strategies to try immediately in their classrooms:
How do you help students who are far behind their classmates in tackling writing projects, and have had years of learned helplessness in approaching complex tasks? Melanie Meehan takes on the challenge with a backward-chaining model:
In this week’s video, Christy Rush-Levine meets with eighth grader Jaden, who talks through his struggles in writing a conclusion to his literary analysis, and how his peers helped him improve the writing:
One way to get all students excited about writing workshop is through independent projects. Tara Barnett and Kate Mills explain why they devote many Fridays to independent projects. This is the first installment in a three-part series:
In an encore video, Aimee Buckner presents a listing strategy minilesson in writing workshop using the book This is the Tree:
That’s all for this week!