"The free play of art is the result of mastery. " --Ernst Fischer, The Necessity of Art

"Children are likely to live up to what you believe of them." --Ladybird Johnson

"...a well-trained ear, a well-trained intelligence, a well-trained heart, and a well-trained hand...." --Zoltan Kodaly


Learning Link, 94

Today's link is to a post that I found stirred my thinking around a bit.   Reflecting on goals and projects--not to mention daily choices--might already be a habit, but sometimes it's helpful to see how others frame their thinking.    Granted,  this particular post  might perhaps be a bit prescriptive for my taste--or yours---but it's worth a look.  

Check out "Twenty Questions" .....here.


Learning Link, 93

Emily Pilloton, who wrote Design Revolution, presents a compelling case for using design in re-shaping both the spaces in which education takes place and the shape of education itself.

Pilloton's talk is based on her work in a 'rural ghetto'--the poorest county in N.C.   The work her group is doing, at the intersection of design and education, uses three different approaches:

1. Design for education: "the physical construction of improved spaces and materials and experiences for teachers and students" --renovating mobile classroom trailers, closed-in classrooms which limit mobility, co-creating outdoor 'landscapes for learning'.  (That's all the detail I'm going to give, because there are great pictures and more information in her talk.)
2.  Re-designing  education itself:  'a systems-level look at how education is  administered, at what is being offered, and to whom...not so much about making change as creating the conditions under which change is possible, and the incentive to want to make change"....asking the community to grow, but also asking the "school system to envision how it might become a catalyst for a more connected community...to reach outside of the school walls, to play a role in the community's development...connect the classroom and home and extend learning beyond the school day'.

3. Design as education: teaching design "Community-focused design curricula and shop class renaissance"....an antidote to verbal instruction, this hands-on learning 'allows kids to apply the core class learning in real ways'.

Pilloton also talks about bringing back shop class but infused with a 'more critical and design-thinking curricula' with actual projects...elderly house improvement, farmers' markets, and more.

 Pilloton is hoping that Studio H, this project, will serve as a pilot project in engaging students, schools and community in real learning, community building, and a 'way to develop skills'  so that students can 'give back in a meaningful way'.


Check it out--the TED talk is  here.


Reality, Poetry for Kids

Every once in a while,  I'm posting one of the poems I've written---ones I think children might like.
(Don't worry though---you'll always know it's coming, because 'poetry' will appear in the title.)

Here's today's poem...(.written when I was also a very young kid.)


Alive, yet dead.
Tucked away in bed.
Sad and sweet,
folded neat.
In the back of your mind,
they're not hard to find.
They linger yet, not willing to go---
they're memories of things
you used to know.

Karla, 1970s


Learning Link, 92

Well: this isn't a learning link, directly, about education.

But it is connected to how we affect others throughout our daily lives, often without even knowing it.

And besides: it's beautifully written, funny, and a pleasure to read.

Here's the link to "The Only Letter You'll Get on Thanksgiving", by Paul Overton--read it here.

and thanks to Paul for writing such beautiful stuff--his site is packed full of great things to read.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!


Adult         "What do you say when someone gives you something?"

Child (in a singsong voice)    "Thank you!"

We teach our children  on an ongoing basis, to say thank you for all kinds of small everyday gifts and services.....and sometimes I, at least, forget to practice what I teach.

So just in case you didn't know:  I'm grateful that you take the time to stop by here, and visit awhile.
Thank you for reading--and to all of you who've given me kind comments in person, about what I write: thank you.

It's an amazing thing to be able to do what makes your heart sing inside, for a living, each day.  That's what teaching is for me:  being around kids---- working to learn from them, with them, and for them----being around adults who care about both children and education---having a small spot in the long pathway through time, of teachers and learners.

I'm grateful for all of that,  and I'm grateful that you share it a bit with me by reading (and sometimes commenting!)  here.

Thank you----Happy Thanksgiving!


Daily Life, 92

Yesterday, I dropped by the cafeteria to talk with  C, our great Afterschool program director.  She was, as usual, hanging out with kids--in this case, a smart & savvy 5th grader.

C       Jack*, why are you sniffing that bowl?

Jack*    It smells like chicken broth.

C       It is.

Jack*    That would be why it smells that way, then.

C     You're very alert for 3 o'clock in the afternoon, Jack.

Jack    What's  'alert'?

Me    It's a good thing.   It means you're awake and aware of what's going on around you.

Jack*     Oh.   Why didn't you just say that?

Me      Wait, don't you like new words?

C  (chuckling)    Yesterday,  I called him a cantankerous cuss.

Jack*    That was because I didn't want to do one single thing that anyone else wanted to do.

Me      Hmm.   Yep, that sounds pretty curmudgeonly to me!

Jack*   (yanking on his hair and laughing)   You guys!  Wouldja stop calling me words that I have to go look up in the dictionary??   (...followed by laughter all  around...)

*Jack, of course, is not this good-natured kid's real name. ....and he's not, actually, a  curmudgeonly, cantanerous cuss--he's a great kid.  :-) 


Learning Link, 91

Seth Godin's daily blog posts generally provide thoughts to mull over.  Good stuff, that, for daily consumption.

Some of his thoughts, though, seem to stick around and become a pivotal part of shaping thinking. (For me, anyway.)

Like this, for instance:

"Someone who gets better whenever he fails will always outperform someone who responds to failure by getting worse. This isn't something in your DNA, it's something you can learn or unlearn.
The appropriate response is not to try harder, to bear down and grind it out. The response that works is to understand the nature of the cycle and to change it from the start. You must not fight the cycle, you must transform it into a different cycle altogether. It's a lot of work, but less work than failing." --Seth Godin

Like to read the rest of the post?  Check it out here.


Daily Life, 91

Today in Grade Two Music, we were discussing the further adventures of Harold (our imaginary friend).

It seems that poor Harold went scuba-diving with his girlfriend, FiFi, when he accidentally--not looking where he was going, of course---he does tend to do that a lot---well, he swam into a Very Dangerous Place.

Kids     Where did he go?  What happened?  Is he OK?  Did you get a letter from him?

Me      Well, he went right into the mouth of a very big fish.

Kids    A whale?  A killer whale? 

Sam*    I saw a killer whale once.  It was in the zoo.

Jodi*   Aw, that's not true.  They don't have whales in zoos, right?

Carli*    I think he must have been very frightened.

Me*     He sure was.

Dinitra*    How in the world did he fit into the whale's mouth?

Me*     Well, you see, the whale just happened to be in the middle of a big old yawn.  So Harold just thought it was a cave or something, and swam right in.   He's been trying to get out ever since.

Charles*    Man.  I'm gonna pray for that boy.

(At this point, we all laughed and started singing out next song....)

*Sam, Jodi, Carli, Dinitra and Charles are not, of course, the real names of these highly imaginative youngsters.


Learning Link, 90

"A Wrinkle in Time" comes true..... Check this out, from a post on BoingBoing about physicists, invisibility cloaks, and a space-time invisibility cloak.   How cool would this be?  (One more reason to have studied my science lessons more carefully in Elementary School...)

"Lasers would be used to control the fibres' refractive indices, opening and closing the temporal void. The fibre-optic cloak could hide events only from observers standing directly ahead of the oncoming light waves, and it could not fully block all reflections from light travelling through the cloak while it is turned on, so some light might bleed out. A distant observer looking down the optical fibre would not spot the hidden event, but they would notice the background light getting brighter and dimmer. McCall hopes that a fibre-optic cloak creating a space–time void around 30 centimetres long, to hide actions taking place over a few nanoseconds, could be built within the next year."  (BoingBoing)

I want one of those in a user-friendly pocket-pack, please....

Read the rest of the post, here.


 In a good conversation recently  about creativity and ways of making sense of the world,  we were discussing how the arts can serve as a lens---one which is cleared and put into focus through music and art and dance and creative writing.   A lens which  enriches  the lives of people whose primary way of seeing the world comes through other channels, but which is vital for those of us in the arts.

This is a  way of knowing about life  which will be far less present in our  children's lives--in  the early formal education of young people--as  arts programs are ever more stringently excised from the curriculum.  As arts programs are increasingly expected to abide by the kinds of data-driven tests which quantify concrete skills and value the accumulation of discrete pieces of knowledge---as though aggregation of information were equivalent to nurturing and expressing creativity.  

There's a  genuine need for all of us, as creative beings, to have excellent tools in our boxes, yes.   Tools which are then put into the play of creation and expression.

The state tests---which increasingly dictate every move within the education system--measure aptitude and knowledge accurately, but only for those people whose primary intelligence is best expressed with paper and pen.

That excludes many people.  It assumes that other forms of knowing-- knowledge--experience-- awareness--- are not equally valid.

All of which is not news.  All of which troubles me, and others like me.

In our discussion, C (a graphic designer-turned-elementary-art teacher) and I  wondered aloud about implementing data-driven observations as a way of justifying the inclusion of the arts in education, expressed in a form which the policy instituters can understand.

 I'd rather use any gathering of data as an engine to inform my own awareness of the efficacy of my teaching.  Sometimes it works best to simply close my classroom door on the dominant methods of teaching-and-testing, and to work with  the children who are right in front of me.  We work to give them our best, as individual teachers.

As an educational system?  The goal is present: strong learning, excellent students.  However, I think our national testing-crazed beaureacracy is on the wrong track .   In a way, the state educational system is a rusting behemoth, an engine being driven by the needs of other eras.  Packed with good drivers?  Perhaps.   But in an economy where careers which involve data-entry are being outsourced as quickly as possible, the need for creative thinkers--for people whose minds have been trained to observe, analyze and respond--is strong,  and growing.

That would be where education in the arts shines.


Poetry for Kids, 2

OK....here's the thing:  I write poetry.  (I know, many people do.)  I'd like to be able to share my poems with other people...so every once in a while,  I'm going to post one of my poems.

Never fear:  you'll know it's coming, by the post title.

But for those who may just possibly enjoy it, here goes.


I like the sound of words.
I like the crunch and crackle
as they chuckle in my cheeks.
I like their golden glimmer
and their bouncy, bopping beat.
I like the boldness of brave Bee
and the peppery popping of palpitating Pea.
I like the slithery slippery sliding
of Ssss, sneaking softly to silence.
I like the way words wet and gray
drip with rain on a sunny day.
I like their snazzy, jazzy walk.
I like the cuddly cooing of baby-talk.
I like the sound of words.

(Karla, 1980)


Daily Life, 90


I spilled hot tea on my computer the other day.  Luckily, these things are built to take life's daily loads....after some rest & time to dry, it appears to be in hearty working order.

I've been  thinking about something a speaker said at a workshop yesterday.

"Nonviolence is about surfacing the tension that's already there."  --Barry Durfel

The discussion was about closing the gap in groups of students, building community, learning to talk about our differences and learning to find our commonalities.  Celebrating both.

Even just starting on that path will take some courageous discussions and the willingness to extend ourselves beyond what feels comfortable.   

I'm hoping to learn what's missing from my own teaching practice...perhaps that should be, from the way I've chosen to live my life....and to start filling in the gaps, as much as I'm able to do so.

Good stuff.  Hard to do.  Hard to talk about.  But oh....so vital to keeping our communities alive.


Daily Life, 89

Our district held a day-long staff workshop today, which centered around exploring the implementation of the ideas in Chaos or Community ( a book which was just re-published, written by Dr. King).

It's a challenge to write about Martin Luther King's ideas, on a teeny educational blog....so much that's incredibly valuable has already been written....and there's just so much there.

On the other hand, sometimes it's only when  we  talk about the ideas in books,  as individuals, each relating it to our own experiences,  that the books come alive.

Here's what had the most impact on me, while reading:  King's comment, towards the end of the book, that people often mistake the intention for the deed.   That we hear the melodious phrases, we watch from afar  as equity is translated into laws and signed into the legal code,  we see media depictions of lifestyles and communities which appear prosperous....and we then are lulled into believing that all of the work is done.

King's view in the late 1960s, when he wrote this book?  We're not done, we've only begun.

From the discussions and the first-hand views and experiences of many of our 1000+ staff, that still holds true today.   There's still much work to be done.

Now I think, for me at least, I'd like to take a good hard look to see just what that means, worked out through daily life right here.


Daily Life, 88

Our Principal arranged for us to be able to watch an early showing of the new documentary, "Waiting for Superman".  

Discussions in the media have already been underway, with some holding that this movie will be provocative enough to cause systemic change, once it's taken hold of the general public.

I'm not so sure.   Not because there weren't good points:  there were.  It's true, the educational system in our country is a bureaucratic behemoth: cranky, ill-suited to serve the needs of most of our children.

It's also true that giving  our children the best that we possibly can give them is vital to their wellbeing--and to ours.

But those are facts that are already well-established.....and that's what I think this movie does: it simply presents the impact of those realities, as evidenced in the lives of several individual children.

It's true, there was some emotion-yanking going down.  It's also true that there was a sustained, underlying diatribe against teacher unions---neither of which is actually helpful in forwarding a discussion which should have an intense focus on solutions.

As to that, there were also some solutions proposed....arising from interviews and a bit of data  on individual schools and on systemic school programs*  where the emphasis is on individual responsibility for learning. 

What were the core ideas?  
    --Responsibility, for everyone in the process.
    --Holding everyone (adults as well as children) to high standards.
    --Expecting all children--regardless of socio-economic backgrounds--to be successful academically. 
    --Allocating sufficient resources in terms of time, funds and staffing--to accomplish the goals.

Not surprising nor new ideas.   But good ones, nonetheless.   Is it a movie worth seeing?  Probably, if you're someone who's interested in education.   Just don't expect miracles.

Those are what happen on a daily basis in many classrooms across the country, despite the system.

*One of the school programs I found intriguing was the KIP school system.  KIP stands for Knowledge Is Power.    I'll check it out and post about it at some point soon.


Daily Life, 87

Watching "Peter and the Wolf" with First Grade musicians...

Anna*    Is Peter real?

Me    Do you mean, is he a real person?

Anna*  Yes.  Is he for real?

Me    No.  It's a story.  But I agree with you, it does seem as though he's real.

Sam*    Well, he could be.  There are real Peters for real, in the world.  I mean, like Peter Pan!

*Anna and Sam are, of course, not these thoughtful First Graders' real names.


Daily Life, 86

OK,  one more Halloween story...last evening, one of my first trick or treaters was a teeny two year old.
He stood on my porch with his bag open, looking up at me expectantly.  

Child's Mother (in background):   What do you say, honey?

Child (with a big happy smile):  Happy Thanksgiving!

oh, yes....

Speaking of Halloween, we had people   who didn't need costumes to be their characters, at school today...the Energizer Bunny (chocolate for breakfast),  many zombies (chocolate for dinner, snack, breakfast and lunch), and several of the Seven Dwarves:  Sleepy, Sneezey, Dopey and Grumpy.

Make that lots of Grumpies.

And that was just the adults...