Four score and seven years ago… Memorization in School

Son #1 has to memorize Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address for Social Studies class.

He doesn’t want to. Actually, he’s already memorized paragraphs one and two, it is three that is the doozy.

“Why do I have to memorize this?” he says. “I could understand if I had to explain the meaning of the speech or write an essay on it’s effects on the Civil War. Why memorization?”

I can understand his concern and applaud his assignment suggestions which encourage critical thinking.

I’ll admit that as a teacher I’ve asked children to memorize poetry, or the preamble to the US Constitution. I’m a big fan of Poetry Outloud and part of my motivation (for mandatory student memorization) comes from a romantic notion planted by the Dead Poet’s Society movie (that’s a link to video BTW). I imagine my students theatrically presenting literary moments in history. But there is more. As they memorize, I hope that they internalize the rhythms of the language and the meaning of the piece. It’s true, that in these situations, I spend quite a bit of time dissecting what ever needed to be memorized.

What do you think? Memorization yes or no? Is there something you had to memorize in Middle School that you still know?

Giving Thanks for Readers!

Thank you! Shepherd Elementary School Early Readers.

This morning I accompanied my mother to her volunteer position as a reader for the Shepherd School Early Readers program. I’ve discussed the program here originally, and here as a follow up. (So I suppose this is a follow up to the follow up.) I was fabulously surprised by the number of books that my colleagues at the MidAtlantic SCBWI region collected and was there as an SCBWI representative to take pictures and do a little research for an article I’m pitching to the SCBWI Bulletin. I DID NOT know that I was the main event. How wonderful for me that I got to talk a little about my own book, do a reading, and meet the inspiring children who will read these donated books.

They kept thanking me, and gave me a gift, and that wonderful signed poster in the picture– but truly no thanks was necessary: 1) the MidAtlantic SCBWI folks did the heavy lifting and 2) being able to read to and take in the energy of the kids was more valuable than any gift.

It was just what I needed to keep working on my new novel and handle the agent waiting game– AGAIN. At the end of the studying, and the work, and the art, and the craft, and the business, is the children. Let us all give thanks for the readers.

National Day on Writing A Success for Maine Students

Friday, October 19th marked the NCTE National Day on Writing. Technically, Senate resolution 565 commemorates October 20th, but for many of us, every day is writing day and that is our wish for the rest of the world as long as they don’t try to publish and create more competition for me.

Yesterday I caught up with a wonderful librarian friend of mine, Heather Perkinson, who was all aglow with the results of her Day on Writing events. “[The event] showed students that writing is not just something that you do alone. You can do it together and it’s fun. They liked being able to play,” Heather said. Her enthusiasm was contagious and so I am excited to pass on her success for both educators and writers. Perhaps through her wonderful activities, your students can find fun in writing. If you are a writer, maybe it will remind you to take time to play.

Heather’s excitement came from her creation of the GHS Inkspot, a series of live (as opposed to web-based) stations in her HS library where, over the course of the day, many of her school’s ELA classes found fun in writing. The Inkspot link (above) gives plenty of resources to go with the stations, but the stations themselves need some introduction too.

List making: Heather cut notebook paper in half vertically and let the students make lists. The could follow these list prompts or makes their own.

(I’ll add here this site of found grocery lists that certainly contain story starters for a variety of characters. *Not always appropriate for children.*)

Journaling: With 12×12 scrapbook paper, Heather made two front and back covers for journals and gave them out to students who sat right down and started to fill them with writing. See example pictured on GHS Inkspot.

Neologisms: If you’ve ever coined a word, you know what a neologism is. Students taking part in Inkspot created new definitions for some of Lizzie Skurnick’s words and coined some words of their own.

Poster stickies: Oversized stickies on the library wall became the gallery of favorite student quotes, words (wasabi is my personal favorite), authors, and song lyrics.

Flash Fiction: Character, setting, conflict, human experience. Nuff said. (See Heather’s links at GHS Inkspot.

Exquisite Corpse: What Day on Writing would be complete without an Exquisite Corpse station. This parlor game allows collaborators to add to a drawing or story, or reinterpret a series of sentences. Sometimes the writer knows what comes before and sometimes they don’t. At the library, Heather used a chartpad with a cloth covering that moved down the board as others participated.

In addition to these activity stations, the school literary and art magazine staffed a table where they answered questions about submission guidelines, had examples of past issues, and brought their submission box. If a student didn’t have submission ready to go, they could fill out a submission pledge!

As a new hire at this school, many of the English teachers didn’t know what to expect from Heather’s Day on Writing.  “I should have let people know farther ahead. It’s so hard for the teachers to change their schedule,” she said. Still, GHS Inkspot showed that her events are worth planning around. She is looking forward to serving more of the students with future events.