Wednesday, August 19, 2009

One Hundred Eighty Days (And Ways)

September, not January, begins my calendar year.
And it always has, since that long-ago September day in West Philadelphia when I first set foot in Miss Patton’s Kindergarten room at the now-100-years-plus Overbrook Elementary School pictured above. I was newly-shoed, my black bangs cut and even, eager to begin what I’d been playing at for years.

Like Joe Fox in my favorite movie You’ve Got Mail, come September I want to buy school supplies! I bestow the following Back-to-School ideas as a bouquet of newly-sharpened #9 pencils. Sniff (and use) to your heart’s (and students’) content.

What better way to start the school year, and each and every one of its 180 days, than with an original poem by a singular original poet, say, for instance, J. Patrick Lewis.
And Lewis’ Countdown to Summer: A Poem for Every Day of the School Year (Little, Brown, ’09) helps you do just that.
Starting with #180, “A Sixth Grader Sees the Future,” Lewis offers listeners a variety of subjects sure to hit home in a variety of poetic styles ripe for modeling: limericks, haikus, riddles, shape and narrative poems and nonsense verse as only he can write.

Lewis’ final poem - #1, “School’s out!” - provides the perfect exclamation point to this fun and funny collection, illustrated in Ethan Long’s cartoon style.

“School is out and I’m so sad
(That is what I told my dad).
I’ll miss Mrs. Rosenbaum
(That is what I told my mom).”

Of course, J. Patrick Lewis, a former teacher himself, is a prolific writer.
In fact, I’m challenged to pick a favorite title.

He’s the perfect subject for an Author Study, which is the perfect vehicle for coming to know a writer – his life, his writing process, his works and inspiration.

To learn the Who, What, When, Where, How and Why of Author/Illustrator Studies, visit Esme Codell’s PlanetEsme.
Next, visit Lewis’ website to learn everything you want to learn about this former Economics-professor-turned-award-winning-author-and-poet. The section “Scenes from my Life” offers glimpses of Lewis’ childhood, growing-up years and family life.
The “For Teachers” section lists interview links to keep you reading for days.
The “For Kids” section provides answers to Frequently Asked Questions.
“Poems and Riddles” shares a reproducible classroom hand-out.
Finally, the “Books” section is an all-year-and-then-some Reading List of Lewis’ titles that span poetic styles, formats (short story, easy-to-read, picture books), genres (biography, myths, legends, tall tales) and subject matter (Math, Science, Music, Art, History, Language Arts, Geography).

Oh, the learning opportunities (at least 180) from but one singular poet! By the time April (and National Poetry Month) come around, pockets will be stuffed with poems and riddles for reciting.

Writing Workout

Lewis’ poems often appear in collections and anthologies, such as Falling Down the Page, a collection of list poems edited by Georgia Heard (Roaring Brook Press, ’09).

What is Earth?

What is earth, whale?
A sea where I sing.
What is earth, robin?
A thing I call Spring.
What is earth, python?
A space to squeeze in.
What is earth, penguin?
A place to freeze in.

List poems make for instant poets.
How might a Kindergartner, a returning student, the New Kid in Town, a graduate, a teacher, a substitute teacher, a Principal, a Cafeteria Lady, a Building Engineer, the office secretary, a parent, a classroom hamster answer, "What is school?"
Why not create a class poem, asking the question of (and naming) each of your students while showing, not telling, the importance of Viewpoint.

Georgia Heard’s “Recipe for Writing an Autumn Poem" also models a "Recipe for Writing a School Poem."
Heard's recipe includes:

One teaspoon wild geese.
One tablespoon red kite.
One cup wind song.
One pint trembling leaves.
One quart darkening sky.
One gallon north wind.

What weights and measures and ingredients might your students choose?
And which senses respond to each ingredient's describing word?
Brainstorm possible ingredients, webbing the school building, its residents, its happenings, the school year’s 180 days.
Brainstorm measurements, webbing not only liquid and dry measurements and measurements of time and space but original measurements and long-ago units.
And brainstorm those describing words. A poet is a wordsmith.


J Patrick Lewis said...

A swashbuckler of a bow to all the Teaching Authors for your kindness in posting such an effusive and delightful notice about my COUNTDOWN TO SUMMER. May you all enjoy a flibberibulous fall and a blisstastical school year!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Our pleasure, Mr. Lewis.
With thanks for all you bring to the page (falling down or otherwise)and writers of all ages.

Mandy Yates said...

What a great post! Being a teacher myself, I clicked on this blog, feeling a little downhearted when I saw the 180 days. And though to myself...ugh summer's almost over. However, I couldn't love this post more. You interweaved so many of my favorite things. My favorite movie is You've Got Mail as well and that is one of my favorite lines from the move. (People ask me why I love this movie and I tell them because it's about writing, and books, and the delicate beauties of NY that we can all somehow relate to.) My other favorite line would be "Things in life remind me of things I've read about in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?" And then you add to the post J. Patrick Lewis and George Heard's List Poems. I couldn't be happier with the wonderful ingredients you choose too bake this post!

Esther Hershenhorn said...

Your second favorite line from You've Got Mail is my second favorite line, too!
I'm glad you find my "ingredients" to your taste.
Do pass them on, along with the other TeachingAuthor Workouts and posts, to your fellow teachers.
And, maybe you'll use this blog to share with readers a Back-to-School list poem your students wrote?
I hope so.