She stood in the middle of the grocery aisle conducting traffic. One hand up to motion stop, the other hand scooping air beckoning some unseen traveler. I grinned at her as I approached. She put her hand down acknowledging that I could pass. I guessed she was about 4 years old, adorable, with blond frizzy hair, tutu skirt over sweat pants, and pink rubber boots. Her mom was browsing the cheese display and an older sister stood closer to the cart. “Come on, Allie, time to move on.” Her mother moved the cart forward and Allie followed with a little skip.
I passed by the small family a few more times on my trek through the store and ended up behind them at the register. Allie, as I now knew her name to be, looked at me as I pulled up behind them. “It’s our turn, not yours.”
“That’s right,” I replied. “It’s your turn to buy groceries. My turn will come when you are done.” Allie stood defensively by the counter. I decided to wait a bit before unloading my cart. Then her eyes caught sight of the candy shelves next to her. She began to sort the tic tacs by color, carefully pulling the white away from the blue and reloading the boxes all with one color. Her mom glanced down now and then but continued conversing with the checker.
When the groceries had been loaded and paid for, the mom pushed her cart to the door and called again to Allie who turned to me, waved and twirled and moved again into the caboose position behind her mom.
Thank you, Allie’s mom, for allowing her bits of autonomy in a world where 4 year olds aren’t in control of much. Little experiences of power and choice go a long way.
Every other year or so I make owls a focus in our classroom. We read Owl Babies, of course, and some non-fiction books to learn about these attractive birds. They are easy for the students to draw. I also lead the students in a project where they have to follow directions to cut and glue ovals, triangles and half circles together to make owls.
This year I decided to split this project over two days because I was expecting a new student on Friday and wanted to see how well she used scissors. Plus, since we are going to go on with the project by blow painting scraggly trees this week, I wanted her to have an owl for her tree.
So on Thursday I wrote the instructions out and, working in front of the students, I modeled how to make the owl. Then I folded the instructions in half and told the kids we were going to stop after creating the bodies and finish the heads on Friday.
The students got busy and I was pleased that despite all the parts being the same, these little owls had their own personalities!
I went around checking on progress. I just had to smile when I saw Miguel’s owl. Miguel is a student with very little receptive English. Without my bilingual aide to help me that day, he didn’t get any instructions in Spanish. He could only watch me as I demonstrated the project and look at what his peers were doing.
Miguel took the parts and created an owl – a whole owl. He is so artistic – I’ve noticed this time and time again. I love his little owl. There are skills, and then there are “skills.”
Ruth wrote about goosebumps the other day – I got them the same day – I hope they are contagious!
I didn’t intend to quiz my students about what they know about writing. It just sort of happened.
I, too, have been using my students as peer models for each other more and more as the year progresses. On Friday, I invited Alisha to come up and share her writing. Talking about her story and how we worked together was to be the “set up” for the work of the day.
She shared her story and we discussed how she drew herself and I drew myself and then we each added a detail for the story of us dancing to music. Just before I was about to excuse partners to their tables to draw, I held up the little checklist I use when I confer with them. I only meant it as a reminder of the things I talk to them about when they are writing – not as a quiz about what they know.
“Remember this? It might help you remember what to put in your stories.”
“Yes, it helps you know how to do quality pictures.”
“By telling you to have characters.”
“Like if you’re outside or inside.”
“And how you’re feeling.”
“And what you say.”
“And to write.”
I am not kidding. My students said all of those things with those words (yes!) with the single prompt of holding this card up!
And I have a witness! My principal surprised me by coming in for the lesson. His eyebrows were doing a dance!