Today was one of those excellent days of school wherein everything goes perfectly, and I wanted to jot it down to remember. Yesterday morning, as I listened to Richard Blanco read his inaugural poem, One Day, I decided to scrap my intended plans for English and devote today's classes to a study of the text. The poem, of course lovely but also complicated, required much of my 5th Graders. There were lines and even stanzas that they immediately understood, related to and were able to discuss eloquently, but much of the poem challenged my students, pushing them to the far reaches of their contextual knowledge as they tried to make sense of new vocabulary and figurative language. In each of my three sections students picked up on different lines of the poem, bringing their individual expertise to a conversation that was energetic and beautiful. While I was impressed by students who tried to define resilience or articulate the significance of the relationship between Martin Luther King's and President Obama, the most wonderful moments of my classes came when students pointed out lines of the poem that they liked "just because the words sounds nice."
In the afternoon, the entire 5th Grade met in the library for a Skype session with a Marine sergeant who was formerly stationed in Afghanistan. Our Social Studies and English curriculum has been focused on a study of the Middle East, and the students were eager to chat with someone who had experienced the geography, climate and culture of Afghanistan first hand. They asked meaningful questions ("Did you see women or girls outside alone?"; "How did you communicate with local residents?"; "Is the Taliban as bad as they seem to be in the books we've read?"), listened with respect and attention, and left the experience with a broader knowledge and understanding. We've discussed historical fiction in ever-growing detail, and it was excellent for the students to see that the details of their novel matched up with the experience of the Marine, sparking the understanding that an author has to do significant research to write accurately, albeit fictionally, about events in history.