Where Have You Come From, Where Are You Going?

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. When I woke up that morning, I decided I would call her to wish her happy birthday over the phone, then secretly make plans with my dad for a small surprise celebration we’ll have a few days later. But I had an email in my inbox from her, asking if … Continue reading "Where Have You Come From, Where Are You Going?"

Yesterday was my mother’s birthday. When I woke up that morning, I decided I would call her to wish her happy birthday over the phone, then secretly make plans with my dad for a small surprise celebration we’ll have a few days later. But I had an email in my inbox from her, asking if I could look over some materials she had written for a theatre workshop she was going to teach the next day. My mother is very talented – an expert in her field – and very humble. She is skilled at deflecting the conversation away from herself, even while she brings her whole self – her mind, her heart, her listening abilities, and her skills – to every conversation and interaction. This has always inspired me in my teaching. My mother and I love to connect over the fact that I have pursued teaching like her, in my own unique way, and that we bring a similar student-centered philosophy to our work. It’s exciting and humbling for me now, as an adult, to help her proofread her materials and share our thoughts and ideas about ways to bring student interest and engagement to the center of teaching and learning.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer: my mother blocking a scene with campers in her summer program for 3rd-6th graders where the kids collaborate with staff to write and perform an original play.

My mother’s area of expertise is Arts Integration – designing workshops and programs for classroom teachers to integrate the elements of drama with the subjects explored in history, math, science, language arts, etc. This approach keeps learning active for students and collaborative for teachers, building to a more meaningful and memorable learning experience for everyone involved.

I was first introduced to these methods as a young student in my mother’s drama programs, and the experiences have stayed with me (not only because my mother is around to remind me!). As someone raised by two teachers who became a teacher herself, I’ve always been interested in the ways our upbringing influences the decisions we make in our adult lives about our relationship to teaching and learning. While my area of focus is different than my mother’s, I see our process as essentially the same: provide a student-centered framework for learning, identify student interests, and scaffold a process for growth and creative and intellectual development.

 

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer: me working with my campers on original choreography.

And so I wonder–what influences from family and education are shaping the worlds of our OM high schoolers? What experiences with teaching and learning gained through the family feel most important to you now – feel like the things you will take with you as you go off into the world and into your adult life?

 

On Writing: An Honest Curiosity

Quotes on ceiling of Michel de Montaigne's study in France.

“Among the liberal arts, let us begin with the art that liberates us…”

Michel de Montaigne wrote these words in the late 1570s, when he withdrew from public life to hole up in a tower where he read, wrote, thought, paced, and ultimately, transformed the landscape of writing altogether.

Montaigne was a French nobleman and former magistrate whose life prior to his writing career has been called “unremarkable.” But it is precisely the things society has always called unremarkable that he fixed his mind on when he chose to sit down and begin writing in a style and form the world had never seen before.

Actually, he didn’t even sit. He felt his mind was more active if he paced around his library and dictated his thoughts to another person in the room. When he moved his books into the tower, he had his favorite quotes painted on the wooden beams that held up the ceiling. In this way, he could gaze up at them while walking and allow their ideas to inspire him as he walked.

“For our boy, a closet, a garden, the table and the bed, solitude, company, morning and evening, all hours will be the same, all places will be his study.”

Michel de Montaigne’s tower in France, where he wrote his famous essays.

This active approach to writing and thinking makes sense when we consider what he was writing about—ordinary, mundane things that everyone experiences but which no one ever talks about, to this day and certainly not in 1580. These were topics like: “Of thumbs,” “That we laugh and cry for the same thing,” “Of smells,” “Of sleep,” “Not to counterfeit being sick,” “Of the resemblance of children to fathers,” “Of liars,” “Of the custom of wearing clothes,” and so on. They weren’t informational articles, nor were they fictional stories or poems. They didn’t fall into any category of writing that anyone recognized. So what were they?

They were the mind in active work on the page—exploring, questioning, doubting, contradicting, and meandering, through the halls of sciences, poetry, fashion, law, history, morality, and a hundred other topics and disciplines, all with one unifying factor: the pursuit of curiosity.

Montaigne called them his essais, from the French word essayer—to try, or to attempt. Montaigne wasn’t an expert in the topics he was writing about or disseminating his superior knowledge. Instead, he was thinking and writing with a passionate rigor and a humble acknowledgement that learning and the pursuit of truth and discovery are never-ending processes.

“Put into his head an honest curiosity to inquire into all things; whatever is unusual around him he will see: a building, a fountain, a man, the field of an ancient battle, the place where Caesar or Charlemagne passed.”

Michel de Montaigne’s study, inside the tower.

This active, questioning, doubting, failing, and persevering definition of the word essay has been completely discarded from the American education system (if it was ever really present at all) through the industrialized uniformity of traditional curriculum design. When I say the word essay, I doubt you think to yourself, “Oh yeah, questioning and imagining, meandering and exploring! So fun, I love essays!” but rather, “Five paragraphs, same structure every time, topic sentences, plan the ending before I begin writing, never say the word I, hamburger method, makes me hate writing and feel like I am a bad writer.” At least that is what every writing student has told me the first time I asked them what an essay was.

The five-paragraph essay is one kind of essay, but it is not the only kind of essay, and it should not be the first kind of essay we learn how to write in school. I’ll tell you why: because it does not teach you how to think. In fact, it teaches you the opposite of thinking. It does teach organization of thought—but why should you learn how to organize your thoughts before you have been given the opportunity to think?

A copy of Michel de Montaigne’s Essays.

What Montaigne got so right in his essays that we should remember in our writing today is that essay writing is not so much about convincing your readers that you are an expert, but rather demonstrating the avenues, sidewalks, flight patterns, maps, and trajectories you’ve traveled to arrive at your discoveries. It’s about crafting a question (such as, “Since it is philosophy that teaches us to live, and since there is a lesson in it for childhood as well as for the other ages, why is it not imparted to children?”), reflecting on your initial knowledge about that question, researching the question, staging a conversation between your thoughts and your research, and reflecting on the discoveries that you made. By learning to think and write rigorously in this way, you also learn all the formalities of grammar and mechanics, and gain a comfort in writing in specific forms like lab reports or the five-paragraph essay.

In the spirit of Montaigne, and this rigorous, independent learning, I’ve designed a new writing course for Oak Meadow high-schoolers called Composition: Expression & Understanding, and you can enroll in the first semester now! Semester two will roll out this summer. This course will prepare you for the independent learning style of Oak Meadow, and it will strengthen your writing abilities in preparation for studies in all disciplines. But most importantly, this course will help you discover who you truly are, what you believe in, and how you want to pursue your own full and meaningful life. At the end of the day, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Enroll Here: https://oakmeadow.com/news/courses/composition-the-art-of-expression/

All quotes from Montaigne’s essay, “Of the Education of Children.” http://essays.quotidiana.org/montaigne/education_of_children/

Building Connections

Comics by Naomi Washer.

As someone who juggles multiple jobs, interests, and artistic pursuits, I find it helpful to identify what each of these endeavors share. I gain a stronger appreciation for all areas of my life when I understand why I engage with each one, and how they influence each other.

Building connections between the different areas of one’s life is something I learned as a student at Bennington College. Similar to Oak Meadow, Bennington encourages students to approach their lives as learners, artists, and innovators holistically: rather than compartmentalizing the different parts of you, how can you step back and observe yourself on multiple levels, then build a complete picture who you are?

I am an essayist, a poet, an editor of a poetry press, and a writing and literature teacher. I also make comics and embroidery art, and write resumes for a career counseling company. These are such different things! What connects them all?

Comic by Naomi Washer. First in a series of daily comics I’ll be making this year about living in Vermont.

I’m interested in framing devices–finding a frame for a concept, and identifying a form that highlights that concept. This interest in framing is why I make comics, where the juxtaposition of panels, image, and text tell a story all their own. It’s why I write literary essays that spiral around a question. It’s the reason I make embroidery art, where the circular hoop frames the artwork. It’s why I choose artwork for my poetry magazine that matches the style of writing we publish. It’s one of the main reasons I teach writing–to guide students toward strengthening their ability to frame their thoughts, reflections, and arguments. It’s also the reason I work as an editor, where I help professionals learn how to frame their achievements in the best possible light.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. My beautiful hardcover planner, printed by Candor Arts.

I make a conscious effort to pull these threads together by filling my space with phrases and juxtapositions of objects that show me how things fit together. For 2018, I’m using a new planner with the words STILL LEARNING on the cover, to remind myself that I am still learning through all my endeavors, whether it be my new efforts in comics and embroidery, or the fields where I am already experienced, such as teaching and editing. I’m also restructuring my daily schedule to make time for handcrafts before and after long days in front of a screen.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. My living room table set up for making comics in the morning and embroidery pieces in the evening – next up is embroidering some of the comics designs!

Now, let’s take an Oak Meadow student as an example. What connections can a student build between the following courses and extracurriculars?:

  • The Hero’s Journey: Introduction to Literature and Composition
  • Geometry
  • Environmental Science for a Changing World
  • A Sense of Place: The Geography of Global Change
  • French I
  • Ballet

To answer this completely would take the fun out of a student making their own connections, but here’s what I see on first glance:

Ballet uses the French language for all the names of its steps and positions. By studying French more in-depth, a student of ballet can gain a much more grounded understanding of the art form. For example, the word échappé in French literally means “escaped,” and it is the name for a leap where the feet move from close together to far apart! There is also so much to learn about the history of ballet by learning about French culture, where ballet has been tied to the country’s aesthetics for centuries. This interest in the cultures of other countries can carry over to A Sense of Place: The Geography of Global Change, and can go even deeper by engaging with a focused exploration of Environmental Science for a Changing World. The changing world, along with the ways we must change with it, is very much at the heart of The Hero’s Journey, where students read coming-of-age tales that take their heros through unknown lands. And let’s not forget Geometry! Gaining the skills to draw and comprehend shapes and spatial topographies and orientations will be incredibly useful when studying and drawing maps and landscapes in all of these courses. It will also bring clarity to spatial patterns in choreography for ballet (not to mention why and how your body can make the shapes it is able to make!).

There you have it. As we all dive back into our work at Oak Meadow in this new year, I encourage you to identify connections between your courses, your extra / co-curriculars, and the interests that keep you aware, curious, and growing through each and every day.

#SocialMedia

On a recent visit to my parents’ house, I discovered a room in the basement full of electronics from the turn of the century – bookshelves piled high with old monitors, printers, keyboards, and even stacks of floppy disks. We joked that my dad should open a history museum and give guided tours of the year 2001: “This is what technology looked like when you were born!”

One of those monitors had been mine in high school. I recognized it by the magazine cutouts taped around the border of the screen. I had a flashback of waiting several minutes for the computer to turn on whenever I wanted to chat with friends on AOL Instant Messenger (RIP). We had text messages but used them rarely. We still talked on the phone and made plans in advance in person, then met up at the designated time and place. We put up Away Messages on AIM with subtle tones that hinted vaguely about the exciting lives we were leading away from the screen. Then we truly stepped away from those screens, and into our lives.

Photo and embroidery by Naomi Washer. Quote from The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.

These days, it’s extremely difficult to disconnect ourselves from technology. From the minute I wake up to the sound of the morning alarm emanating from my smartphone, there are a hundred ways I check connections through social media to the outside world. I’ve got text messages and Instagram ‘likes’ that came through while I was asleep, and emails from contributors to my online poetry journal; I check the weather, my daily horoscope, and browse my Facebook feed; I read articles on the news, poetry, and education; and soon enough, my brain is fried from all the back-and-forth screen time, and I feel like curling up into a ball and going to sleep. Problem is, it’s only noon!

Photo and embroidery by Naomi Washer.

So, how can we use social media for all its wonderful connections without feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, or anxious?

I’m writing this blog post in my office. The door to the office is closed, and my phone is lying on the dining room table, far away from me. This is one tactic I employ while I am working, as there is no need for me to be on my phone while emailing my Oak Meadow colleagues, designing curriculum, or writing feedback to students on their work. Phones have become an extra limb for so many of us – it’s important to identify the times in which it would be more beneficial for you to unplug and focus on the people or task in front of you.

Photo and embroidery by Naomi Washer.

Recently, I decided to teach myself how to embroider. I’ve never done this before, and my mother and I joke that she would not have been able to teach me, as it is a skill she claims she did not inherit from my crafty grandmother. While I do wish I could have learned how to embroider from my grandmother herself, I was determined to find another way.

Photo and embroidery by Naomi Washer. Quote from this writer’s poet friend, John Harrity

 

Hashtags can be an incredibly useful and instructive tool in the digital world. In order to teach myself my new desired skill, I began searching embroidery hashtags on Instagram. Now, every day, I search the #hoopart #embroideryhoopart #modernembroidery hashtags on Instagram to find accounts where I can learn tools and tricks for my new trade. Once I have learned these strategies, I put my phone down again at a table far away, curl up in the armchair by the fire, pull out my embroidery hoop, thread, scissors, needle, and marking pen, and get to work for several hours on a creation from my own imagination.

Photo and embroidery by Naomi Washer. Quote from the song “Sadie” by Joanna Newsom.

What skills, hobbies, or pastimes are you interested or would like to learn? Try searching those hobbies through hashtags on Instagram, on Pinterest, or watch YouTube tutorials! Find specific accounts you can follow for updates and new strategies. Mark out time during your week to browse those accounts, then unplug and get to stitching, swimming, fishing, gardening, or whatever else your heart desires.

Place and Space

In my high school journals, I often wrote about where I wanted to be when I grew up. Looking back on these entries with the distance of a decade, and the knowledge of what I’ve pursued in life, I am in awe that my essential self is still the same. It’s comforting, but it’s also empowering. It means that the person I became at 17 is still the person I am proud to be – just with more experience and more tools for how to accomplish the things I used to dream about from inside the decorated, forest green (my favorite color, then and now) walls of my high school bedroom.

From my high school journal: “When I think about ‘what I want to do’ when I graduate, I think of these things: I want to be the most approachable English teacher at an independent high school for unconventional young people, and I want to have a cabin on a lake with bookshelves everywhere filled with books, and I want to wake up every morning and find the passages I underlined in all my favorite books and remember what it felt like to be that age and read those words for the first time.”

Today, I live beside a river in a cottage full of books. I teach English at an independent high school for pretty cool young people (that’s you guys), and every morning, I wake up and flip through the passages I underlined ten years ago in my favorite books. I think about what it felt like to be 17 and reading those words for the first time.

In college, I learned about the concepts of Place and Space. Place was a physical location, while Space was an ambiance that could be evoked in a building or room. In a Place, one performed their public persona; in a Space, one could be their most private, interior self.

This reminded me of my high school bedroom – that place where I had engaged in journaling, daydreaming, painting, drawing, writing, singing, dancing – activities and rituals that gave the place a certain ambiance; that made it into a space.

I am writing these words in my office, the front room in my cottage. My desk faces the yard; the trees; the mountain. This is the room in which I design curriculum for the courses I teach through Oak Meadow; chat with students; communicate with my faculty peers; read submissions for my poetry journal; write these blog posts, and a hundred other outward-facing things.

Photo by Naomi Washer

On the ceiling of my office is a drop-down ladder that leads to a secret loft; intimate, with slanted walls. I can stand upright in the center, but otherwise have to crawl. Pillows and cushions line the floor. One wall is a balcony, overlooking the living room below. Against the railing are my bookshelves. Photographs of places I’ve lived and the people I’ve known line the slanted walls. On the exterior wall is a tiny square window looking out to the mountain and the yard, just above where I sit at my desk in my office below. Up here, I am curled into a nest; I am closer to the mountain; I have my books and mementos and journals scattered around me. Below, the office is light, bright, and open, inviting all the work I do that connects to the outside world. Above, I enter the interior space of my mind – the space where I dream up creative projects and muse over the big questions of life and the world, my beliefs, my values, and who I feel myself to be.

Photo by Naomi Washer

The place of my office and the space of my loft are both necessary for the work that I do as a teacher and a writer. But I have to wonder if I would have ever discovered that these were the best places and spaces for me if I hadn’t dreamed about them in high school.

High school is not only the time when you begin to state your goals and ambitions – it is also a crucial time to dream. It is the most important time in your life to ask essential questions about who you are, what you believe, and what kind of path you see yourself pursuing in life.

By “path,” I don’t just mean career. Careers are your public persona – your exterior self. You will accomplish great things in the public places of your careers – I’m sure of it. But if you allow yourself the space of interior dreaming, musing, and questioning, then you will also become a person you’ll be proud to be – someone who lives by the virtues you believe in.

Photo by Naomi Washer

You can’t know where you will be ten, fifteen, twenty years from now. If you did, that would take away half the fun of the discovery. But what you can do is think about the kind of place you want to be in; where you can be productive by offering your skills and knowledge to your community.

And you can think about the space you want to have around you: what kind of weather and landscape make you feel grounded and at home? Do you want trees and mountains around you, or skyscrapers? Do you want to live on the road, in a tiny house, an apartment building in a big city, or a rambling old country house on a farm? If you ask yourself these questions now, you’ll find out what kind of person you are, and the kind of person you’ll be down the road, when the dust has settled, and the air has cleared, and you open your eyes: what do you see?

P’Chum Ben

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind … Continue reading "P’Chum Ben"

In the U.S., Halloween is a spooky holiday full of horror films, scary masks, fake blood, and haunted houses. It takes place at a time of year when many regions of the country are undergoing that seasonal shift from crisp, early autumn to the bare, dark branches welcoming winter. The air turns colder, the wind seems louder, and one can almost hear voices in the air…

But in many countries outside the U.S., this time of year is not as much about how well we can frighten each other as it is about taking the time to commune with one another and honor the cycle of life – birth, death, and return.

Halloween is certainly connected to ideas of death and return, but it manifests in gory images of witches and zombies wandering suburban streets. In other cultures, particularly ones rooted in the many strands of Buddhism, autumn is a time to pause in remembrance for our loved ones who are no longer with us, and gather for meals and services with those who are.

In Cambodia, the holiday P’Chum Ben (which translates to Ancestors’ Day) is a 15-day celebration which takes place at the end of September each year. It is one of the most important holidays in the Cambodian religious calendar. During P’Chum Ben, it is believed that the souls of relatives who have passed away come to the temples (called pagodas) to receive offerings of food and prayers from their living family members. P’Chum Ben is not to be missed, and much time is taken by all to visit the pagodas and to show respect for their relatives and ancestors.

As with the American Halloween, there is one spooky element to P’Chum Ben: it is believed that some of the dead receive punishments for their sins and suffer in hell, far from the sun, with no clothes to wear or food to eat. It is believed that those souls who are suffering have become hungry ghosts whose tiny mouths cannot take in all the food they need. Those who greet spirits at the pagodas believe that the food they bring can be directly transferred to the dead, and some people throw the traditional sticky rice into the fields as a way to reach the ghosts. Ultimately, P’Chum Ben is an opportunity for these spirits to commune with their living relatives by receiving the offerings, and hopefully gaining some relief for their pain.

Photo of a P’Chum Ben celebration in Cambodia, courtesy of pkocambodia.org. Unlike the American tradition of wearing black to a funeral, Cambodians traditionally wear white – a lighter, more celebratory color.

I traveled to Cambodia in high school with a group of students and teachers, to learn about the country’s traditional art forms. On the trip, I developed a strong interest in Cambodian culture and a love for the country’s arts, landscape, and people.

Several years after my trip, a close friend who had also traveled there, and held his experiences in Cambodia close to his heart, unexpectedly passed away exactly one week before his birthday. In my grief, my confusion over why this talented poet, photographer, and humanitarian had died so young, I found solace in our shared connection to Cambodian culture and Buddhist beliefs in karma and reincarnation.

Each year on November 7th, the day Johnny died, I take time to look at his photographs from Cambodia and reread his poems about visiting ancient Khmer temples. A week later, on his birthday, November 14th, I connect with our mutual friends to speak about Johnny and draw attention to the ways he touched so many lives while he was with us, and the ways he continues to make an impact after his death.

No matter your belief system, or what holidays you celebrate when the weather turns cold, autumn is undeniably a good time to gather with friends, family, and loved ones, to celebrate life and others who lived before us. It is a good time to pause and ask yourself what you do believe, what brings you comfort, and how you can bring comfort to others.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer. Poem by John Harrity, from a chapbook of poems printed by his family. In the photo, Johnny is playing the chapei, a traditional Khmer instrument similar to a guitar.

Here are some ways you can integrate this attention into your daily life this autumn:

  • Make a meal traditional to your family, culture, and ancestors, and bring it to a gathering of loved ones to share
  • Look through old photo albums of relatives and take the time to learn about their lives
  • Journal about your feelings regarding the loss of your loved ones
  • Build a shrine with photos, candles, and objects for a loved one who has passed on
  • Research the ways other cultures, different from your own, celebrate and honor the lives of their relatives and ancestors

Growth Mindset: Embracing Failure

Photo by Naomi Washer

At the end of my street, there is a secret path that leads into the woods. On the other side of those trees, a boardwalk winds through a meadow of wildflowers. It drops you off at the edge of a peaceful body of still water. Behind the water – rolling mountains.

The boardwalk has weathered many winters, and the wood planks lie warped and wobbly. When I decided to move to this town, I visited the boardwalk and spent some time by the water looking at the mountains, reflecting on the path that brought me here.

More than once in my life, I have taken the risky leap and moved to a new city where I knew nothing and no one. Each time, I found myself accomplishing different things than what I imagined I might achieve in those places. I learned to develop skills in visualization – picturing myself in successful scenarios in an effort to manifest them – and comfort in pushing myself through the unknown, remaining open to unexpected growth and discovery.

This is not easy to do, by any means. It takes belief, and it takes practice and time.

Photo by Naomi Washer

It can be easy to feel that big life decisions arise out of failures – not getting into the school of your choice; not getting the job you wanted, or the place you thought you wanted to live.

But the truth is that this binary divide between success and failure doesn’t actually exist. Society conditions us to believe in following one straight path, and to believe that we have failed if we deviate from that path. But that’s not even close to the full story.

Persistence, commitment, and dedication are necessary skills for pursuing a path or a goal, but they have to be paired with a growth mindset if we are to remain open to opportunities we didn’t originally plan for – things we never could have expected; perspectives we’d never imagined.

High school is that exciting, confusing, and complicated time when many young people prepare to leave home for the first time – the beginning of a long journey through new cities, jobs, more schooling, new friendships, accomplishments, and discoveries.

So how does one prepare for all that newness? How can you make yourself ready when you don’t even know what lies ahead?

Photo by Naomi Washer

We make ourselves ready by cultivating an awareness of what triggers our fears, our worries – our fixed mindset. The voice in our head that tells us we are unable to achieve what we want to achieve. The voice that emphasizes our fears, and tells us we shouldn’t even try.

Once aware of this voice – work with it. Talk to it, collaborate with it. Use it to muck through what you perceive as a barrier or threat until the truth is revealed – that we are very often the only people standing in our own way.

High school is the perfect time to begin developing a growth mindset. Your family, friends, school community, and other local communities of which you are a part have got your back.

High school is a safe time and place to take small risks in new directions, whether it’s auditioning for a play, learning to paint, or joining a debate team when you thought you were always too scared to speak in public. The high school environment gives you space to stretch yourself, ask questions, make new attempts, and revise, revise, revise, knowing you’ve got a safety net to fall back on; mentors to guide you; peers who are going through the same things.

When I walk down the boardwalk from my house to the river, the wood dips and bends beneath my feet. It creaks, and sometimes it feels like it will break. And I will fall.

But I do not. I wobble a little; stretch my arms out to the side to balance myself. Keep my eyes focused on the flowers, and the mountains, and the water waiting for me up ahead.

How to Take Good Notes

Notes in the margins of Into the Wild, by Jon Krakauer, from Oak Meadow High School’s course The Hero’s Journey: “Research: we go off in directions we think are sure but in fact are way off the mark. But we often have to go there first to find that out.”

Admit it, you’ve been there – a test or essay deadline approaches, and you scramble to gather notes using what you think is the “best” or “most efficient” note-taking method.

But what is that method? What is the best way to study and keep good notes?

Allow me to let you in on a very important secret: there is no “best” note-taking technique!

Note-taking is all about how your own unique brain processes information. A note-taking system that works for your friend won’t necessarily work for you, though it’s always worth a try. As a high schooler, you are frequently asked to take your learning into your own hands – identifying a note-taking strategy that works well for you and developing your own independent study skills is a great place to start.

Note-taking is a visual representation of your mind at work, and the mind is often messy – especially at the beginning of a learning experience, when you’re diving into something unfamiliar and new.

Some people like to fit new knowledge into a familiar box in order to comprehend it. Others need to muck around in the unknown more ambiguously first, before they discover a frame for their new knowledge.

Whether you are defining complex terms in biology using flashcards or analyzing a character’s actions in literature by writing a diary entry in their voice, writing out content in your own words is a crucial first step toward true understanding.

Whatever your approach to note-taking may be, remember that there is no single best method for how to study – but there can be a study skill that turns out to be the best method for you. It may take some time to discover what that method is, so don’t be afraid to try new skills and explore!

Trust the Mess and the Grace, from The True and the Questions by Sabrina Ward Harrison. In the gray area of your learning, ask yourself this question: how will you fill up that space?

Here are a few note-taking techniques my fellow Oak Meadow High School teachers and I recommend. Try them out, pass them on to a friend, or see what new techniques they help you think up on your own:

K-W-L Chart (Know – Want to Know – Learned)
A great tool for guiding you through a text, KWL Charts demonstrate your prior knowledge of the topic, set a purpose for your reading, and help you monitor your comprehension by brainstorming everything you already Know about the subject; generating a list of questions of what you Want to Know; and answering those questions about what you have Learned. Find a blank chart example here.

Statement-turned-Question
Check your own reading comprehension by turning a topic or title, i.e. “The XYZ Affair” into a question,
i.e. “What were the effects of the XYZ Affair?” then answer it fully in your own words.

Cornell Method
One of the most popular note-taking strategies out there is the Cornell Method – a structure for organizing different kinds of information on one subject clearly and efficiently. Find an example and guidelines here.

Two-Column Method
This note-taking method, pioneered by Landmark College, stimulates active reading and can help you parcel out main ideas in one column with specific details in the other. Read about it here and give it a try!

Graphic Organizers
Education Place has a treasure trove of printable graphic organizers for all subjects and approaches. Find one that works for you here!

Annotation Technique
When reading for a class, write margin notes that help you organize different strands of thought: use question marks for passages that confused you; exclamation points for important plot points; underlined text for passages you enjoyed; and highlighted text for passages relevant to your writing assignments. Write thoughts in your own words in the margins to jump-start ideas for your essays!

Talk to your Mirror
Whether you are practicing the same text over and over with the goal of memorization, or in need of a strategy for explaining concepts in your own words, find a bit of private space and talk it out with your reflection.

On Poetry

by Antony Yaeger, Oak Meadow teacher

Photo Credit: Szmodis Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Having studied poetry with amazing teachers in my life, and having honed my own craft at Sarah Lawrence College, it is a joyful and enriching experience to teach poetry at Oak Meadow. What makes poetry so unique is something discussed in our poetry course: Poetry is a universal art form that can be found in all aspects of human life and can hold within it elements of all other art-forms. Poetry is not bound solely to the page. The famous phrase “poetry in motion” is a purpose of graceful fluidity, such that moves with tactful elegance throughout. Abstract, yet direct and completely beautiful to all 5 senses. We live with poetry every single day, even if we don’t have time to pick up a book.

To find poetry in the world, we often look to nature. To try to create an essence or impression of nature in art, we often turn to poetry. In my teaching, I try to teach in a way that takes into account my student’s developing mind as well as their heart, blending the two with their imagination. Poetry is one perfect way to do this. Each student brings their own unique perspective to analyzing a poem and their own special voice to the crafting of their own poems. Poems can be successful in any number of ways, but calling on the senses of our readers is crucial.

Photo Credit: Starkus Family
(Oak Meadow Archives)

What makes poetry even more incredible is that the reader is welcome to read between the lines, to string together their own meanings and ideas, to bring their own working palette of comprehension to the experience of reading. I feel this way with my students in this distance learning course and in the monthly poetry workshops we have created together. In these workshops, students celebrate their classmates’ poems and give them the gift of constructive feedback. It is amazing to see how perceptive each student becomes, how kind and selfless they are in making another poet’s poem better.

Poetry exists around us all, and you can read into that statement all that you want! For it’s not simply an abstract or ambiguous thought, but a truth waiting for us all to discover.

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Antony Yaeger received his undergraduate degree in Poetry and Theatre from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, and his Masters of Science in Education and Waldorf Education from Sunbridge College, New York. Antony spent four years at the East Bay Waldorf High School in Berkeley, CA teaching poetry, photography, literature, and directing school plays. In 2009, Antony graduated once again from Sarah Lawrence College, this time earning a Masters Degree in poetry and creative writing. He encourages students to use writing as a tool for self-exploration and to gain clarity and perspective on world events by examining issues from new angles. 

For more information on enrolling in Oak Meadow’s semester-long high school Poetry course with Antony Yaeger, click here.

For more information on purchasing Word: The Poet’s Voice curriculum for independent use, click here (on sale for the month of April 2017 in honor of National Poetry Month!)

Exploring Ornithology: A Week on Hog Island

by Fianna Wilde, senior at Oak Meadow School

During this past summer, my sister Blythe and I attended a week-long teen birding camp on Hog Island, Maine. The Hog Island Camp, run by the National Audubon Society, is now in its 80th year of existence.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Having applied for and received scholarships to attend, we joined 22 other teens to learn about everything from bird banding to seabird restoration. In the sport of birding there are few young people, so spending time with other fledgling birders was particularly special.

Not only was this our first camp away from home, it was also our first time birding on the East Coast. Other campers were endlessly helpful with identification, and everyone was so willing to share their knowledge.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

We designed an advanced study project (ASP) through Oak Meadow about our explorations in ornithology, and our trip to Hog Island was a part of that adventure. Being able to pursue my dreams and incorporate them into my high school experience is one of the reasons I find Oak Meadow extremely special.

A Day on Hog Island…

4:00 a.m. Get up and out of bed, having awoken long before, unable to sleep because of the excitement of unknown birds singing and the lobster boats motoring around checking pots.

4:30 a.m. Out the door and down the creaky wooden stairs of Crow’s Nest cabin to meet up for a bird walk or thrush banding with Scott Weidensaul (program director) and a few other souls.

7:00 a.m. Breakfast, finally!

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

The weather held, and we motored out aboard Snowgoose III on an all day trip to Eastern Egg Rock. Common tern chicks hatching, Atlantic puffins feeding, and painting the five research interns’ shelter on the island while being dive bombed by a tern parent are memories I will never forget.  

12:00 p.m. Lunch  

Off to a bird banding workshop, or an intro to recording bird song, or drawing with the resident artist.

6:00 p.m. A delicious dinner.

7:30 p.m. Nightly presentation by someone highly regarded in his or her field; tonight it was Stephen Kress, author of Project Puffin and director of the Sea Bird Restoration Program that brought puffins back to Eastern Egg Rock.   

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

Then teen campers known as the Corvids met to discuss the day, do activities, and enjoy bonding time.

Bed? Not quite.

Owling with Josh Potter (teen camp leader), moon and star gazing, and then journaling time.

10:30 p.m. Heather (teen camp leader) singing and playing her guitar as the campers fell asleep, to do it all again tomorrow. Paradise!    

Hog Island, Maine is an incredible place with remarkable people. The National Audubon Society camp I attended, Coastal Marine Bird Studies for Teens, would be an excellent camp for teens with a strong interest in birds, hands-on learning and a love of nature. Hog Island hosts camps for those interested in other aspects of birds, including drawing and photography or a wish to learn more about nature. Explore the Hog Island website (http://hogisland.audubon.org) to find out more.

Photo Credit: Fianna Wilde
(Oak Meadow Archives)

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Author Fianna Wilde is a senior at Oak Meadow High School. “Since I can remember, I have loved all aspects of nature. My sister Blythe, also a senior at Oak Meadow, and I used to have lunch with all of the bugs we found around our yard. Two years ago my family moved to Morro Bay, California, and that is where my love of birds took flight. From then on, birding evolved from a pastime to a passion. “