Oak Meadow middle school students submit their lesson work to their teachers with such variety! Some students neatly type most of their assignments, others handwrite each page, while most submit a combination of both. As a teacher with Oak Meadow I love seeing the little extra bits on these pages of lesson work. I’m referring to the egg stain from breakfast, the rips from the new puppy, the notes that the student did the assignment but lost it somewhere, and the special little doodles (designs or scribbles) in the margins! These little extra bits can be clues for me as to how a student may be getting assignments done. I’m especially fond of the doodles.
Recently a doodle caught my eye on a student’s vocabulary page. It interested me, not because of the doodled design, but because I was interested to know what she may have been thinking about when doodling the design. What vocabulary word made her stop and doodle? Did the doodling help her to concentrate? Why did she choose to use this design?
I’m a fan of doodling so doodles on pages fascinate me! Through my research I’ve found that there are different types of doodlers and many are quite famous. I’ve read that President Obama preferred to doodle faces, while Kennedy doodled words, and J.R.R. Tolkien doodled things from the natural world. Some doodlers just draw designs that are formed randomly as they doodle.
Very little research has been done on why people doodle as they are working or listening. There may be many reasons for doodling as you work, but I think that it helps us to concentrate. If you are looking for ways to concentrate, take a look at these 7. (Number 7 is doodle!) So, I’m all in favor of doodling if it helps with the concentrating on an assignment! Doodle away and you may find that you can pay attention better to what you are doing.
What types of doodles do you do? Share some with us!
I had a student that submitted a research paper about the country of Japan. It was really well written, but I was especially taken by the font she used for typing her final paper. It was different from what she usually used. It made such an impression on me that I had to find out what font it was.
I was reminded of the 2005 commencement speech given by Steve Jobs at Stanford in which he spoke about how he came to learn about calligraphy and, inspired by that course, later developed fonts for the Mac. You can watch the speech here.
So. I’ve been thinking how important it is to understand that each of the fonts one may use when typing actually COME from somewhere! They have a history! In my search for the history of one font I see all the time, every where I go, I discovered that there was actually a movie made about the font! You can view the trailer for Helvetica the movie here, and you can also purchase it.
How interesting to know that certain fonts are used to impress the reader! So if I use comic sans, I’m pretty much setting a certain mood. In fact, I may investigate further what font this blog is typed in. (It isn’t possible for me to change it to another font.) I think I’ll also find out which fonts the Oak Meadow curriculum uses.
By the way, the font the student used was Philosopher. Next time you type a paper, think about the font you are using and what impression it may leave on the reader!
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.”
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.”
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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?
“I’m very sensitive to the English language. I studied the dictionary obsessively when I was a kid and collect old dictionaries. Words, I think, are very powerful and they convey an intention.” Drew Barrymore
For those of you in 5th-8th grade, I hope you have your very own dictionary! I don’t mean a digital one. I mean a dictionary that you can hold in your own hand, turn the pages, mark it up, and carry it around with you. Get a dictionary to keep next to you as you study. Make it your constant companion and it will serve you well!
With a dictionary you can find the proper spelling of a word, what a word means, how to pronounce it, the part of speech that it is, and where the word originated. If you are looking for a good dictionary that will last you through the junior high years and into high school, find a Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary. Also recommended is the Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (Try to get the most recent addition.) For a good thesaurus, try Merriam-Webster’sCollegiate Thesaurus. Both the dictionary and the thesaurus will become your best friends as you go through the year.
Also really useful will be a good atlas for discovering new places in the world. I like Rand McNally’s Goodes World Atlas, but look through a bunch at the bookstore or library until you find one you like. These three items will serve you well for many years to come!
While you are using the dictionary, why not make a dictionary of your own? Keep track of the new words you looked up or found while you were reading:
Get a notebook or put some lined paper into a binder.
Mark a page with each letter of the alphabet leaving about 10 pages in between each letter.
Make a beautiful cover to your dictionary.
Start filling in those pages with the words and their definitions!
Here in the Meadow, we celebrate student poetry throughout the month of April with our annual Poetry Extravaganza. We invited our enrolled students to submit their favorite original poems, and we’ll be sharing some of them here over the next few days. Enjoy!
If your only emotion was happy by Katherine Almquist Oak Meadow Grade 9
They have emotions
I have but one
Feelings of sadness
I know none
Surprise…. I can not understand
Anger…. Passes through me as a wind through a ghost
feelings of many I know not
Happiness I know only
People of many feelings are emotionless
Unless happiness is sensed
Wenst it is seen on the faces of theirs
This happiness which lights the faces of theirs
Is routine on the face of mine
Free are they
Chained am I
Solitude (created by a single emotion)
Surpasses (the rest)?
The answer? I have not.
For only in I lives happiness
Emotions, I do not have
“I was inspired to write this poem for a Oak Meadow literature assignment. I was required to write an experimental poem and I decided on a topic that I had written about in an essay before, but made it more professional and put the concept into a poem.”
Paper Revolution by Claire Kern Oak Meadow, Grade 9
I twist the cap of my pen
between my teeth, ink
stains on molars, the page
still blank, void of words,
still lacking the power,
still failing to affect change.
Wanting, wanting, wanting to affect change,
Trying to force revolution out of my pen.
Building weapons to battle the power
hungry war-machine, but my ink
spills over to form broken words,
broken images on the page.
Frustrated, I rip the page
into pieces, that’s my change.
I reach for a new sheet, that new words
might follow. Afraid my pen
cannot erase the ink
of others, the permanent stench of the power.
Lead boot prints of power
tear holes in my page,
black and blue ink
bruises beat me, no change
they scream, breaking pens
and banning new voices, new words.
The banished words
hold all the power,
and the gunpowder pen
burns my palm and page,
demanding I write the call for change
demanding I carve new voices in fresh ink.
Progress is marked by ink
lines drawn in blood, battle words
and wounds whose mouths cry change.
Bury the patriarchy, power
drunk bastards with blood pages,
scar their rank flesh with my pen.
Ink tears bleed power,
and I craft words on torn pages,
changing, changing, changing the world
with my pen…
At Oak Meadow, we celebrate student poetry during our annual Poetry Extravaganza. In April, we invited our enrolled students to submit their favorite original poems. We hope you will enjoy their poems as much as we do!
Freddy Lives On By Deanna Oakes Oak Meadow, Grade 6
In front of the fire,
At the foot of the bed,
In the warm sun,
At the homestead,
Freddy is gone.
Freddy is gone, but his memory lives on.
He rode in the truck,
He played with his toys,
He snored real loud,
But he didn’t like noise.
Freddy’s memory lives on,
He will never truly be gone.
“Last year, my librarian’s friend was grieving the passing of her dog, who had recently passed away. Her friend was very sad, so Mrs. Hoffman, my librarian, asked me to write a poem in memory of Freddy, the dog. She told me a little about Freddy, and I used what I learned about him to write this poem. It was wonderful to gift this poem to her; she loved it.”
Taking the time to watch the birds at a bird feeder can be such a relaxing and enjoyable activity. I’m in love with a blue jay that comes to my feeders at the same time every day. She arrives around 2:30 or 3:00 in the afternoon and she announces her entrance with lots of noisy tweets of “Jay! Jay! Jay!” She hops from branch to branch on a nearby tree, tips her head to each side, looks at the sky and at the feeders. It takes her a few minutes to announce that she has arrived and she repeats the behavior several times. I’ve noticed she doesn’t like the hanging feeder as much as she likes going to the platform one. She enjoys an occasional orange slice and she really likes to eat peanuts. (If you want to know what the birds in your area like to eat, go to: http://feederwatch.org/learn/common-feeder-birds/) I know it’s her because I’ve been watching her for some time and I’ve learned to distinguish her features from the other jays that come to bathe and eat. I’ve grown accustomed to looking for her special colors, dark eye-line markings, and feather shades of blue. I can’t be sure she’s a female because I haven’t seen her nesting behaviors. I’ve read that is the way to tell the male and female apart from each other. I call her Pooli. I think that’s the Greek word for bird, but I’m not sure and I like it anyway. She’s like a member of the family and even my kids will ask if Pooli has been around lately.
If you need some bird guides or great bird books, the Audubon Society has put together this list. If you live in North America, you may also enjoy viewing the Audubon’s Guide to North American Birds online at: http://www.audubon.org/bird-guide
Join Project FeederWatch!
Each year the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Bird Studies of Canada join together for Project FeederWatch. I encourage you to participate! It is a lot of fun and you will get to know the birds in your neighborhood as though they are family members.
Learning to observe carefully and in specific details is the making of a good scientist! Why not learn this skill by falling in love with your birds?
This week our blog post is written by Abigail Wilson-Kageni. She’s been doing some very special volunteer work in her hometown of York, Pennsylvania and her Oak Meadow teacher suggested that she spread the word and tell other students about her project. I invited her to contribute to our blog post and I’m delighted that she did! My name is Abigail Wilson-Kageni and I am a student with Oak Meadow. I live in York, Pennsylvania. I have many interests and the opportunity to express myself creatively through the arts is especially dear to me.
The creative arts are an art form that allows people to express themselves through varying art mediums. Many things can fall under the category of creative arts. Dance, music, poetry, and painting are just a few. It’s been proven that children often do well when schools incorporate the creative arts in their curricula. However, in inner-city schools, budgets are a factor that usually decides if creative arts programs will be included in the annual budget. In most cases, schools in under served areas often fall victim to funding cuts which means the arts is excluded from the curriculum. This leaves students from financially challenged homes at a disadvantage. A variety of creative arts is needed to help students develop a love of learning. It is the inspiring base students need to succeed in school.
When I discovered this, I felt that I wanted all students to be supported and inspired by the opportunity for creative expression. After months of brain storming sessions with my mother, Tiered Innovations Initiative was born. This program has been evolving through different experiences that I have been privileged to part take of. For the past three years I have been a member of TeenSHARP, a college discovery program that meets every Saturday through the school year. I also just completed my tenure as a member of Scholastic Kids Press Corp. I was given the wonderful opportunity of covering Mrs. Michelle Obama and her Let’s Move Campaign at the White House, on two different occasions. I was also a member of El Sistema, a music program in which I spent three hours each day of the week perfecting my skills for playing the violin. It is these opportunities that have helped me to expand my curiosity and love for learning through the years.
This year, on February 24th, I officially launched the program. My local library, Martin Library, which is where I volunteer once a week, hosted the event and the event had a two-fold purpose. A local art store, Prime Art Supply Co, was running an art supply drive to donate city elementary school art materials. I decided to help the owner with this cause by inviting my guests to donate toward the drive. I titled the event ‘Encourage Creative Arts in Our Children’ and asked that our guests bring one item of any art supply to be donated the art drive. Monetary donations were also accepted toward purchasing a projector for one of the schools. It was a great success!
The city’s Mayor, Kim Bracey, was gracious enough to deliver a keynote speech while a noted artist and lecturer, Ophelia Chambliss, spoke about the importance of encouraging the youth to tell a story through their art. We were also celebrating Black History Month and as such, three area poets were on hand to commemorate the African American heritage through poetry recitals. Tiered Innovations Initiative is a youth program that nurtures teens toward global citizenry through the creative arts. I will be offering workshops, facilitating summer camps, and inviting guests to continue to inspire the youth. I was humbled that people came out to support my efforts. I am delighted and excited for the good things that are ahead of me.