One of the most important things to establish at the beginning of a school year is comradery among pupils. Several years ago I came up with a story idea that focused on this concept. It introduces my classroom theme of #ThePolitePirates as well as giving us a shared purpose.
The story has grown over the years, as I come up with more themes and invest more time into it. I usually share it with my students in a Google Doc through Google Classroom, so each kid has his/her own copy to practice connecting with the text via leaving comments. This year, for the first time, I plan to publish the chapters in this blog, so anyone can read the story and leave comments.
Feel free to “pirate” my tale. Change and tailor the idea to fit your classroom. I usually read it out loud to the students before having them access it in Google. I try to do a chapter a day for the first week of school. There is a bit of vocab and figurative language to explain, but it is a good tool for introducing all kinds of classroom expectations and future academic tasks.
Without further adieu, are you ready to be shipwrecked?
Chapter 1: “The Island”
Once upon a time there was an island; not any old island; but a special, helpful, resourceful, maybe magical island. This island was home to many plants and animals. However, humans had never set foot upon its shores, until, one day…
There was a massive storm. It was not a big storm, or a strong storm, or a severe storm, but all three of these adjectives rolled up into one humongous, scary, powerful, and seriously damaging storm. It began so suddenly that several ships were caught off guard. Some sailing vessels survived the storm, but many were shipwrecked.
The storm may have started suddenly, but it did not end for days. Wind and rain pounded the water, while sailors, passengers, and pirates bounced like buoys on the sea surface.
That’s right. You read that correctly: pirates! If passengers and sailors were scared of sharks, they were petrified of pirates.
Being shipwrecked at the same time, in the same storm and sea, though, found sailors, passengers, and pirates alike thrown together into the same boat…
Did the island sit there passively, while sailors, passengers, and pirates washed up onto its shores? Or, did it, as so many of the survivors came to believe, reach out its long shallow sandbars to save the poor sailors from certain peril? Either way, people from all walks of life found themselves safely sunning on silky sand when the wind and rain finally ceased. Of their ships, nothing but memories survived.
Two or three persons from each ship made it to the island, so everyone knew at least that many survivors. At first the people who knew each other formed small, tight groups that did not communicate, help, or share with the other survivors. But, that did not last long.
Some will tell you that the island brought them together. Some say the storm purposefully plucked each person from his or her ship to make up the population of the island. Others think the beauty and elegance of the island forged a bond between the survivors. But, everyone would agree that the savory smells from the campfire of Captain Iron Knee and his small crew of pirates was the most memorable element of that first night.
Perhaps it is just human nature to want to join together and work as a team. Any way you slice it, though, each small band of two to four survivors of five or so ships eventually came to live, eat, work, play, practice, build, and therefore survive together as a team, unit, band, group…
I hope you enjoyed chapter one. Tune in for chapter two, where we explore some character traits of Captain Iron Knee.
What do you think the message or theme from chapter one might have been? What was the author trying to get across? Why was it written?
Everyday, right after recess and just before math, I have been conducting a sit-down with my students. We have been discussing what it means to be classy. In the past, I just threw ideas at my pupils in off-handed remarks. This year I decided to take a more proactive, purposeful approach.
I found a book at The Learning Express store, called “Being Polite: A few manners every kid should know”. This presents plenty of generic behaviors that adults take for granted, but kids need to be told. For instance, when you go out to eat at a restaurant or over a friend’s house, place your napkin on your lap and keep your eating area neat throughout the meal. This seems arbitrary and obvious. It is neither. Unless a kid saw someone do it, he would never put his napkin on his lap. This isn’t even necessarily the best practice. Do you know what it does, however? This tiny, simple action sets a child apart from others, as a classy individual. Keeping the eating area neat keeps you from looking like an ogre, not classy. It is like combing your hair.
When sharing the ideas from this book, I don’t stay stapled to the book’s parameters. It doesn’t have everything that I want to cover, and I disagree or embellish a few manners. Often, I will share stories as examples. This prompts my students to connect with their own experiences. Additionally, we discuss hypothetical situations.
Now, I come to the controversial part. A big part of being classy is word choice. The more robust the vocabulary, the more classy the individual. A couple of days ago, the Polite Pirates (my students and I) were discussing some public eating mannerisms. We got into chewing with your mouth closed, not talking while there was food in your mouth, and don’t take too large of bites. After discussing these and other classy behaviors mentioned in the Polite book, I summed it all up with, “In general, don’t be disgusting. It isn’t classy.”
This opened a whole new genre of behaviors. “What about burping by accident? What do you do if that happens?”
“What if you really don’t like something?”
“Take tiny bites of foods that you are not sure of. Always try new things. You never know. It could end up being your favorite food!”
“Yes, but what if you take a bite, and there is a bone in it?”
“Okay, okay. Use your napkin to produce a magic trick of wiping your mouth, when really you are spitting the food into it. Get a new napkin.”
Then, back to burping: “Can you burp and not make noise?”
“Sure, that is natural. Don’t be disgusting.”
And then, I saw that this hurricane had turned into a category four and wasn’t about to make landfall: “What do you do when you fart out loud?”
As an aside; There is a fantastic book with a wonderful message called “Walter the Farting Dog” that is marketed to young kids. Most third graders are familiar with it, and this has paved the way for the word fart to be marginally acceptable in elementary talk. The idea and word are still rather taboo, though.
As an additional aside; I grew up similarly to many of my suburban students, in a household of proper talk that frowned on potty language. For example, there was NO acceptable word for feces. My mother pretended the bathroom was used for bathing, only; Everything else was unmentionable. Since my youth, I have been liberated of these vernacular shackles. But, I want to respect the attitudes and expectations of the households of the students that I teach.
Back to my tale; With the cat out of the bag and every eye and ear focused on the question and my reaction, I tried to remain as rigid as land being assaulted by hurricane winds. Perhaps addressing this issue head on will cause the storm to break. It did, but we lost some shutters and broke some windows in the process!
“Alright, alright; If you accidentally fart out loud…” pause, breath, “Well…” think… “Just don’t.” Their eyes weren’t having it. I decided to come out from behind the podium a little: I became humanly honest with my students (and now, you). “When I was in school–your age–I was deathly afraid of embarrassing myself by farting out loud, so I trained my body to fart without making a sound.” This is true. I almost CAN’T make a sound, even now.
Knowing that my students will have to work on this for a while, and having witnessed most of them make obscene natural noises when adjusting their seat on the carpet throughout the year, I knew that I wasn’t really helping their immediate dilemma by telling them to “Practice, and someday it will be fine.” Their dilated pupils told me that this advice was not completely acceptable. They needed real-life, everyday ideas for dealing with this demon of digestive noise.
“Okay.” Lets try again. “When you feel like you are about to fart…” I actually said these exact words. “Prepare to make an even louder noise than the sound that is about to come from your body. Accidentally (wink, wink) drop a book or knock over your chair. Perhaps you notice (more winking) that it is snowing outside.” The whole class began to crane to see the snow that was surely not falling from the cloudless sky. “See, what just happened? (rhetorical statement) You didn’t even hear me fart, did you?”
Gasps!! If looks could scream, the surrounding classrooms would have heard my students.
To bring them all back to me, I suggested that I had another, slightly less distracting idea. “Just blame your neighbor.” A girl sitting on the periphery of the group blurted out that this was exactly what her father had told her! Some students told stories of giving this one a try. Hurricane relief efforts began with discussing whether it would be classy to blame someone else. Students made connections to the kid who was wrongly blamed for things. Little did I know that this calming conversation was but a respite from the fartstorm that had devastated my mannerly sit-down.
“What about SILENT BUT DEADLY farts?”
And we were off… Was this a hurricane or tornado?
Me: “If you feel like one of those are coming on, you ask to be excused. Go to the bathroom. Leave it there. Probably, you want to walk around a little. Shake it out of your pants. YOU stay until IT is gone.”
Ss: “But, what if you have a few? Do you go to the bathroom, over and over?”
Me: “No, go to the nurse. There is something wrong.” I am hoping that there isn’t something wrong with this conversation, at this point. How can I bring them back from this smelly tsunami? “Try to remember what you ate. Don’t eat that again… Blame your neighbor… I don’t know! Don’t fart. Don’t…” Okay, breath. These are just kids. They have their whole farty life ahead of them.
“You know what?” Relax. “Farting is natural. It happens. The most harmful thing that you could do is get all stressed out about it. Although blaming your neighbor would not be classy, and everyone knows the person who smelt it dealt it… Laughing it off and moving on is definitely the healthiest reaction to this unfortunately inescapable bodily phenomenon. And, healthy is classy. Basically, even when something happens that does not seem classy… like farting… the way you handle yourself demonstrates your class.”
Okay. I think I have them grounded, now. In conclusion…
“But, if you can, I recommend training your body to fart in stealth mode: no sound or smell.”
I just had to put that out there;)
Now, after teaching a slightly abbreviated math lesson, and finishing up the otherwise uneventful day, I waited to read the emails from parents about my “Fart Talk.” Would it be a trickle or stream? None.
The next day, I asked the kids if they had told their parents about out politediscussion from the day before. All but a couple raised their hands. The girl who had mentioned her father’s advice paralleling my idea of blaming a neighbor said that her father retracted ever telling her that! We laughed.
This story is extra relevant to me because I have been reading a barrage of comments condoning and also condemning a controversial blog about profane language being used in a college setting. (Warning: This blog is literature meant for adults to read. It is well-written, albeit with some swear words illustrating its point. The comments are less guarded.) The message of the text is that the college students seem to feel more engaged, respected, and therefore comfortable with this potty-mouth professor. His story suggests that the students who attend his higher-education literature classes don’t feel talked down to. “This is a guy who is on my side; who gets me,” might be some student sentiments that foster a more comfortable communicative relationship between prof and pupil.
The blog was a fascinating read, and the comments have kept me coming back for more thought-provoking perspectives concerning what I might consider the most appropriate persona a professor ought to project. It made me appraise my own breach of polite protocol when I talked to my students about farting out loud.
That discussion made me feel a little uneasy for a few reasons. One was that the word fart may not be kosher vocabulary for some of my students’ families. Was I using language that would be frowned upon? Through my acceptance of this word, did I bring it into mainstream speak. Sidenote: I did tell the students at the outset that the classy term for this topic was “flatulence”… But, then I proceeded to use “fart” just like them. Secondly, through talking about farts in a casual way, was I aligning myself to closely with the minds and attitudes of my students? Will they view me as a silly person, not to be taken as seriously as before the Fart Talk? I am passionate about my politeness lessons, teaching students how to be classy citizens of the world. What if they begin thinking that this mannerly talk is a bunch of hot (smelly) air? And finally, how will parents perceive my polite parameter podium after finding out that their children’s teacher is talking about farts? Perhaps their opinion of me will diminish.
I honestly, don’t know, yet.
If you are a parent, and would like to weigh in on this, please leave a comment.
What DOES a classy person do when he or she farts out loud??????????? We want answers!
I was glancing around my classroom before I unplugged the Christmas lights and took off, yesterday, and I saw this: A chess board had been “put away” by being placed on the Red Bin. The Red Bin is the place where notes, money, messages, etc. for the office are placed first thing in the morning. They then get sent down to the office with our lunch count in the green envelope seen under the chess set.
We are just beginning our school chess club, this year. I accepted too many members, and don’t have enough of the nice big vinyl boards with 3 inch plastic pieces for everyone. (Christmas idea;) So, we have been using a mishmash of different sets. The one in the picture is magnetized, that’s why the pieces can stay in place.
What struck me about this pic is the concept of actually sending the board to the office! Did a student think that this was a message for the secretaries? Should we move a piece and share the board with another class? There is a buzz around the school of students becoming increasingly interested in this “thinkers game”. I have been working on populating a webpage from my classroom website with chess related information that could be helpful not only to the members of our club, but any beginning player. Mr. Vitale, my third grade teammate and partner in running the chess club, and I have made several videos to post on this website. My dream is for the whole school to become interested in playing chess. I wouldn’t be upset if other elementary schools caught this vision. Wouldn’t it be great for our district, state, country to learn, practice, and master thinking strategically, analytically, as well as creatively?
Mr. Vitale and I began a chess game this past week during lunch. We couldn’t finish it, so it remained set up in Mr. Vitale’s room. He couldn’t help but show and talk to his students about it. I took pictures and shared them with my class. By Friday, we were able to complete the game, but only after both of our classes worked on analyzing the following images to help with potential moves. It was fun, exciting, motivating, and infectious. By Friday, my students were sneaking onto Chesskid.com whenever they could. I found iPads with chess games begun, hiding under notebooks.
Here is an idea: Teachers sign up for the Chess Challenge. The magnetic board travels around the school, visiting learning spaces (not just classrooms). A chess enthusiast, either chess club member or one of my students or myself, can visit participants, if desired, to help with some chess instruction. (In other words, teachers shouldn’t feel like they have to be good at the game to participate.) A paper with notation will accompany the board. This will also be posted on the website for classes to keep up with the game, virtually. The color a class is responsible for will depend on which is moving at the time the game arrives at their doorstep. If it is Black’s move when Room 205 gets the board, then they are part of the black team. When a class captures a piece, they get to keep it until the end of the game. They can display it as a chess trophy. Much of the game is strategy, so rooms could even display thinking by posting writing or drawings of the ideas that prepared their move. Perhaps awards could accompany the moves that displayed creative, analytical thought.
My aim is to not only spread the love of chess, but inspire thinking, especially an affection for analytical reasoning. Lets get kids excited about using their cognitive abilities as much as they are pumped to tackle, shoot hoops, hit home runs, etc. The brain may not literally be a muscle, but it should definitely get exercised!
This topic does not need much introduction. I’ve always thought that poetry was classy, and I tried writing some when I was young, to no avail. A couple of years ago, I had a story idea that began innocently enough, but morphed into a poem. Each year I get it out at this time for a few reasons. The story has to do with magic and witches. At the beginning of the year I am impressing the importance of spelling and teaching the use of dictionaries. And then, recently, I have taught poetry around Halloween because there are loads of cute, funny, and frightening poems.
Today, I put the poem into a Google Doc that I shared with my class, complete with definitions of vocabulary words and comprehension questions. A month or so ago I posted a blog about sharing creativity. The concept was that the more a lesson is taught, it lives on. For this reason I am sharing my poem here. I hope that you like it. I will mention a couple of thoughts about it at the end of the blog.
It may not be award-winning, but we found it fun to read. There are many “teachable” elements to the poem, also. My favorite is the idea of poetry breaking the rules. Lines 20 and 30, “Of course not,” are an example of this. The rhythm of the poem is broken to symbolize the youth not following directions, therefore messing up the spell. I actually remember chuckling to myself when I wrote these lines. The poem bounces along, and then it burps. The line “Maybe” (63) is another hiccup in the rhythm. This one symbolizes breaking the spell… Perhaps it will be broken.