Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Greatness Is... Slice of Life Tuesday

Wow!  Every time I've been away from blogging/writing for a period of time (like these first few weeks of school), and I come back to it, I feel so happy to be writing again.  It does make me wonder how to make writing a daily part of my life.  As my online cohorts from Opening Minds would say, "I'm just not there... yet."

But regardless, I'm glad to be back because I have some amazing stories to share about both of my language arts classes this year, and this story seems like a "great" (you'll understand soon) place to start.

The summer is when I have more time than normal, like most educators, to spend time reflecting on my teaching and refining my practice.  Much learning from others takes place during the months of June, July, and August.  One of the people who made a big impression on me this summer was Katherine Sokolowski -- she has been the author of many thoughtful posts on her blog (Read, Write, Reflect), but one post that really caught my attention was her post about having conversations regarding what makes one great.  In this post, she has collected several video clips that share what greatness can be, many of them Olympic-oriented.

I knew that this was a conversation I wanted to have with my 5th graders as well - what is greatness and how do we get there as individuals and as a group?  The videos and this question became the "meat and potatoes" of our morning meetings for the past 3 weeks. 

I started with the video clip about Michael Phelps -- incredibly short, but powerful in looking at the greatness of the most decorated Olympic athlete ever.  The conversation didn't have to be personal at first, but rather thinking about someone else's greatness.  But the beauty of the video clips Katherine put together, is that each video pushed my students' thinking deeper and deeper into personal greatness.

At the end of 3 weeks, after much conversation, writing in writer's notebooks, and re-viewing the videos, I asked my students to fill out a notecard with one of the following sentence starters:
  • Greatness is...
  • I can be great...
  • To be great I need to...
  • What does greatness mean?
  • What is greatness for you?
Many students chose the first one, but no matter which starter they chose, they all had to look within to think about this concept of greatness.  We compiled our thinking, decorated a little (I have many students who love colored pencils), and they are now publicly posted on this closet door and other places so that we can all learn from each other.  

This is early in the year, and some of the thinking about greatness didn't totally develop into deeper levels... yet.  But I know that with this theme as our backdrop, conversations will continue to evolve throughout the year.

Thanks so much to Katherine for such "great" thinking and sharing!!

Thanks also to Ruth and Stacey for hosting us on Tuesdays -- I'm delighted to be continuing my membership in this writing community that meets every week for Slice of Life Tuesday


  1. It was a terrific post-GREAT! And it's exciting how you translated it into something for your own class, Karen. I will be looking for more about this & the way your class further pushes themselves into the concept of greatness. There are those things that I think of as great, like someone's small kindness when unexpected. I wonder if students will begin to think of those things, too. Thanks for making me think.

  2. I love your students and their thinking! What a fun idea - and I have some students very attached to their colored pencils too. :) We're finishing our essays this week. I'm excited to see how my students finish up.

  3. What a wonderful way to start the school year! It will be interesting to return to this activity at the end of the school year, too...so much changes by then, doesn't it?

  4. "GREAT" Karen. As an aside, I know what you mean about coming back to writing and how good it feels. Thanks for writing with us today.

  5. Wonderful start to a new school year! I wish I could
    be in you class!

  6. An interesting idea. I will you it in my classroom as well.