Today is a very special day at Carol W's corner. I am honored to host Georgia Heard and Jennifer McDonough, the authors of a wonderful new professional book, A PLACE FOR WONDER. The book begins with "Straight Line," a poem that perfectly captures how I sometimes feel in schools. Kids are so wonderful, and curious, and thoughtful, and then they come to school. Read the poem, but don't stop there! There is more below!
by Georgia Heard
All the kindergarteners
walk to recess and back
in a perfectly straight line
no words between them.
They must stifle their small voices,
their laughter, they must
stop the little skip in their walk,
they must not dance or hop
or run or exclaim.
They must line up
at the water fountain
straight, and in perfect form,
like the brick wall behind them.
One of their own given the job
of informer – guard of quiet,
soldier of stillness.
If they talk
or make a sound
they will lose their stars.
Little soldiers marching to and from
their hair sweaty
from escaping dinosaurs
their hearts full of loving the world
and all they want to do
is shout it out
at the top of their lungs.
When they walk back to class
they must quietly
fold their pretends into pockets,
must dam the river of words,
ones they’re just learning,
new words that hold the power
to light the skies, and if they don’t
a star is taken away.
by one star
until night grows dark and heavy
while they learn to think carefully
before making a wish.
I read A PLACE FOR WONDER almost a month ago. It's one of those books, though, that sticks with you. I find myself thinking about it, and sharing it with friends, and examining my practice through a new and different lens. This week I got to ask Georgia and Jennifer some of my burning questions. Here they are:
I've followed your work for many, many years, and have been really convicted by the notion that teachers need to first be writers and poets themselves, if they are going to teach others to be writers and poets. As I read TIME FOR WONDER, I kept thinking about that, and wondering if teachers didn't also need to see the world through wondering eyes, if they were going to evoke that same sense in children. Do you think that is true? If so, what are some of the ways you evoke and cultivate wonder in your own lives?
I do believe that teachers need to be writers and poets themselves if they are going to teach others to be writers and poets. I’ve always loved what Cynthia Rylant wrote: I once met a boy who was a poet. I believe he was born with a way of looking at things…and even if he never writes one single line of poetry, he’ll always be a poet. I believe that we’re all born with a poetic way of looking at things, and that young children are natural poets, but as we get older life sometimes squeezes the poetry out of us. Our job is to try and find that poetry inside us again; to try to find our voices. Writing alongside our students, at home, or briefly in the classroom, can help spark this.
Ways that I cultivate wonderHaving a young child in my house is an everyday reminder to see the world through different eyes. He is full of "whys" and "how comes," and teaches me to slow down and think about how kids see the world around them.
I try to find beauty everywhere I go. You don’t have to live in a rural or suburban setting -- I lived in NYC for over twenty years – and there was so much beauty there: flowers sticking out of the water buckets at the corner deli: the way the sparrows flitter and squawk over a bagel scrap in the street; morning light blazing down side streets; and so many other moments. It might take more effort in an urban setting, but if we just open our eyes we can find it.
I'm a teacher in an urban school. Ninety percent of my students are on free lunch. They are crammed into tenement apartments surrounded by little, if anything beautiful or wonderful. There is also not a lot of intellectual stimulation. The teachers at our school do everything they can to create warm and nurturing environment at school, but what kinds of tools can they give kids to help them carry a sense of wonder into their world, when lots of times it just simply is not very beautiful.We do lots with nonfiction and research with our students. I don't think, howeer, that we are as good at researching their "heart wonders." I'm wondering if you could talk a little more about the kinds of things that you do to help kids address their "heart wonder" questions.
I taught in schools in NYC that were like the one you describe above, and I really know how difficult it can be. The kids in your school need that sense of wonder nurtured. Bring the beauty of the world inside the classroom. Here is a gathering of a few ideas (all from NYC classrooms) to bring wonder and beauty inside. Bring in a small cherry tree branch (found at a corner deli in spring), and place it in a water bucket in the corner, and wait for it to bloom. If allowed, bring in hermit crabs, and other living creatures. Bring in blooming plants. A terrarium. A discovery table with shells and nests displayed next to a magnifying glass. A single flower in a vase. Hang a cloth or a quilt on the wall -- especially if there is a story behind it. Ask kids to plant seeds or bulbs, and watch them bloom. One small square would be a great idea for kids to really look deeply and see their world with new eyes. Even putting the square on concrete and looking at it through a microscope can evoke a sense of wonder at what unexpected things they might find. And so many more ideas… Make your classroom the beauty that the kids might not be able to see outside. Read The Old Woman and Her Secret by Eve Merriam, and tell them that their job this year is to ask questions, and be filled with wonder; and then set up wondering centers so the kids can begin to express that wonder.
“Heart Wonders” are the big, pondering, and sometimes personal questions that we ask ourselves such as: What will my future be? ; What makes a friend? ; Why do bad things sometimes happen to people? These questions are meant to be pondered, savored, and explored by reflecting on them but also by having a conversation with another person; they are not necessarily researched in the same way as more informational questions. We tell younger kids that “research wonders” are questions about things that you can hold in your hand (although this isn’t always true), and “heart wonders” are those questions that are about what’s in your heart and mind. As we describe in our book, the two types of questions often blend. Many personal essays come from “heart wonders” – explored through personal writing.
So, so, so many ideas in the book could be used in intermediate grades. I'm wondering, though whether, you would whether the two of you might ever consider doing a sequel, with Jen teaching and Georgia conducting research in an intermediate grade classroom? That would be a fun book to read?
Thanks for the suggestion! We’ll definitely think about it.
I'm also the mom of two high school kids. My guys go to a high school that is considered to be the best in the district, yet there is very little, if any, space for kids' passion or interest, or engagement or wondering within the walls of the classroom. I wonder, then, how can middle and high school teachers embrace your ideas? What can parents of high school kids do to restore joy, and passion, and wonder to their kids' learning lives?
You’re so right – when kids get into high school their passion, interest and sense of wonder diminishes. This should be the subject of another book but, briefly, teachers could make room for students’ questions in each subject – and devote part of the class to exploring these questions. Can you imagine if there was a class called Pondering Time where students ask “heart wonder” questions and, then write to explore the answers?
I so, so, so loved this book. I so, so, so needed this book. I want you to read it too. You can read the book or order it at Stenhouse.
Also, Georgia and Jen will be hosting a web conference on Monday night. If you would like to be part of that, please leave a comment below.