Stumping Miz Grammar

We learn best

theunseenwordsproject.com

It was once my privilege – and challenge – to take over teaching mid-year in a 7th/8th grade grammar class at a very small public school.  This school was the classic one-room schoolhouse, located in a remote, road-less area in the North Cascades of Washington state.  The children there had grown up navigating the trails of the high country, floating the rivers, jumping in the glacial-fed lake, and tearing up and down the dirt roads on their bicycles.  It was a land of no cell phones, video games, and Facebook – a place of isolated enchantment that could not and would not be fully appreciated until these students grew older, moved away, and worked in cities that involved the many technological trappings now associated with modern living.

You can well imagine that the students did not feel a passion for this grammar class – my predecessor having resorted to dry lectures and long homework assignments, and it was my job to take over and to inspire some interest for the subject.  Being a grammar nerd myself, I wasn’t prepared for the level of apathy that the students expressed.  I remember telling the students on the first day of class that I loved the subject of grammar so much, I took grammar workbooks with me on vacation so I could relax and just enjoy the fun of language.  They thought I was weird, maybe a little insane . . . but that was all good because I was committed to understanding why they weren’t more interested in the foundational components of their native language.  After all, this is grammar that we are talking about?!

We started the class by getting to know each other a little better.  Every Monday, we would each recount stories from the weekend while I grabbed key words from their telling and then write these words into the eight parts of speech grid that I had graphed out on the board.  Then we would play The Synonym Game and erase the word on the board with a different word that might convey the story’s meaning a little more vividly.  They began to see how word choice mattered – how you could use the adjective great and maybe use the word fabulous or resplendent instead.  It was a small step but it made sense to take what they knew – their experiences – and translate them into a Grammar Stew on the board that they shared.  I knew that we were growing stalwart grammar-ites when one student used the adjective ebullient in his re-telling of how happy he was that his grandma had come to visit.  It made me feel positively ebullient!

For homework, each student was to bring one question each day to stump me – Miz Grammar.  I wanted to demonstrate how remarkable grammar actually is . . . that no one has all of the answers – not even Miz Grammar!  I wanted them to see how language is an evolving work in progress.  Just ask the Apostrophe Protection Society!  We can’t stop language!  The biggest advantage in Stumping Miz Grammar was that this was a rural school and there was zero access to Google or the Internet.  This meant that the students had to use their textbooks to find the questions and answers to stump me.

I don’t know how I managed to stay ahead of the students, but it quickly became apparent that it was going to be tricky to stay ahead of their questions.  The students would see me at the post office on mail day and ask, “Miz Grammar, what is a gerund?”  “What is a dangling preposition?”  “What is an antecedent?”  They were becoming a team of grammar experts without the students even knowing it.  And how could they know if I knew the answer if they hadn’t done the proper research and found the correct answer themselves?

I kept all of their questions and, at the end of the school year, the students compiled the questions into categories and organized a community-wide, grammar-themed game show.  Parents were the contestants and prizes were donated.  In an effort to alleviate grammar anxiety – which was prevalent, I might add, what with their children being grammar experts by this time – the parents wore costumes and adopted various personalities as game show contestants.  It was a bonding experience for the community, and it was a source of great fun and pride for the students as they led the community down the road of grammar enlightenment.

It is funny how one little crazy idea can grow into something larger than imagined possible.  One of the students went on to become a published poet.  Another student majored in journalism and was the acting editor of a Chicago university’s newspaper during his tenure as a student.  Another student went on to become a freelance writer.  The pleasure that these students took in dissecting language into its most primitive parts gave me great joy as a teacher and as a grammar lover!

Learning objectives are important.  They are the brass ring on the carousel, the t-shirt at the end of the marathon, the cake from the cake walk.  But what I had intuited as necessary at the beginning of this grammar journey proved to be true: you have to build a learning community before learning can happen.  These amazing students created a Culture of Grammar.  They built a team first and then, without even realizing it in the process, mastered the actual objectives of the course . . . and had fun while doing so.

Am I proud of these students?  Yes!  It is our goal as educators to infuse a love of learning while learning.  Like metacognition, or meta-anything for that matter, it’s all about being within the moment while being in the moment.  These students taught me far more about life than I ever taught them about grammar.  They taught me about community and to trust myself when in the midst of a challenging and seemingly dismal situation.

It’s good to know that we don’t know everything.  We are refreshed and invigorated when we enter the unknown territories in which we find ourselves and embrace the evolution of learning and growing.  Just ask Miz Grammar!  She knows!

13 Steps to take when you don’t know something that you’re expected to know:

  1. Just say it.  Admit that you don’t know.
  2. Research. Find your answer.  
  3. Look for new sources and ask experts.
  4. Lean on your community.  Like a 3-legged stool, every “leg” in the community is essential.
  5. Learn more than you started out wanting to know.
  6. Share your knowledge.
  7. Share your passion for knowledge.
  8. Offer your knowledge and experience to someone else.  
  9. Be a mentor.
  10. Laugh a lot.  Laughter doeth good like a medicine — especially when you are feeling stressed about a deadline or an expectation.
  11. Don’t give up.  There is likely an answer available.
  12. If you can’t find the answer, create one based on all of the above.
  13. Become The Expert!   
become the expert

theunseenwordsproject.com

Balance in Creativity: “a harmonious adjustment”

036Today required some awareness for the need to balance.  Balance requires the art of focus — from my brain, my heart, my body, my soul — and I do recognize that I sometimes choose to focus on that which temporarily tips the scales toward chaotic creativity.  Ideas are large — sometimes enormous — and time and resources are sometimes limited.

This is certainly not to complain.  I have learned that ideas can stay alive and healthy while balancing them to a place that still feels right, do-able, and rewarding.  When I pay attention, I am better able to balance.  Anne Frank wrote in her diary: “It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out.  Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart” (Frank, 2001-2010).  Her words.  Wow.  Full Stop.  Re-read.  Amazing, aren’t they?

Although my ideals and subsequent ideas may sometimes appear to be “absurd” or even “impossible” to incorporate into my daily living, the idyllic life-learning environment for me is an amiable, generous, and benevolent experience.  In my own personal learning journey, much of it can be defined as being those sparks in time that have engaged my brain’s limbic system – that most primitive part of the brain associated with basic needs and emotions.  When I link emotional brain to rational brain, all sorts of amazing creativity rises to the surface.

It is then when all creative Hades busts loose.  I am all over the map.  Folders are created.  Documents are saved with obscure titles and then stored willy nilly in the new folders.  Ideas are scrawled on Post-It notes.  My Idea Notebook is flipped open.  I grab a Sharpie and start scribbling on a vision board.  Scraps and notes are slipped into a drawer of the antique fruit dryer.  I text myself obscure reminders.  I eat pasta.  I write on my bathroom mirror in lipstick.  I decide to apply for another degree program.  I go dancing to tame ideas into a basic rhythm.   It is on me alone to skim that which appeals best to my creative hand.  All the while, swimming in ideas that all feel so great at the time . . . but what to do with all of them?  Where to store them for my eventual return?

Vision Board 075James Allen wrote: “A man is not rightly conditioned until he is a happy, healthy, and prosperous being; and happiness, health, and prosperity are the result of a harmonious adjustment of the inner with the outer of the man with his surroundings.”  This quote is in accord with the importance of becoming self-actualized in order to reach individual and unique maximum potential.  Allen’s idea that there is “a harmonious adjustment” between our internal and external worlds is in absolute alignment with my life philosophy.

Alignment.  This requires focus.  This is to say that I must explore both worlds in order to achieve authenticity and balance in my living and in my learning and my believing. We are most convincing when we truly believe what we express to others. When we are passionate about our beliefs, toaster ovenothers respond to the energy we exude.  We live more fully.  We laugh more readily.  We love more easily.

By acting upon our beliefs, we show others that we mean what we say, and our energy ripples outward into the world. We are each given unique abilities and a purpose that we bring to the world. Like a puzzle piece, we each have our own place and are equally important to the complete picture. By sharing our passion with the world, we may help to awaken others to their purpose, guiding them to find their place in the puzzle. (Daily OM, 2010).

041

What makes you come alive?

Working hard: What does this mean?  Does a successful life require that we work hard?

I think so.  When I read any Working Hard quotes from the famous movers and shakers, I can read the sincerity in their words.  They believe that they have achieved what success that they have because they worked hard.  But the one thing I am also reading in their words is their devotion to and passion for their work.  [Truly, there are an equally amazing number of quotes linking passion to success.]  These famous and accomplished people all seem committed to high standards, long hours, and the personal sacrifices that reflect their passion for their life work.  And they are having fun while they are working hard.  A great combination in anything: a good sweat while having fun.

057When I saw la Cathédrale Notre Dame de Paris for the first time, to describe the experience avec le mot incroyable is a huge and holy understatement. I returned to it several afternoons — just roaming around and absorbing the grandeur.  It took over 100 years to build and the architects, sculptors, and builders remain anonymous.  Wow.  The history of this cathédrale’s construction, destruction, plunder, rebuilding, and ongoing maintenance is amazing.  Its delicacy has survived because of a commitment and vision to preserve its story and its testimony to Passion . . . keeping the beauty and the spirit of Notre Dame de Paris alive.

We are inspired by the most monumental of things.  Edifices.  Sacrifices.  Generosity.  Selflessness.  Grace under pressure.  We notice the grandeur and the beauty and the passion in others’ work, and we are sometimes intimidated by what appears to be overwhelming effort, vision, and success. We question if we could ever create something so amazing or be someone who is considered to be a laureate.

From a young age, we are taught to set noble standards and high expectations.  But what of the infinitesimally small things?  The tiny little gestures that vaporize upon expression yet mean so much in the moment?

Some days seem to require much from us and other days seem to require less.  These less-demanding days, I am content to shake my feathers and take a look around and see what opportunities of need are around me.  Simple things like leaving a sticky note with a positive message for a stranger to discover on campus or bringing someone coffee or telling someone that they look so nice today in salmon pink.  Little tiny things.  Do they make a difference?  I don’t know.  A smile in return is a huge reward for recognizing another’s uniqueness . . . his or her potential for coming alive.

quote. what makes you come alive“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs . . .” This quote summarizes so much simple genius.  Very inspiring: Go do that which makes me come alive.  How could I not want to Work Hard?  It’s a privilege to Come Alive.

What makes you come alive?  Today, what is that one bit of inspiration that makes your day turn from cloudy gray to sunny blue?

Tell that special someone that you love him. toaster oven Listen to that friend who is going through a tough time.  Maybe write or draw or paint or play some music or shoot some hoops or bake some chocolate chip cookies.  Maybe take the time to look out over the water at the sunset and thank the heavens for the message of hope and affirmation. Maybe laugh until your sides hurt.  Focus.  Never underestimate the power of a smile.  Work it, shake it, bust a move.  Re-direct a challenge.  Discover your passion.  Re-define success.  Believe in miracles.  Work hard.  Come alive.