Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Yarn with Jason Reynolds


Each day my seventh grade language arts class follows a predictable routine: 10 minutes of independent reading, a move to the carpet with a quick grammar lesson, followed by a quick write, a mini lesson, and workshop time. It helps my students know what to expect each day. What we write about, our grammar focus, and the topic for mini lesson units all change, yet the structure remains. Today for our quick write we listened to a podcast.

This was our first time writing from a podcast this year, but when I listened to the latest episode of The Yarn this weekend, I knew I wanted the kids to hear it. I loved that Jason Reynolds shared that his path to publication wasn't without pitfalls. My students love his book, Ghost. Many have begun to read As Brave As You as well. I love that he told them the importance of rap lyrics and poetry. I love that they listened, and absorbed, how he believes in their generation. So we listened. For their quick write they wrote down things they heard Jason say that they liked. I loved watching them sit and all bend over their notebooks at the same line. I loved watching them furiously scribble, trying to get down exactly what he said. I loved it because that was what I did when I listened for the first time. So much goodness packed into nineteen minutes.

I was talking to a colleague later about the experience. She asked what I did if kids didn't write down any quotes, if they refused to participate. I think, as teachers, we have to let some of that go. My students do get graded on quick writes - about once every two weeks they turn in their notebooks, I grade them for having completed the correct number of quick writes and then grade more closely one quick write from that date span they have chosen to have me look at. So yes, there will be a grade. However I don't think that's what's important here. If a child doesn't choose to write, that's on them. I won't chastise them, shame them. Maybe they're having a bad day. Maybe the lesson didn't connect for whatever reason. But I choose to remember that out of 70+ kids today, one didn't write anything. One other child wrote very little. The other 68+ filled more than a page each. I choose to celebrate that. 

After the podcast I asked each class to share some things they felt compelled to write down. All three classes had similar lines strike a cord with them. They include:

  • "Running is the acceptance of suffocation." (This blew their minds.)
  • "...kids that have become accustomed to suffocation." 
  • That Jason writes from 7:30am-2:30pm five days a week. One kid commented, "He's writing now!"
  • Didn't read a novel until he was 17 years old.
  • Read, and listened, to a lot of rap music. Rap lyrics tied to poetry.
  • "It's the stories that build our culture, it's the stories that build our lives."
  • "You can't be what you can't see." 
  • "I want young people to feel cared for."
  • "If you see something, say something."
  • "You can't live your best life if the rest of us can't. That's a reality." 
  • "Your life is made better when my life is made better."
We talked in each class about writing some of Jason's words on chart paper and hanging it in the classroom. The words resonated. The kids soaked them in, and so did I. Thanks to Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker for putting this out into the world. My students, and myself, walked away from listening with so much to discuss. 

Listen to the podcast. I'm sure you will agree that it is well worth your time. (HERE)

Finally - don't forget to vote for The Nerdies! Voting for 2016 nominees closes 12/20. Hurry and nominate your favorite children's books - up to five in each category. Vote HERE