Posts Tagged 5th grade

Prizing Children’s Voices in Literature, and About Literature: The Wildwood Medal

The Wildwood MedalJanuary is traditionally the big month for children’s literature, as the American Library Association awards the Caldecott and Newbery medals for children’s literature—highlighting the best picture and chapter books for young readers.

At Wildwood,  June is the month to watch; that’s when we reveal the winner of The Wildwood Medal— our own children’s literature award chosen by Wildwood 5th graders.

This year’s nominees are:

Fifth graders interested in serving on the selection committee read each nominated book and take part in book group discussions with fellow students, as well as Wildwood faculty and staff.  Once they complete this process, they’re on the committee and attend weekly meetings during lunch and big yard time in March and April to discuss each book and its merits with a small group of their peers.

This year's nominees

This year’s nominees

The Wildwood medal is growing in recognition and makes it clear both on campus and throughout Southern California that at Wildwood, we value children’s literature and student voice very seriously.

“The committee discussions are really sophisticated,” says librarian Lorin Higashi. “The kids have a set of questions that they need to prepare to answer for each book.”  These include:  How did a character in the story solve a problem? What personality traits and Life Skills do you think allowed the character to reach this resolution? and Would you like to read something else by this author?  Why or why not?

“The students need to support all of their answers with evidence from the text,” fellow librarian, Jennifer DuBois, adds—an effective preparation for the rigors of learning at the middle and upper campus.

Jennifer and Lorin know the history and meaning of the award, now in its 16th year.

“Wildwood students knew about the Caldecott and Newberry Medals—both chosen by adults,” Jennifer says. “But they wanted to know why there wasn’t an award for children’s literature chosen by kids.” The elementary librarians at the time, Jeanne Avery and Bobbie Goeden, helped kids brainstorm and organize a process to evaluate and choose a book that resonated most with Wildwood students—and the Wildwood Medal was born.

Since 1999, choosing the Wildwood Medal has been a rite of passage for the oldest students at our elementary campus— allowing their voices to be heard and for them to leave their mark as they move on to middle school.

Each year five books are nominated. Every 5th grader reads at least one of the titles in a book group with Language Arts teacher Sandi Crozier. Ultimately, over half of the 5th graders opt in every year to serve on the selection committee.  Having deeply read each of the five nominated books, committee members take notes and thoughtfully analyzing each according to four criteria: Connection to the Life Skills, broad appeal, literary merit, and originality.

Wildwood Medal Winners: 1999 - 2013

Wildwood Medal Winners: 1999 – 2013

Ryder M., currently a 7th grader at Wildwood’s middle school reminisces on his experience as a Wildwood Medal committee member two years ago. “I remember first hearing about the Wildwood Medal when I was in 2nd grade,” Ryder says. By the time he got to 4th grade, Wildwood had instilled in him a strong passion for reading. “At that point there was never any doubt,” he says, “that I would be part of the committee that next year.”

The Wildwood Medal winner that year was Because of Mr. Terupt, by Rob Buyea. According to Ryder, the decision wasn’t easy. “The final meeting was intense,” he tells me. “All 35 of us were together and we had to reach consensus on the winner—it wasn’t easy. Because of Mr. Terupt was my top choice and I had to make a strong case to my classmates about why it should win.”

The Wildwood Medal committee chooses the winner in mid-spring and keeps its decision secret until the year’s final All School Meeting in June—no easy task.  “The committee members themselves make the announcement,” Jennifer relates. “They’re extremely proud of their choice and the work, and they want to share them with the entire school.”

Ryder recalls the excitement and pride in his committee’s announcement two years ago:  “I remember being on the stage and thinking—Wow! We did this. Our input really does matter.”

The Wildwood Prize process nurtures a love of reading, and critical analysis that grows with Wildwood students as they move to the middle and upper school campus.

Last year the Wildwood Medal went to Where The Mountain Meets The Moon by Grace Lin, which students cited for its synthesis of wondrous storytelling and Chinese folklore with breathtaking illustrations.

This year’s Wildwood Medal will be awarded on Friday, June 6.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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“Blended” Learning

IMG_0381This Thursday night, Wildwood’s 5th grade students will exhibit their artwork to their families, friends, and teachers. The theme for their work is “identity” and the pieces are very personal—the subjects are the students themselves.

This week I spend time with a group of Wildwood 5th graders as they finalized their projects with visual arts teachers, Kendra Elstad, Kusum Nairi, and Michael Fujikawa. I also discover that these students’ work is all about blending; both the literal blending of colors, as well as the blending of two curricula—5th grade visual arts and language arts.

A 5th grade student tries out her skin tone color blend (photo courtesy of Kendra Elstad)

A 5th grade student tries out her skin tone color blend
(photo courtesy of Kendra Elstad)

For years, the visual arts teachers have collaborated with 5th grade language arts teachers Sandi Crozier and Leslie Troy to incorporate her curriculum’s theme of identity into student work. With Sandi and Leslie, students explore the theme through creative writing—both prose and poetry. In visual arts the students study and practice a variety of painting techniques, including color blending, tinting, and shading. The result: the students create a variety of pieces that represent their individual identities—what people can see on the outside, as well as what they can’t see on the inside.

“One of the first challenges we give the kids for this project,” Kendra explains, “is to blend colors to match what they see as their skin tone.” She says that there’s a science to color blending that really engages her students. “Some kids test their blend by putting a little on their hands until they create a match.” Then they paint a small canvas with their color blend.

5th grader Toochi B...

5th grader Toochi B.

... with his mask of green

… with his mask of green

A few days earlier, in language arts class, students get a head start on another piece for their exhibition, responding to a writing prompt: If you were to choose a color(s) that expressed you and/or how you feel on the inside, what would it(they) be? Why?  When they get to visual arts class, the students build masks out of cardboard or paper mache and paint them the colors they chose to write about. First, they paint with a base color and then, using their new color blending skills, add lighter colors to create a tint and darker colors to create a shade of their base.

... with his baby blue mask

… with his baby blue mask

5th grader Henry C. ....

5th grader Henry C.

During my visit, 5th grader Toochi B. shows me his mask; “green,” he tells, “with hints of gold.”  Toochi chose green as his base color because, he tells me, “it brightens up my world when I’m not feeling great.” Fellow 5th grader Henry C.’s mask is baby blue. Why?  “It represents peaceful, happy and fun all at the same time,” he shares. “I remember it from when I was little; it’s always been very soothing.”

Jude M.'s mask, skin tone canvas, and color writing

Jude M.’s mask, skin tone canvas, and color writing

Jude M.'s color writing

Jude M.’s color writing

While 5th grade classes have been doing this cross-disciplinary project for a few years, Sandi says “we like to take it in a different direction every year.”  For this year’s twist, Sandi shared with her visual arts colleagues the idea of having students write their responses to the color writing prompt on a clear transparency, which they then overlay on their skin tone canvas. “The idea,” Sandi explains, “is that if you could see through to the inside of a heart and mind, or see the color of emotions and feelings, what might you see?”

The answers, for this year’s 5th graders, are not only visually appealing, but also a very personal reflection of what makes our students unique—both inside and out.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Democracy Starts Here

Just before the polls opened for voting Tuesday, the mood inside Jan Stallings’s class was one of anxious anticipation.  Her Wildwood 5th graders began preparing the Elementary campus for this momentous day back  in late September.

Fifth graders organize and run a mock election, and they’ve carefully designed their polling station for maximum efficiency. Several students monitor registration tables set up for each grade. They help voters sign in, and hand out ballots for President of the United States.  Other students observe the two voting booths set up to allow privacy.  Closer to the door, matching student-constructed boxes are ready for marked ballots. Near the exit, another group of 5th graders awaits voters with “I Voted” stickers for those who cast their ballots.

Fiftth grader Henry C. anticipates a smooth election. “Maybe some of the younger kids will draw on the ballots, or go right to get stickers before they vote,” he offers, “but other than that, I think that it will go alright.”  His classmates share his confidence.

The first voters, all students in Colleen McGee’s 4th grade class, line up outside of the room and file in two at a time and head to the registration tables. After casting their ballots and receiving stickers, I do some of my own exit polling with Colleen’s students.  “I voted for Barack Obama,” says 4th grader, Anushka H. “He’s been a good President.” Her classmate, Olivia L. concurs, adding, “He’s really smart and I hope that he wins.”  This early sample indicates that things look secure for the incumbent.

Wave after wave of enthusiastic students come through the polls, with Jan’s students ably assisting each voter and directing them through the process. Associate teacher, Linda Gordon, explains that months of prep helped the students understand the process. “We started by studying both Presidential candidates’ positions the issues and the Electoral College,” Linda tells me. Jan added, “We also emphasized the importance of ‘getting out the vote.’” Then students then had to prepare a presentation on the candidates that they gave to each of the other classes at school. Wildwood’s 5th graders even enjoyed a special visit from Joel Brand, a Wildwood parent and former CNN reporter, who gave an insider view on polling and elections to the students.

After 45 minutes the first surge of voting is complete, and Jan’s students have their room to themselves for a while. During the break in the action, she leads her students in a de-brief.  “What did you notice with this round of voting?” she asks.  “Well, it was kind of loud in here,” says one of her students. “Just like it is in the real world,” Jan tells her students, “Democracy can be messy, and it can be loud.”

Later Tuesday night, President Obama echoed exactly what Jan had explained to her students during their mock election. Thanking his supporters for his re-election, President Obama said, “Democracy in a nation of 300 million can be noisy, and messy, and complicated.”  Scaled down to Wildwood size, those thoughts made sense to the Wildwood 5th graders who created and participated in an electoral experience themselves.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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The World Next Door

First thing Tuesday morning Allan Yu’s 5th graders were putting the finishing touches on their version of the spiritual, “I’ve Got Peace Like a River,” complete with hand motions and gestures to accompany the lyrics.

“Ok, friends, let’s go through our songs one more time,” Allan says, “and when you sing your songs today, the more animated, the better,” Allan adds. Six students standing together at one end of the room lead their classmates through the final rehearsal.

Today, Allan and his students, along with Associate Teacher Leslie Troy, will make their first trip to the James J. McBride Special Education Center. The school is a short walk from Wildwood’s elementary campus across Mitchell Avenue, but a world away for most of these students.  McBride is one of 18 public schools in Los Angeles exclusively serving students with severe disabilities, including cerebral palsy, Downs Syndrome, and autism.  With their visit today, Allan’s students will add to the 20-year history of our oldest elementary students forging relationships with their younger counterparts at McBride.

As we cross the street, Allan’s students show their excitement with animated conversation about what they think McBride will be like. I ask two of Allan’s students, Marlo I. and Ryan M. about what they’re thinking about their first visit. “We had a chance to meet the McBride kids at the end of last year,” Marlo tells me. “They came to Wildwood to spend time with last year’s 5th graders and the teachers introduced us to them.”  Ryan tells me that he’s learned that the McBride students also have peer models in their classroom. “They are with some pre-schoolers who are the McBride kids’ siblings,” Ryan explains. “Their parents send them to McBride with their older brothers or sisters so that they can have a strong relationship with them.”

McBride and Wildwood students

McBride Teacher, Kara Guastella (far right), leads her students and their Wildwood friends in song.

Entering McBride’s front door, the students become silent and close their ranks into a single file line.  The halls at McBride are wide and the walls bare— it looks very different than Wildwood. As we turn the corner approaching our host classroom, we see the hallway is lined with dozens of walkers and wheelchairs, arranged in two rows along the walls. The students fix their gazes on the collection of assistive devices, and then, on each other, as the excitement turns to a bit of anxiety.

The classroom door opens and out steps our host McBride teacher, Kara Guastella. She greets Allan and Leslie by name, and the Wildwood students with a welcoming smile. “Our students have been looking forward all morning to meeting you,” she says.

We enter Kara’s room and see her students, who range in age from 5 to 7 and their peer models, arrayed in a semi-circle looking in our direction.  “Please sit down next to a new friend,” Kara asks Allan’s students.  The 5th graders pair up and seat themselves next to McBride students, introducing themselves with smiles and kind greetings.

5th grader, Ryan M., bonds with his new McBride friend, Ari.

Kara leads the whole group in a song about the alphabet and the Wildwood students take their new McBride friends by the hands and help them clap along to the music. The ice is broken.  I watch as, with each passing song, the McBride students gaze more intently at their new Wildwood friends, who respond with smiles, encouragement and hugs.  Allan comes over to me and speaks about how these connections can often extend beyond these regular visits. “We’ve had students who go and spend time with their McBride friends on days that Wildwood is off of school,” he says. “And there are others who, even now as 8th or 9th graders, still come back on their own time and work with Kara’s students.”

After the Wildwood students share the songs that they’d prepared for their McBride friends, it’s time to head out to the play yard to have some more fun. The Wildwood students begin to realize that there are no quick transitions at McBride. The teacher and classroom aides have to help students get their walkers and some put on helmets to avoid injury.

Out on the play yard, Wildwood 5th grader Chloe S. spends time with her new McBride friend, Solomon. “Show her your stuff, Solomon,” teacher Kara says.  Each step in his walker is labored and unsteady, but Solomon, who has cerebral palsy, meets each one with a beaming smile and look of satisfaction.

When it’s time to go, the Wildwood students say goodbye and give hugs, getting ready to walk back across the street. Over many years, our classes’ visits to McBride have given hundreds of students opportunities to practice caring for others and respect, two of Wildwood’s Interpersonal Life Skills so essential for gaining a strong sense of self, and social agency.

Over many trips back and forth across this street, Wildwood students bring back with them a growing understanding that the McBride students aren’t really in a different world at all but rather are very much a part of our community.

~ By Steve Barrett, Director of Outreach, Teaching, and Learning

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Poetic License

Today in Sandi Crozier’s language arts class, 5th grader, Tai R., offers me this poetic riddle:

I’m with you 24/7 and 365

I can see you but you can’t see me

I rely on you and you rely on me

But you’re always hurting me

What am I?

Tai R. shows off his riddle poem

I scratch my head, trying to come up with the answer, but I’m equally curious about the checkerboard-patterned paper on which Tai’s displayed his poem. It turns out that it’s actually two pieces of paper, precisely cut and woven together in a way so that only when Tai pulls the edges apart, he reveals the answer to the riddle. Sorry… you’ll have to wait.

Today is construction day— a “poetry factory”— in Sandi’s class, an essential part of the 5th grade Poetry Museum project, a rite of passage for Wildwood elementary students.  Sandi explains the project to me. “For our poetry unit, the students learn about 18 different styles and give each one a try. They select their favorite 5 pieces and transfer them to a choice of paper templates; some are 3-D, others are folded paper creations like Tai’s.”

Associate teacher Linda Gordon explains to me how the poetry factory works. “The students fill out an actual work order, describing the kind of template they’d like, along with the colors they’d like it in,” she says. “I take the orders from the students and go to the faculty work room where I use a paper die-cutting machine to make the templates to the specifications. Then Sandi and I help the kids assemble their templates.”

Brennon B. readies one of his poem templates

Touring the classroom, I see students working with beautiful paper boxes, geometric shapes, and even paper roller coasters. Students are also experimenting with free verse, odes, and two voice poems. Tai’s classmate, Brennon B., shows me the template on which he’ll record his art/architecture poem about the Staples Center. He also shows me the “squash” template on which he’ll record another poem, a very cool paper creation that opens up accordion-style.

When I ask where the inspiration for the various templates comes from, associate teacher Linda Gordon motions toward Sandi and says, jokingly, “You know Sandi. She never sleeps!” Sandi laughs and tells me that she has collected and created the various 3-D templates over the years. “Some of them I’ve been making since I was a child,” she says, “and others, like the ‘squash,’ I found online, and couldn’t pass up.”

Brennon B. shows off the “squash” template

Fifth grader, Maxwell H. invites me over to his table to show off the template he’s working on— a city skyline. “I wrote one of my poems about New York City,” he says, “and this one was just perfect.”

To round out their Poetry Museum projects, students like Maxwell write an “About the Poet” biography and are encouraged to create one extra credit piece of their own design.  “We’ve had students’ poems on ice skates, suspended in water, and written on eggshells,” Sandi says.

Fifth graders (left to right) Harry Z., Ella K., and Maxwell H. work on their poems

Come see what this year’s 5th grade poets have created at the Wildwood Poetry Museum, Thursday, May 31, from 8:30-9:30 am.  As for Tai’s riddle poem, you won’t have to wait until May 31. He shows me how to open up his woven template to reveal the answer: Air!

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On Food and Thanks

If I had to choose between eating pumpkin pie and attending the elementary students’ Thanksgiving All School Meeting, the All School Meeting would win hands-down. Today was my lucky day. I went to the meeting, then 3rd grade teacher Melanie Benefiel shared her pie. Double happiness.

All School meetings at the elementary campus bring every student – and lots of parents – together every week in the Commons where, as a community, we share songs, news, stories, and lessons kids have learned in their classrooms. The Thanksgiving All School Meeting is a particularly special event. Every child participates, and each class brings an “offering” to the school Thanksgiving table, which is set in the center of the room.

Jasmine K. and Milo M. lead the Thanksgiving All School Meeting.

This week’s leaders were 5th graders Jasmine J. and Milo M., and they ran the meeting with TEDtalk flair. They shared personal anecdotes about Thanksgiving—Jasmine helps her mom cook, and Milo enjoys his Bubbe’s matzo ball soup—and introduced the theme for the morning: chef and food advocate Alice Waters’ “Principles of Good Food and Eating.” Each grade presented what they learned about a specific principle:

  1. Eat locally and sustainably. Second graders advised the audience to “learn where your food comes from” and be aware of chemical fertilizers that “are not good for animals or people.” Vegetables and fruits make you healthy, and “organic means not people-made, but earth-made.” Students read the story Little Yellow Pear Tomatoes by Demian Elaine Yumei and contributed a copy of the book to the Thanksgiving table.
  2. Eat seasonally. “Eating seasonally gives you a sense of time and place,” a 3rd grader explained. Third graders talked about the field trip they took to a pumpkin farm, sang about pumpkin pie (holding handmade paper pumpkins that bounced to the beat) and presented a pumpkin pie to the Thanksgiving table.
  3. Shop at farmers’ markets. The Pods told everyone about their field trip to the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, where they interviewed farmers and got to taste all kinds of fruits and vegetables. They brought back a bounty of produce to their class and offered a basket of farm-fresh goodies for the Thanksgiving table. “Food tastes better when it’s fresh and local,” a little Podster explained.
  4. Plant a garden. “It is deeply satisfying to eat food you’ve grown yourself,” a 5th grader told the audience. As part of their study of early American history, the 5th grade is growing a colonial herb garden in the new outdoor classroom.  Each student brought in a recipe from home that incorporates one of the herbs, and the class combined all of the recipes to create their own cookbook. A copy was placed on the Thanksgiving table.
  5. Cook together. Fourth graders brought a pot and ladle to the table to symbolize this simple idea, and each student shared an excerpt from a creative writing assignment in which they expressed the smells, tastes, sounds, and sensations of Thanksgiving: “sweet potatoes with sweet white marshmallow topping,” “the sounds of pans banging against each other as my family begins to cook,” “the bubbling and sizzling of bacon cooking,” and “the scent of cinnamon from the apple pie.” Hungry yet?
  6. Eat together. The Pods shared a video of their very own feast, which required that they use their math skills to calculate how many chairs and tables would be needed and where everyone would sit. They solved the problem and enjoyed a snack of veggie chips, carrots, and pretzels. “It was a really special meal, and our table was filled with joy!”
  7. Remember food is precious. Meeting leaders Milo and Jasmine presented this final principle. “Food should never be taken for granted,” Milo said. Jasmine told everyone to “remember those families who may not have all that we do.” The pair congratulated Wildwood for coming together for this year’s Thanksgiving Food Drive to contribute 56 bags of food and 18 gift cards to families from St. Joseph Center in Venice.

I know this blog post is long, but I have to close it with the Buddhist prayer that the kids recited this morning at All School Meeting:

“This food is the gift of the whole universe/each morsel is a sacrifice of life/may I be worthy to receive it./May the energy in this food/give me strength/to transform my unwholesome qualities/into wholesome qualities./I am grateful for this food/may I realize the path of awakening/for the sake of all beings.” Happy Thanksgiving.

Each grade presented an offering for the Thanksgiving table.


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