Posts Tagged language arts

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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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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