A sprinkling of semicolons

wordle semicolons

This week at the Carrot Ranch Charli Mills is talking about semicolons; but not the little squiggles on a page, the semicolons that are sprinkled liberally through life as new beginnings. Sometimes we see them and grasp the opportunity for renewal, other times we ignore them and miss the chance to revitalize. Sometimes we get pushed down and it takes all our strength to pull back up, grasping onto the semicolon as if it was a dragon’s tail.

Charli was inspired by Project Semicolon that provides this explanation:

“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence if your life.  Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire.”

Every day can be a new beginning in some way. With our thoughts, words and actions we can change our own lives, or the lives of others. The impact may be deliberate or unintentional. We may be aware of the effects, or we may never know the consequences.

Without wishing to diminish the importance of helping those “who are struggling with depression, suicide, addiction and self-injury”, which is the focus of Project Semicolon, my focus as always is on education and the importance of maintaining curiosity and an interest in and love of learning.

jimmiet, A colourful monarch butterfly   https://openclipart.org/detail/19002/monarch-butterfly

jimmiet, A colourful monarch butterfly https://openclipart.org/detail/19002/monarch-butterfly

What better analogy of a semicolon of life than the transformation from a caterpillar in a pupa to the beauty and flight of a butterfly. An inspiring teacher can mean the difference between full stops and semicolons in learning.

To illustrate this I refer a post called Deeper Learning: Highlighting Student Work written by Ron Berger and shared on Edutopia.

In the article Berger discusses his obsession with “collecting student work of remarkable quality and value . . . the work of regular students in typical schools around the country . . . (whose) teachers have helped them develop the skills and mindsets necessary to produce work of exceptional quality, and have built classroom and school cultures in which exceptional work is the norm”.

Berger discusses ways of engaging students in authentic work, work that can have an impact on their communities and on the way they see themselves as learners. I remember Charli Mills telling me about similar work that her children were engaged in when they attended The School of Environmental Studies in Minnesota; and I shared some of Chris Lehmann’s work at the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia here.

Berger says,

“Once a student creates work of value for an authentic audience beyond the classroom — work that is sophisticated, accurate, important and beautiful — that student is never the same. When you have done quality work, deeper work, you know you are always capable of doing more.”

Semicolons in teaching and learning, all.

As with the three cited above, the situations referred to are often of teenagers in high schools. I am an early childhood teacher and, while I find the work exciting, I sometimes struggle to see the relevance to my situation. However, in this article Berger shares the work of Austin, a year one student from Boise, Idaho doing a project about a tiger swallowtail butterfly.

Austin was to illustrate his project with a detailed scientific drawing of the butterfly. His initial drawing was what I would consider to be fairly typical of a year one child. However he received feedback that was specific and not mean from follow students; and through a series of six drafts finished with a drawing that was much more sophisticated and demonstrated more careful ‘scientific’ observation.

Berger also shared work by year two students at another school, demonstrating what can be achieved “when students are allowed, compelled and supported to do great things”.

 

Last week Charli’s flash fiction challenge “the day the earth turned brown” prompted me to write about a student mixing all the colours together to make one muddy brown. The teacher paused before responding. There are many such pauses, (semicolons) in a teacher’s day. The teacher knows the power of every remark and must consider the impact that a response may have.

If you had provided each child with a palette of primary colours and black and white expecting them to mix a variety of colours and shades and tones to create an interesting picture; then found that one child had mixed them all together to make one muddy brown, how would you respond?

There were a number of comments on the flash including one from Geoff Le Pard  who said that there were “So many questions as to why the little girl is making muddy browns and lathering them everywhere.”

So true. The teacher’s response would be influenced by knowledge of the child’s background, interest in art, and behaviour that day, among other things.

Charli Mills said that “It could mean many things and nothing!” She recalled, “mixing paints as a child hoping to create a vivid new color and (being) disappointed to end up with mud.Anne Goodwin agreed, saying that “mixing paints to make a muddy brown, (was) a distinctive childhood memory”.

In my experience there was usually one child who ended up mixing all the colours together, often for no other reason than to see what happened. Sometimes the process of discovery gave as much pleasure as would a colourful painting of a house a tree and a sun.

house and sun

However, there might be more to it than that. Charli Mills sympathesised with the teacher, saying that “So much is put on the teacher to figure it out.” She thought that the child “might be disturbed, highly imaginative or confident enough to experiment”.  Sherri Matthews suggested that perhaps the child was “troubled . . . living in a dark, mixed up world, but . . . trying to find their way”.

So much to consider. So powerful the response. Will it be a full stop, or a semicolon?

This is my response to Charli’s challenge to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a renewal story that proclaims, “This isn’t the end; I will go on.

muddy brown

She paused. The muddy brown extended beyond the paper virtually cementing it to the desktop. The palette too was brown with little trace of the beautiful primary colours she had prepared. Looking from desk to child she observed two large smears adorning the shirt. A bruise-like smudge on the cheek showed where an intruding hair had been brushed away. “Oh!”

She breathed; she counted to ten; and back again; “Breathe,” she told herself. “Why?”

She moved on, observing the assortment of smiling suns, houses and garden paths, but her mind was on the mud; the child . . .

What would be the appropriate response?

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

 

56 thoughts on “A sprinkling of semicolons

  1. writersideup

    Norah, you put up such poignant posts 🙂 I would’ve never thought of semi-colons in this perfect metaphoric way! And I love the way you write. You have a knack for picking out the perfect details to bring simple scenes to life with such poignancy 🙂 And I hope the appropriate response would’ve been a question, asking the child about her picture…asking the child “Why? What?” rather than walking away.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for your generous comments, Donna. Unfortunately I can’t take credit for use of the semicolon in this way, but it certainly does make for a new way of looking at life, and things.
      I appreciate your comments re my writing and flash. I am pleased to be able to connect. I am considering what response the teacher may make, as she was doing as she initially walked away. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  2. Pingback: The Story Doesn’t End « Carrot Ranch Communications

  3. Bec

    Great post, as always, Nor. I love the analogy of the semi-colon being used by this organisation to highlight when life has hidden opportunities to continue when it seems like things should be coming to an end. I also agree with you about the potential for producing something of value to contribute to motivation to continue working hard. I have experienced this myself. It brings to mind, too, the story you shared on here a while ago about the scientific paper co-authored by a group of school-aged students. Was it about bees? How empowering for those students (and inspirational for the rest of us).

    There do seem to be many possibilities in the FF you have shared this week and last. I can relate to Anne’s experience of mixing colours hoping for something amazing to end up with an underwhelming brown. I am interested to learn about the teacher’s response.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks for your kind words, Bec. I’m pleased you enjoyed the post. The semicolon project is indeed a good one.
      And yes, the scientific paper was about bees. It was a TED talk. I wonder what those students are doing now.
      As for Marnie’s story. I am beginning to think of what may be an appropriate response for the teacher, but I am fearful that whatever the response, it will be the wrong one. In the meantime I have been working on it from Marnie’s angle.

      Like

      Reply
  4. Christy Birmingham

    Norah, your use of the semicolon in the flash and throughout the post is so creative and inspiring. I loved the idea you describe in the post of the semicolon as being a symbol of life still to come, and choosing to continue on rather than put a full stop with a period. For anyone who struggles with depression, as I have done, I urge them to reach out for help, as there is life that extends beyond the semicolon and life can be wonderful! Hugs 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Christy. It is so important for those who struggle with depression to reach out for help. Sometimes, sadly, they are the last ones to see it though. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  5. Charli Mills

    This is a fabulous semi-colon post, taking us from the prompt to the organization to how teachers use semi-colons (pauses) all the time in the classroom. It broadens the topic yet focuses on the importance of learning and feedback. I also liked how considerate the students were being in the video on Austin’s butterfly, as if they felt that criticism might be mean feedback. They learned to be specific and descriptive (a great lesson for us writers when we are called to offer feedback to others). So true: “An inspiring teacher can mean the difference between full stops and semicolons in learning.”

    With this child, I think of my husband. He lives out loud! He is an extrovert and is full of energy and his mind (thus his flow of spoken words) is constant. He’s messy, too. As a child he was fast to do things in the classroom. He’s smart, inquisitive and can outlast everyone else with energy. His teachers often smacked him for it. It was legal back then. Nevada had corporal punishment and they called the paddle “swats.” I can understand a teacher feeling frustrated with a child that seems not to pay attention to the task or is making a mess. Often these are simply intelligent, high-energy children. My husband now does precision work and his workroom looks like it exploded with clutter. But he thrives in its midst.

    So I think of him when I think of responding to this child. Like the teacher, I often have to count to 10 and back. But I ask him to tell me what he’s doing and his eyes light up. He likes it when others are interested and he’ll happily explain every last detail. I think this teacher should come back around to M and ask about her process or if she expected that outcome. Be attentive. Respond positively and direct M to the paper towels and water for clean up.

    Thank you for inviting us into your flash as responders!

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you Charli, for the excitement and encouragement in your words. I’m pleased the post worked the way it did. I’m never sure if the links are too tenuous, or I tell too much. Sometimes I have difficulty joining all the dots in posts of others, so I like to make sure the path is clear on mine. I am an early childhood teacher after all! 🙂 I loved the children’s comments too, especially that they were encouraged to be specific and supportive. I have always tried to do that with my comments. I don’t like to say “that’s good”. It doesn’t tell the artist or writer anything. I prefer to tell what I liked about it.
      Thanks for sharing the story of your hub and his learning. We used to have the cane over here – a long piece of cane that would give severe “cuts” on the palms of the hand or on the bottom. We would have chalk and dusters thrown at us also, a hit on the knuckles with a ruler, or a slap to the back of the head to wake you up. Am I glad those days are gone! The light in hub’s eyes when you ask what he is doing is a wonderful thing to see. As a teacher is very rewarding to see the light and hear the excitement in the voice. It cannot happen too often! I think your advice to pause, but to be attentive and respond positively is good. I smiled at the direction given to the paper towels and water for clean up. Indeed! 🙂
      Thank you for joining me in my flash and helping me figure out just how the teacher would respond.
      This morning I woke up with Marnie telling me that she is the “artist” and I have written a much lengthier piece explaining her (possible) side of the story. It is way too long for your flash fiction prompts but I will probably share it in a post soon to hear what you all think. Just look what you started! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      1. Charli Mills

        Good to put an end to corporal punishment. We heard from a friends who went to school with the Hub that the county museum has the paddles on display. This friend took her children and they couldn’t believe that teachers used them! The cane sounds awful. So much better is eliciting that excited look from a child. Look at how excited that group of children got over the the butterfly demonstration!

        That’s a writer’s blessing to wake up with a story! Marnie has so much potential as a literary figure who can show and express the joy of learning. Literature can help people imagine possibilities that they can’t grasp even when they read an article. I think it goes back to that idea that we are hard-wired for stories. I hope you do share the longer piece in a post! You got something good going on!

        Liked by 2 people

        Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          Paddles in a museum! It is interesting to see artifacts from my life in museums. Items are being replaced ever so quickly now that it won’t be long before children will be able to see artifacts from their own lives in museums!
          I agree that the excitement and participation of children in the butterfly video was something to be seen!
          Thanks for your encouragement re Marnie’s story. I’m not sure that I am telling a positive one, though. Maybe I need to think more about that. 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
  6. Sacha Black

    Not sure how qualified I am to comment. BUT WOAAAAAAAAAAH I actually don’t think I can believe that video, how is it possible that a child so young can do something so spectacular. I notice it was the 4th draft that he really made progress, I wonder why it was that draft in particular , whether there was anything different about the feedback or the numbers of repetitions of attempts… who knows but WOW. in light of the post I just wrote about distributed cognition too, it couldn’t have been a better timed video, so salient and a wonderful example. when I read your last browns flash, I was with sherri, in that I thought something bad had happened to the child. I wonder if that was a reflection of my own mentality more than the fact it could have been an innocent child smushing and playing with colour…. sigh, I should be more positive.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
      1. Sacha Black

        I think it’s true for me… First draft I get the timeline done second i weave emotion, then world building and atmosphere…. So 4th should be tweaking I wonder what it is about the number 4?!

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Now it’s my time to say ‘WOW’. I’ll have to head over to your blog to read your post about distributed cognition and see how it ties in!
      The artwork is pretty amazing, isn’t it? I have never requested children to make that many drafts of a drawing. We may experiment with shapes and lines etc and then use them in a drawing, but never drafts. I wonder what could have been achieved had I tried.
      Interesting that you say about your and Sherri’s ‘negative’ thoughts about the painting. I had some thoughts about it this morning that I have written into a longer episode, from Marnie’s (possible) point of view. I’m thinking of sharing it here soon. I look forward to hearing what you think of it when I do. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      1. Sacha Black

        I can’t wait to read the longer post. 🙂

        For me the one thing missing from the video was the child’s state of mind. Were they fine. Or did having to do so many drafts become demotivating? Because I find it demotivating so surely a child would? Perhaps they aren’t tarnished with the concept of ‘perfect’ yet so have no idea what striving for the Unachievable can do to a person. Actually that gives mean idea for a post!

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
        1. Norah Post author

          Thanks for passing smiles my way! 🙂
          I think the same things as you. It would be interesting to see how Austin was responded to, and how he responded. That is very important, but the responses of the children in the video were very encouraging.
          I’m pleased you gave yourself an idea for a post. It is wonderful what the discussions on our blogs can do for inspiration! 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          Reply
  7. Ula

    As someone who studied art therapy, I definitely would not be quick to judge. I agree that it could be a sign of confidence to experiment or could be negative. I wonder what age this child is. Children learn color theory fairly early on, so I think most children remember at least some basics. But I guess that all depends on how much art is accepted and done at home and also depends on the art teacher(s).
    It would be interesting to know what else the teacher knows about this child. What he/she drew or painted before and what they’ll paint after. What is the child’s reaction. I think I’d ask lots of questions that don’t indicate any sort of judgement or conclusion drawn on my part.
    I do that with my son and his art. I ask him to explain what he did, why, etc. Sometimes he doesn’t really answer all my questions. He doesn’t have to. Through his answers, he reveals a lot about his thinking process.

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Annecdotist

      Ula, Art therapy is fab! I have an art therapist of the character in what I hope will be my second published novel – it from the point of view of her partner, however, who doesn’t understand what it’s about, so I had fun with that.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      1. Ula

        I think most people don’t know what art therapy is about. I’m looking forward to reading your novel (once it comes out). My MC in my WIP is an artist (a painter) and she uses art as a sort of self-therapy, although it isn’t a conscious decision on her part.

        Liked by 2 people

        Reply
  8. Sherri

    Oh Norah, I LOVE the way you so artfully used the semicolon in your flash: ‘…but her mind was on the mud; the child . . .’ which so perfectly ties in with your preamble to it in your, as always, excellently written post. The teacher could have just left the ‘mud’ to itself, letting the child explore, not paying too much attention, but no, she didn’t stop at the mud; she thought of the child and I bet her thoughts were racing. By taking away one full stop and replacing it with a comma, we know that there is hope to carry on, to keep moving forward and hope for the future. And caring and inspirational teachers like yourself and others you link to here, and their teaching methods, go such a long way in keeping those semi-colons going strong 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for the warmth of your enthusiasm, Sherri. The teachers thoughts were racing, as mine would be. We are told so many things to say or not say, how to respond or not respond; deciding what to do is a battleground in my mind. It seems that any decision has the potential for doing harm as much as it has for doing good. I hope I did contribute to more semicolons than fullstops (well, no fullstops, hopefully!) Thanks for reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  9. TanGental

    Another intriguing flash; I don’t think I’m suited to answering the question though. I have no idea on the appropriate response. Not ignore it for starters! The videos were interesting too. Great progress on the butterfly. Love that.

    Liked by 1 person

    Reply
    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Geoff. I appreciate your thoughts – a response is needed – that’s good for starters. I’m pleased you enjoyed the videos. I’d love to draw a butterfly like that! Must have a go, I suppose. That’s probably the best way to do it! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply
  10. Annecdotist

    Ah, Norah, this whole post is so clever! You demonstrate the concept of the semi-colon, not just in the flash, and your introduction to it, but the way that you use your comments on the previous flash to feed into this one. I notice if you do that quite a lot with your post anyway, but is particularly striking here where the concept of revision and renewal is the theme. That poor teacher, she’s got so much to deal with in the classroom, but she doesn’t just dismiss the brown splodge. I can really believe that she’s going to manage something creative from this that will be useful to the child when she’s given herself a bit more breathing space.
    I also enjoyed watching the first video about Austin. It was really moving complete both what he did achieve and how those very young children could understand the process and value it. What an inspiration!

    Liked by 2 people

    Reply
    1. Annecdotist

      And I’m doing the same with the semi-colon to my comment! Somehow I don’t so easily see the mistakes until I have posted and unfortunately watching a video confuses my microphone so there are more mistakes with this kind of post.
      Some of the errors are quite minor but I can’t leave the teacher doesn’t “just make” the brown sludge when I meant “dismiss” and I have no idea what “complete” is supposed to stand for in the penultimate sentence.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply
      1. Norah Post author

        Thanks Anne. I sometimes see errors after I have hit the publish button too – frustrating! The consensus from comments on my post about spelling seems to be that a few typos are okay. We are a community of forgiving folk. I can repair the “dismiss” microphone error, but not sure about the complete one! You might need to think on that and let me know! 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

        Reply
    2. Norah Post author

      Thanks Anne. I appreciate that you are okay with my backward and forward referencing through my posts. I find it helps me think more clearly about my thought processes and ideas – helps me step it through, rather than landing with a wallop and wondering how I got there! 🙂
      I’m pleased you have confidence in the teacher. I hope she can figure it out. I never knew just what was the best thing to say. There was too much to take into consideration. I just hope I didn’t crush anyone too much. Actually this morning I woke up thinking the “artist” was Marnie and I have written a lengthier episode about what may have been her experience in that art lesson. I may share it in a post soon, if you don’t mind accommodating me with that also.
      The children in the video were pretty awesome. I hope Austin’s experience was just as positive.
      Your comments always are. Thank you for your consideration and thought-extending/provoking comments. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      Reply

I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s