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