So our trip to the British Isles is completed and I’ve returned home with some ideas for my classroom next year. Here are the last five to complete my top ten:
6. Green = Good – As we were walking from our hotel in Dublin to the famous shopping area on Grafton Street, we turned into a lovely park called St. Stephen’s Green. It was acres of green grass, gorgeous flowers, ponds, waterfalls, trees, and swans. It was an oasis from the bustle of the city, just steps away. It was so calming to sit there and watch the people and hear the birds. As much as I fail at keeping plants alive, I will have them in my classroom this year. (Perhaps giving the care and feeding of them to a greener thumb should be part of the plan as well.)
7. Unfinished Art as Inspiration – I saw many beautiful paintings on this trip but two in particular stand out. One was an unfinished painting The Turning Road, by Cezanne in the Cortauld Gallery in London. Only the middle portion was completed but it was possible to see the brushstrokes and the movement of the paint on the canvas. It made me wonder – what made him abandon this one? I thought what was evident was lovely – but something must have made Cezanne move on to other paintings and leave this one unfinished. Did he intend to come back to it? My interest turned into a poem and perhaps a short story later on. What would my students do with this? I can’t wait to find out!
8. Art and Story as Inspiration– The British Museum, the Tate, has a gallery devoted to the paintings of J.M. Turner, one of my favorites. As I was walking through the gallery, a British man approached me and asked if I would be interested in hearing a ‘talk’? So, two other lucky visitors and I got to listen as this Turner expert described the artist’s life and paintings with such enthusiasm and expertise that I left feeling as if I knew Turner personally. One of the paintings, Snow Storm – Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth, will be part of my instruction next year as inspiration for writing. The story, as Turner told it, was that he had lashed himself to the mast of this ship during a storm. Not true, said our expert, it actually had been done by another artist, and Turner took the story as his own! I’m confident that either the art or the story will spark some student writing.
9. History as Story – One of our most memorable moments was on the tour given by the ‘Beefeaters’ (also known as the Queen’s Guard) at the Tower of London. One of the reasons these tours are so memorable is that the guides did nothing but tell stories, one after another, many with surprising twists and turns. From the polar bear who went fishing in the Thames to the disappearance of the two young princes (whose bones may have been found later in a staircase during remodeling) each story was as interesting as the one that came before. My seventh graders will study history from 1865 to the present and my task will be to find those stories that help them retain the important information of that time period. It’s much easier to remember facts that are tied to a fascinating story.
10. Global Citizenry – Much as Americans like to believe we are the center of the universe, there remains a big old world out there that is only tangentially interested in us. That being said, people are much more alike then different. The things that bind us to one another are very strong – family, friendship, beauty, etc. Over and over again on our trip we met people who went out of their way to help us. Clerks, bus drivers, pedestrians, all came to our aid at one point or another. There was even a teenager who grabbed my suitcase on the way up a long set of stairs, left it at the top, and went on his way! So, my hope is to create an atmosphere of a caring community, accepting of our differences, and bonding with our commonalities, so that everyone can get what they need and give what they can, as writers, readers, and people.