I used to get in trouble for looking out the window when I was in third grade, but that was a long time ago.
Now I am in a corner classroom with two walls of windows. And yes, my children look out the windows when they should be working. And no, they do not get in trouble for it. Looking out the window is a reminder that the world is the real classroom. Classroom lessons are seed feed for a bigger world than the four walls of Room 204. No one looks for too long. We maintain an unbroken and unspoken watch. As a long time veteran of looking out classroom windows, I know that sometimes we are looking within as we look out. Sometimes we look because we know we might see something. This watch is the “wonder watch” and because of it, we stumble on surprise.
I’ve discovered something new with my third grade writers: shared writing is especially powerful after a shared experience.
“The birds are back!” The children quickly moved toward the windows. We’d researched birds that periodically fill the trees outside our window. We hypothesized the birds were robins. Now here was another flock and this time we were going to find out for sure.
When we came back in the children took out their notebooks and began to write. After they were done, I asked them to share their best “crafty sentence.” In the bass notes, I heard our mentors (our favorite authors). I heard a story emerging and saw the opportunity for shared writing. Jayvon (my eight year old technology assistant) quickly opened a word document and projected it on the wall; we went right to work. They shared. I typed. We revised. Only one word is mine; I couldn’t resist adding the word “tentative,” with their permission, of course.
At the end, the children wondered if it could be on the blog. I can’t think of a better way to get their words out into the world.
We were in the classroom as we noticed birds swarming in the trees. We put on our coats and went outside. We waited. We listened.
“There’s a robin, Mrs. Campbell,” someone said.
“And another,” said someone else.
The wind blew… we walked. Flocks of beautiful robins sat in trees on Hanover Avenue. We walked along the sidewalk for a little while. The birds chirped and we made our bird sounds:
”ch,ch…ch, ch, ch….”
A cardinal came. We knew it was a male without anyone telling us. He was a beautiful bright red.
The cardinal flew from tree to tree and off into the cold bright morning. A flock of birds flew over—they were swirling and circling over our very heads.
“Mrs. Campbell??” The girl’s voice trembled. She was troubled. Tentative.
“Oh, no. This is one of the downsides of birdwatching,” Mrs. Campbell said. “Science…” she added.
“But I don’t like science mixed in with my hair!” said the girl, “Especially not ‘bird science!!’”
Some of us wanted to laugh, but we were afraid we would get in trouble. Others of us did laugh. We couldn’t help it.
When we got back to school, we went upstairs, and started to write….
In their writing I am beginning to see (and hear) the countless mini-lessons I’ve taught. But the truth is– the windows get big credit here. The story was just on the other side of the glass.