Friday, October 14, 2016

A Visit From Rosemarie Robotham

Author and Editor Rosemarie Robotham with a group of aspiring writers
Another school year is comfortably underway and my commitment to pursue the tenets of experiential education espoused by American philosopher John Dewey and the vision of Maxine Greene's aesthetic education continue to take root.

In her autobiography, The Story of My Life, Helen Keller described learning in a hands-on Deweyan manner.  Outside the walls of a classroom she immersed herself in her lessons and the active interplay between student, teacher and environment was thrilling. She wrote that those experiences had a lasting impact.

My mission these days is for my students to have opportunities to construct ideas not just about the core curriculum but also about art, culture and compassion by doing as Helen did.  I want them to learn by getting out in their surroundings (New York City!) and by inviting that magic into our classroom.

This week we did just that.  We had the great good fortune to welcome author and editor Rosemarie Robotham into our classroom to share her insights on the writing process.

I've been following Rosemarie's blog, 37 Paddington, for years and I am continually impressed by her ability to string words and sentences together to create images at once beautifully complex and devastatingly simple.  Her writing is honest and raw, full of struggle and redemption but always moving forward and lifting her readers up.

She wanted to read the book Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco because it was a favorite and because it skillfully introduced one of the themes of her visit.

We wanted to impart to the children that writing is a process and to steer clear of judging themselves or their work.  In the book, Rosemarie pointed out that Mr. Falker had written on the blackboard "All children have gifts, some open them at different times".  Her masterful reading reinforced the message that everyone is a writer.  Writing is a way for all of us to express ourselves.

Rosemarie is good with words, written and spoken, so she deftly navigated the questions the children asked.  "How long did it take you to write that book?" Her reply, "Six months" was met with hoots and howls.  I wasn't sure if they thought that was an incredibly long time or an incredibly short time (or both) but they were impressed.

Best of all, they were encouraged and inspired. After many hugs she said goodbye and I walked her down to the lobby.  I told her how her writing had pushed me past the boundaries of my experience and helped me see new perspectives.

I told her how we read the poem Momma by Paulette Childress White - found in Mending the World: Stories of Family by Contemporary Black Writers and edited by Rosemarie - in both American Sign Language and English.  And how this complex poem about a mother talking care of her family but yearning to write made the children think of how Mother Earth takes care of all of us yet silently suffers.

These students are ready to tackle anything we set before them. So, the things we set before them must be exquisite.

Rosemarie was just that.

Shea's drawing of Rosemarie reading to the class


37paddington said...

Gary, I had the most amazing time. Your first graders give me life! And you're so right: It is impossible to be anything but grateful and joyful in their presence. There were just the most generous, insightful and amazing group. And you are truly their Mr. Falker. Thank you for inviting me, for sharing with me this wonderful gift.

Steve Reed said...

This is so awesome. I'm so glad Rosemarie was able to get together with your kids, Gary! It's great when kids can interact with people from the community and get a sense of life outside school -- and it sounds like it did Rosemarie a world of good, too. :)


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