Sunday, January 31, 2010
The American Community School, Abu Dhabi
“She is the light which draws all the butterflies,” says a teenaged boy of his mother in the book Mother without a Mask by Patricia Holton. I read this line in the opening pages of the book and think how the description is also the perfect way to describe a school library – the light of the school, warm and beckoning. It reminds me of an old poem:
THERE was never a Queen like Balkis,
From here to the wide world's end;
But Balkis tailed to a butterfly
As you would talk to a friend.
There was never a King like Solomon,
Not since the world began;
But Solomon talked to a butterfly
As a man would talk to a man.
She was Queen of Sabaea—
And he was Asia's Lord—
But they both of 'em talked to butterflies
When they took their walks abroad!
from The Butterfly that Stamped by
Michael and I spent the last week walking abroad and talking to butterflies at American Community School, Abu Dhabi, he in the middle school and I at the elementary. We certainly are not kings and queens, but you can bet we enjoyed being treated like royalty, which we were. During the week, we camped out in the hubbub that is the ACS library, the penultimate goal for all literacy lessons as what we want is for students to become life long readers. The ACS library seems to be doing a booming business attracting students.
Years ago, I was gardening one afternoon and Kelly (no more than three) toddled over and exclaimed, pointing, “butterfly.” I told her, “I always talk to butterflies,” and she toddled off, jabbering to the breeze, an early lesson for me as a mother and a teacher in the power of suggestion and modeling.
In the ACS classrooms, the elementary butterflies had writer’s notebooks at all grade levels and were deeply into writing thesis statements. I went to each class and made my case that writing poetry, how learning about its patterns, precise language, descriptive words and images and a poem’s ability to summarize an experience concisely would help them with writing all text types. As usual, the kids were all over the poetry like butterflies to a lavender patch.
Many of the classes sent me thank you notes (just a couple pictured here) and letters. The coolest part is that these were NOT the poems I wrote with the classes, but instead examples of the teachers taking our workshop and adapting it to their own classrooms -- as did fourth grade teacher Mr. Kraus and his class who used our model of making a list and turning it into summary quatrains, cranking it into warp speed and writing about the solar system. This is the best result of a writing residency, when students and teachers continue with the writing we started in class. Many thanks. Also thanks to master teacher Megan Sloan (Seattle) whose lesson I adapted to use with the K-1st graders.
I received kind gifts from a couple of students and library/curriculum aide Young Le who wanted to make sure we were well-prepared for our upcoming trip to Korea and gave us maps and tour guides. Thank you to all the teachers and students who embraced the lessons, infusing them with their thoughtful words and sharing their poetry.
Following our week at school, hosts Dianne and John took us to Dubai (see next blog for touring photos and anecdotes). Dubai rises like an illuminated fountain out of the desert where Abu Dhabi seems to blossom. In Dubai we visited the museum, saw the world’s tallest building, looked down the throats of sharks at the aquarium, took a ride across “the creek,” and strolled through a shopping mall roughly the size of Delaware. Elementary librarian Dianne Ritz Salminen spent a good chunk of time at the bookstore collecting new butterfly food for her garden.
Thanks to Steve and Janet, Mark and Mary, and all the administrative folks who stopped by during the week. Dinner at The Club was elegant and dinner on the floor the first night was excellent. Special thanks to Dianne and John for hosting us and taking great care to teach us about the area and make us feel welcome.