"I am not one who was born in the custody of wisdom. I am one who is fond of olden times and intense in quest of the sacred knowing of the ancients." Gustave Courbet

07 May 2010


Do you ever have days where the weather seems to match your mood perfectly? Today began as humid and muggy with dark foreboding skies lurking overhead. Then a heavy rain which made the grass glow as if illuminated. It feels much like everything is vibrating, all of the trees, the flowers, and the insects hovering about. Everything is moist. And the smell! If only you could bottle it for later or wear it as a perfume. My mood is not heavy, but everything feels illuminated.

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When I think of people who were instrumental in shaping me as a teacher, I think of Dr. Hedrick from Mount Vernon Nazarene, who showed me how inspiration can and should guide learning; John Dewey, who taught me that students should be the central focus of learning; Derrick Jensen, who gave me the courage to believe that the ideas and approaches that were already in me would work; and, finally, Keri Smith, whose work I came across on a hot, rainy, morning last summer. Her book. Wreck This Journal, lit a fire in me that caused me to transform my entire approach to elementary learning, especially in writing.

Yesterday, my fifth grade writing class was invited to journal with the morning and afternoon kindergarten classes at our school. We talked about thinking and really concentrating, which we call "thinking about thinking" (one kindergarten student stood up and said, "That doesn't make any sense, Mr. Firchau!" One of my students later told me that that is what they used to think ... "But it's all different now!" My fifth grade students worked with the little writers, asking them what they were thinking about as they looked at the huge image displayed on the wall. I saw many smiles as all the students enjoyed their thoughts and writing.

One of the most rewarding aspects that this approach to journal writing has been the time for thoughtful reflection it has given my students. Some of my most reluctant learners have become engaged through the process of writing.

Many started the year saying, "I'm not a writer."

If you write, you're a writer.

The morning session had almost 100 students in a classroom writing on this visual prompt. The students were challenged to just think about what they were seeing ... and then write their thoughts ... on this ...

I believe a journal can be a scrapbook of the footprints of my thoughts.

What I see.

What I feel.

What I dream.

What I fear.

What confuses me.

Journals provide an outlet for, as Rilke said, "Living the question."

Although the feeling I get after writing in my journal is very invigorating, I believe the truest experience that journals afford can only be appreciated over a period of time ... looking back.


Where I've been.

Growth? Maybe. Hopefully, but not always.

Besides, as the One-Eyed Indian says, "... the journey is the thing."

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