Right now I have a group of 5th graders whom I adore. I've taught them since they were in Kindergarten, and this is the first time I've been at one school long enough for that to happen. They have a great attitude and a wonderful sense of humor. But they are very talkative. It's not even that they aren't on task while they are talking. They are perfectly capable of multitasking, but the noise is just over the limit for me. I've got a pretty low standard for how quiet an Art Room should be, too. I feel like I'm giving a test if the kids aren't talking.
Though lately, using the sketchbooks, I've learned to let go and be ok with silence. Silence means the kids are concentrating, and I need to shut my big yapper and let them do that sometimes. By the way, the sketchbooks are my new favorite thing altogether. I even make the kids write down the daily directions, so that if they don't make it all the way through, they can pick up where they left off. But more often, it becomes my way of answering those, "What do I do now?" questions. (Which I HATE. Kid, I told you already what to do next. Don't just SIT THERE! Well guess what, thanks to the sketchbook, that kid has already written it down, so now he remembers and is less likely to ask me in the first place. Yay!)
Anyhow, I was just enjoying talking to this group of 5th graders while they worked, and I realized, they were all listening to me tell them about my weekend. They were listening intently. But still simultaneously working. So I printed off a funny blog entry from one of my favorite blogs: Hyperbole and a Half. I read it aloud to the kiddos and made them promise to listen and work at the same time. They loved it. This blogger is fantastic by the way, and if you've not read her stuff, go read it this second. You will laugh. But she does use some strong language, which I don't mind, but I did edit when reading to the kids. I particularly like the ones about the cake and her dogs.
But today I ran out of cool blog entries to read. And I thought, "Why not read them something longer, so that I don't have to keep searching for short stories?" On my bookshelf is a tattered copy of Alice and Wonderland, which was mine as a kid. Kids don't read stuff like that anymore. I thought, hey, they probably wouldn't ever pick this up on their own, but I can read it to them and maybe they'll see that old books are still good books. Turns out, this book is very engaging, but still allows them to concentrate on working, because they sort of already know the story. Not only that, but the idea of Op art, which they are making now, and the dreamy, psychedelic flair of Alice go together well. We finished chapter one just as it was time to clean up today. It was Art Zen.
On a related note, I found a lovely site with all the original Alice illustrations here. They are ever so slightly disturbing which makes them cool enough for 5th graders to appreciate, I think.