Monday, July 12, 2010

Noticing Beautiful Language: A Risk Worth Taking?

A picture of an electrical cord? You’re probably thinking that summer has been just a tad bit slow for me. Au contraire.

I must admit, when I dragged this heap out of the garage, I saw it for what it was: a big, orange tangled mess. In my mind, it would serve a single purpose: power my computer outside so I could enjoy the summer weather while working. So long as I could stretch it far enough to reach the patio table, I didn’t care about the knots. End of thinking about electrical cord.


Matthew came out to ask for something to eat. As always, I held up my pointer finger warning him to hold onto his thought so that I could finish mine. As he waited patiently, he looked down at this jungle of wires and said, “That is so cool. It’s like a roller coaster for electricity.”

At that moment, I looked up from my computer because I had to hear those words again. “What did you say?” I asked. And he repeated his words. “That looks like a roller coaster for electricity.” I watched him as his eyes followed the jumbled mess around imagining what it would be like to be a current pulsing through this unintelligible labyrinth of wire. In that moment, I was reminded of how kids can see things in uninhibited ways, how easy it is for them to access beautiful language, and how easily it all slips away.

Later that evening, Nathan, my other son, also said something inspiring. It was something that I liked the sound of, but sadly, I didn’t take the time to linger like I did with “It’s like a roller coaster for electricity” and now his words escape me.

If we want kids to learn to see and hear the cadence and rhythm in their own words, we have to celebrate language. We need to stand up and take notice. When we meet amazing language in books, we need to stop. When poetry is spoken from the lips of students, we need to stop. If we don’t, the language is lost and we run the risk of perpetuating an insidious cycle of uninspired word choice and exile ourselves to page after page of It was fun. She wore a pretty dress. Ugh.

1 comment:

patti said...

Several years ago I started posting "Beautiful Language" on a door in my room. It's covered with silvery mirror-like paper, with sign on it that says, "Mirror,nirror on the wall , we found some of the most beautiful language in the world."
If we come across beautiful language in a read aloud, a student would signal that he/she heard beautiful language and then after the story the student would copy it onto a sentence strip to be added to the mirror. The same holds true for independant reading.The student tags it with a post it, shares it a the end of workdhsop and we add it to the mirror. This always proved to be a great way to collect beautiful words.
Each year, students bring their own unique way of expressing their ideas, as Matthew did with the extension chord. Often we try to make that part of our classes lingo. "Let's use Brian's strategy", or, "Remember when Mackenzie said her stomach LURCHED (like Lilly's in the Purple Plastic Purse). Now I am thinking we need to record my students' words on sentence strip to put right up on the mirror with all the other beautiful language. Thanks!