The Magic of Popcorn Words

By Kate Patton, Early Childhood

What is a Popcorn Word? Any current or former Grace Kindergartener will know. Teaching reading readiness as we do in Kindergarten is all at once complex, exciting, and fun. Learning sight words is an important part of this process. We use the term Popcorn Word to mean frequently occurring sight words, those words you will likely read countless times as a reader.   

Imagine yourself as an Early Childhood student, trying your hardest to crack the code of the written words around you that almost everyone else seems to know but you! When children are 5 and 6, they can typically express themselves verbally in their own words and are learning new vocabulary at a quick pace. They love sitting down with a picture book and telling themselves the story using the illustrations. Maybe teachers or families read them a book and now they can retell it on their own. 

Although some children will be reading fluently before starting Kindergarten, most will need direct reading instruction. The process of learning to read is different for each child. Phonics is typically an essential part of this process but cannot paint the full picture. Young children begin to recognize and name individual letters learning that letters make sounds. Once they know their sounds, “sounding out” may then begin, blending individual sounds to read a word. Yet, as we all know, the English language is a quirky one, and a focus on sight words must be present to make children truly reading ready. 

Popcorn Words walls in different EC classrooms

Popcorn Words are taught to be so easily recognizable that they pop out from the page much like a freshly popped kernel of popcorn! The children know you need only your eyes to read these words.  No sounding out necessary. And, of course, when you spot a popcorn word, buttering it is a must.  We encourage children to look for popcorn words everywhere, and when appropriate, they can use a butter marker, aka a yellow highlighter, to mark any popcorn words they see. (In the absence of yellow, popcorn words can be highlighted with cheese or jelly!) In the classrooms, we create Popcorn Word walls as a reference to be used daily. Children learning remotely this year created their own Popcorn Word walls at home!

Popcorn Words also play an important role in the written expression of young children. In Kindergarten, students use “sound spelling” to express themselves in writing. Yet, proper spelling begins when they start to incorporate Popcorn Words either remembering them by sight or copying them from the Popcorn Word wall. Journal prompts will often feature the Popcorn Words  we have already introduced. There are probably countless ways to introduce sight words. Read a book and count how many times you hear the target word. Write the word three times and use it in a written sentence. Write it in the air. Do a cheer. Play Bingo. Solve a word search. Create art featuring a Popcorn Word. Most morning questions and messages feature a sight word or 2 or 10!  

The expression of empowerment and excitement is remarkable when a child looks at a word, is able to read it independently, and is able to tell teachers and family that you know what that word says. As Kindergarten teachers, these are moments of joy! In the K classrooms, you might hear children asking if I is spelled I and a is spelled “a” why is you spelled y-o-u? You will hear children noticing is hiding inside “this.” You will see them scanning for Popcorn Words that might be hiding in their own names. You will hear them call out, “You just said a Popcorn Word!” Ah…the magic of Popcorn Words.  

Students enjoy learning about Popcorn Words remotely

A Dance Show for Unprecedented Times

By Jenny Pommiss, Dance

The 2021 Grace Dance Ensemble production, In These Unprecedented Times was an evening of digital dance featuring creations by students, faculty, and guest artist Alice Gosti. It was a celebration of a year’s worth of work, a communion, and an experiment! So much of our recent history has felt like just that – an experiment with no clear answers or directions. This project began as a continuation of that, as it asked our dancers to work over distance, collaborate, create and come together despite circumstances that encourage the opposite. 

The evening began with LIMINALE, a piece created by guest artist Alice Gosti in collaboration with the dancers. LIMINALE was born as a necessity to continue creating work and experimenting with virtual platforms during Covid-19. LIMINALE is a live performance created intentionally for Zoom in which each performer streams directly from their personal spaces, using environments, furniture and memory as inspiration for the movement material. This project challenges the condition of confinement, transforming living space into creative space. Activating memories and everyday objects, LIMINALE unveils surprising movements inspired by home. 

Still from LIMINALE
Still from LIMINALE

This year the students were not only challenged to step into the work of our guest artist, they were also invited to create dance works of their own. In doing so, they were forced to navigate new creative territory and ask questions of their creative process they had never had to ask before. “How do I rehearse over Zoom?” “What can I create that makes the most of this medium?” “How do I make my dancers feel a part of something?” “What are the positives and negatives of creating in separate spaces?” “How do I even teach movement over zoom?!” “Can dance continue to be the magical act it is, even in this altered context?” These are questions they asked of themselves and their dancers. The second half of the evening was devoted to a screening of these original works. It featured works by five student choreographers who directed their dancers over Zoom and in person on some outdoor film shoots.

Still from Daffodils by Josie Macdonald ‘22
Summer G, ‘21 in Painting in My Living Room by Charlotte R. ‘21

A special undertaking by senior Camryn D., included working with Ms. Pommiss’ Dance I class on, what was for most class members, their debut efforts at creating dance for the screen.

Matilda C. ‘24 in Isolating Chaos by Camryn D. ‘21

Ms. Pommiss’ Dance Rep class presented Traces Of You, which explored the technique of layering and superimpositions so that it appeared that the dancers were sharing space and dancing with each other.

Members of the Dance Rep class in Traces of You

The finale of the evening, we came together and we shook hands, was the result of a 7-hour film shoot at a beautiful empty space in The Brooklyn Navy Yard. Dance Ensemble co-director’s Ms. Pommiss and Mr. Thomas-Train conceptualized and directed this project, which required dancers to learn choreography and improvisational scores on site and make bold choices in their performance.

The Ensemble in we came together and we shook hands
The Ensemble in we came together and we shook hands

Being a member of Dance Ensemble has always been about more than Dance. It’s been about community, collaboration, expression and creativity, but this year, it has also been about resilience. It’s been about how to show up and keep going and stay grounded when the world around us has been undergoing seismic shifts. Sometimes, it’s also been about not showing up, and not feeling grounded, but still, we kept going, week after week, month after the month, and all of the time we spent over Zoom, moving, discussing, processing and experimenting, have brought us here. In These Unprecedented Times….is about meeting this moment, inhabiting it, looking at it from a range of perspectives, and from the point of view of the body.

Click here to view our beautiful digital program created by Liz P. ‘22.

World Writers

by Brian Platzer, World Writers

by Brian Platzer

I took World Writers as an 8th grade student at Grace in 1994-1995, and Dr. Kole’s iteration of the course — along with Rod Keating’s 7th and 8th grade English — was critical in launching me into a career writing and teaching literature. 

This is my 14th year teaching World Writers. From the beginning, my goals have been consistent: first, to encourage the students to think and write with more analytical precision; second, to spark in them an enthusiasm for reading and the varieties of human experience; and third, to expand their literary horizons in order to help them better be able to form and articulate their unique vision of the world. World Writers creates a community of readers for whom I can facilitate discussion of some of my favorite books, along the way helping students fall in love with reading, writing, and thinking just as I did when I was their age.

The only consistent text year after year is Night, by Elie Wiesel. Night is a masterpiece that chronicles Wiesel’s own experiences as a teenager during the Holocaust. The memoir sets the tone for the class, as it demands a brutal honesty that students build over the first few weeks and then apply to all the other works we read together. World Writers is a serious class, because regardless of the texts that follow Night, we inevitably confront a series of atrocities. In regular rotation are Gwendolyn Brooks’s Maud Martha, Dai Sijie’s Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Paul Auster’s City of Glass, and Kazuo Ishiguoro’s Never Let Me Go. Over the years, we’ve also read Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto; Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe; Dreams of My Father, by Barack Obama; and a variety of stories (Franz Kafka, Eudora Welty, John Cheever) and poetry (Gerard Manley Hopkins, Gwendolyn Brooks, Wisława Szymborska). These works detail all kinds of suffering and loss, and they demand to be confronted with respect for the writers and their subjects. That said, they also demand to be met with joy. That these books exist is a miracle, and it is as important that we laugh, question, argue, tease, demand, love, and hate, as it is that we empathize. And we give equal weight to authorial decisions as we do to their characters’ lives. We ask how the works are constructed. Which choices result in what effects on the reader. Why an author elected to include this instead of that, in this way instead of that one?

What all the above texts have in common is a perspective the students are unlikely to have encountered outside World Writers. Whether we are delving into the life of a Black girl-then-woman in 1930’s Chicago, a teenager enduring Chinese re-education, or a British clone mined for her internal organs, each text is very different from the next but manages to find the perfect words or phrases for emotions and feeling we’ve all had but have never been able to express. I feel lucky to revisit these works each year with a new set of students ready to think deeply, possibly for the first time, about issues they may have never confronted before. 

Ed. Note: World Writers is an elective literature course for students in Grade 8. Brian is an alum in the class of 1995 and a current Grace parent.

The Covid Classroom: Getting the Message Out

By Chrissy Dilley, High School Science Teacher and Curriculum Coordinator

When I first designed the Advanced Topics in Biology course four years ago I knew I wanted to create something that helped students see the connections between the topics in a textbook and the world of learned and lived science around them. This first began with a deep dive into the ethical, ecological and evolutionary impacts of CRISPR. That summer you could not open the New York Times without seeing a CRISPR-related headline. Students created a mock town hall to educate their peers about this new BioTechnology and wrote mock research proposals read by alums and parents who work in the medical and genetics fields.

Fast forward to 2020. Nary a moment went by that SARS CoV-2, aka the Coronavirus, did not creep into our minds. As aspects of public health became politicized, the public was asked to call upon their own understanding of science to determine what was safe, how the preventative measures protected us and how the vaccine could protect them and others. Never has a teachable moment presented itself so clearly.

This course has been teaching about bacterial infections and antibiotic resistance for a few years.  This year we needed to include viruses and more about our immune systems for students to be able to decipher the messages they were receiving about preventative behaviors and to learn about how the body responds not only to the illness but also to the vaccine. Grounding the science in their world has been a priority of this class from day one, so I asked students to complete a K/W/L chart on the first day of this unit. A K/W/L chart is a space for students to identify what they Know going into a unit or lesson, what they Want to know and to then later reflect on what they learned after a reading or discussion. We spent almost an hour just collecting and sorting through what we knew, or thought we knew and what more we still needed to understand. An eagerness to learn developed and students came to the following class sharing research they had done to try to address some of our questions. It became clear to them that understanding what was happening in the body during an infection was important and they again called upon their own experiences with infections, including Covid-19, to unpack the biochemistry involved in a systemic immune response.  

As we decided on topics to explore one thing became obvious, other people needed to know what we knew. Nearly everyone had a story to share about a neighbor, the kids they babysit, their grandparents, not knowing why to wear a mask or the importance of soap and long handwashing.  But the biggest news was around the vaccine. Headlines about the vaccine RNA incorporating itself into people’s genomes were based on a full misunderstanding of the science. So an outreach project was developed to allow students to identify a target audience and the messages or education this group would need to make an educated health decision.  


by Evelyn W. ’21

A coloring book for our youngest learners was produced, following Cleo the Covid Cat. Cleo learned about the importance of mask wearing, asymptomatic spreading and even covid variants!

Brochures were made for travel safety, proper hand washing, hotel expectations and for retirement communities highlighted the importance of getting vaccinated to our oldest community members.
by Isabella P. ’21

Podcasts and PSA commercials aimed at parents and  teens used humor and experts to espouse the importance of sticking to the “ rules” to keep those around us safe.

The cycle of creating a thirst for knowledge is at the heart of this course and it is why I love teaching it. Science by nature is a discipline that asks questions and searches for answers. The questions we ask keep changing and so does this course. But I hope that I do not need to facilitate the learning of another pandemic before I retire.