Thursday, February 24, 2011

Shoes That Fit and Shoes Fit For Lady Gaga

Yesterday, I bought my mother a pair of sneakers.  This may not seem like such a groundbreaking thing; however, I think it might represent the gradual change of power that happens in a parent child relationships and is mirrored in successful student-teacher interactions.  Let me explain.
For many years,  my mother wore incredible high heeled shoes when she went out.  She really was pretty aware of and tuned into style  Yet, as a responsible parent, she took me to the local Stride Rite store for sturdy and responsible shoes.  The one pair I remember most was a pair of brown and beige saddle shoes that were hideously out of style (in my 10 year old mind) AND probably worse, they made my already size 8 feet look like they were size 9!  I scuffed those things on the playground and celebrated when they were finally put to rest.  I was not grateful for shoes and took the acts of walking and running for granted.  Oh the innocence of youth......

Now, my mother's social circle is significantly different and she walks around the grocery store or CVS hesitantly on toes that are filled with painful arthritis.  She has retired her heels (reluctantly) and even her old sneakers were so painful the she could hardly walk around Turcos.  So, she agreed to try on shoes at her favoite shoe store (thank you Hellers in Mt Kisco) where they wait on you like "in the old days."  The goal was to find a pair of comfortable and light weight shoes that would not hurt her feet.  We were certainly shopping in the "sensible" section of the store  It took a while and she tried on probably 25 pairs of shoes.  There were soft leather shoes with price tags greater than my first car and gorgeous sneakers with delicate trim....but none of them fit just right.  Incredibly, the pair that fit were pink all over - yes pink sneakers!  "I could NEVER wear those," she invoked as they were pulled from the box.  And yet, at my urging, she tried them on....and they were soft and light and lovely to her feet...and well constructed and like those old saddle shoes....the right ones for now. 
As she made her way around the store checking out these new shoes, my mother looked wistfully at a group of "young ladies" trying on shoes that would evoke a smile from Lady Gaga.  At that moment, my mother indeed found her voice and encouraged those girls," Wear them now while you can." 
We left with the new pink sneakers on her feet but I am sure my mother will NOT WANT to wear them with her red sweaters and her pink turtlenecks and earrings will be moved to front and center of her line up.  However, these new shoes fit her perfectly and are just what she needs - right now. 

See full size imageAnd then, partly because I felt sorry for the sales clerk but mostly because I have been hearing my mother's scaffolded message for many decades, I too bought a pair of shoes.  My new shoes will be the rage for Lady Gaga in about 30 years, I suspect, because they are flat; yet, they are MUCH fancier than the sturdy and functional Clarks I normally buy.  I guess I really have been listening to my mother and yes I do need shoes that fit but I also need to wear those glitzy flats now,while I can!

  As I reflected on the saga of the shoes that fit and the shoes that are fit for Lady Gaga, I really do see a connection to teaching kids to be writers. 
We are (even when we don't realize it) scaffolding support for our students when we model the strategies of "sturdy" writers.  We are serving as examples and role models as they explore and try to represent the styles of writing that they see in their peers and in popular culture (like Twitter or graphic novels).  As our student become more proficient, we, like parents, gradually let go of some of the control and encourage them to write like the writers they are.
There just might even be a message in my afternoon at Hellers: let our students try new strategies, outlandish techniques, and diverse writing genres while they can and while they have the time.  Let them explore monsters and poetry and tall tales because our students can.  There will be many years when they will have to write sensibly!


Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vacation on Ice

Teachers work hard - we really do - and we do take our jobs home - and think about our students before and after hours; however, teachers do have "vacation" time to energize their batteries and refresh their minds.  We can't decide the "dates" we get "off" but we do get time "off".  This week is one of those times and I have to admit that I wanted to "get away" this vacation - even though I do not usually go anywhere on this vacation.  It wasn't as if I had made plans that fell wasn't as if I had even thought about going was just that I wanted to run away.  I wanted to lie on a beach or ski on a sunny slope - I really didn't care.  I just wanted "away"....and I wanted it badly.  I probably wasted about 24 hours of my "vacation" with my "pity party" until - as usual - life's events reminded me that I WAS where I needed to be doing WHAT I needed to be doing.  I still will not be "ahead" on cleaning or writing and I still will have closets that need organizing; yet, again this week I am reminded that what I value and treasure most on this earth are my family and friends - people - not things.  With the magic of technology, I can connect and "visit"...even though I can not touch them  SO, the pity party is over and I am back to powerpoints to amuse grad students and reading about the "best" available phonics programs.  I am enjoying the sunshine reflecting off my backyard iceberg.....and scouring the internet for summer vacation rentals at the beach.....because this has been ONE LONG, COLD, SNOWY, SAD winter! 

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Authenic Audiences

Long ago, 
Before cellphones
Before instant sharing,
Before Mark Zuckerberg borrowed an idea,
Before phones Twittered,
Before Ipads shared experiences.

People penned thoughts and ideas
On crisp personally chosen stationery,
In perfectly formed handwriting,
With pens evoking memories of graduations, 
Through the mail thoughts 
To eager recipients who savored each word.

People penned thoughts and ideas
On the pages of journals
In portfolios of thougths and dreams
To remember happy, sad, and confusing moments
Shared with secret audiences.

People savored words
Of suitors and friends
In efforts to connect
To those outside our sphere
Words are tangible evidence of life.

In the 21st Century,
In an era of great connectedness
In a time  when we might not have as long to think
about our words
before sharing

People are sharing
Because they can
Because words are powerful
Because authentic audiences
Connect us to those in and out of our working - living sphere

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Reader and Writer Response

I drafted a post to share with you about technology and its inmpact on teachers and writing; however, this email appeared in my gmail box this morning.  I decided it was meant to be.  It was written by one of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen.  She certainly is a great writer and part of me can't imagine a world without books; however, I want a Kindle BADLY!  I certainly have a lot of mixed feelings about technology and learning.  You can link your OWN thoughts and ideas (response) to the impact of technology on teaching. 

Have you been reading the news about bookstores lately? Many are struggling. The situation at the Borders bookstore chain is dire, and only getting worse. After reshuffling management and tapping out lines of credit, they are now unable to pay their monthly bills from book suppliers. Out of necessity, Barnes and Noble is moving rapidly to reinvent itself. If you visit a Barnes and Noble store, what's most striking now is their Nook Boutiques - they have literally put digital books at the center of their physical stores. Over 700 of their smaller subsidiary shops in malls have been shuttered in recent years.

The thought for many of us of living without a big bookstore in our town is akin to some imagining life without jewelry - impossible! Yet a strange thing is happening - independent booksellers in many locations are experiencing a small resurgence in popularity. Part of the growth is a renewed commitment in communities to support local businesses, but it's more than that. The small independent shops with enthusiastic owners and clerks who match books to customers are the ones that are thriving.

It's not enough to stock books, and plenty of them - any book in the world you want to buy is available now at your fingertips without leaving home, probably at a lower price than the one at your bookstore. You can save even more time, money, and trees by buying a digital copy and downloading it instantly. These independent owners are learning the importance of their role as book curators - keepers of a cultural heritage. It is their job to collect, organize, and stock the best books - "best" as defined by what their customers want, and wouldn't necessarily be able to find on their own.

As I've been reading about the struggles of large bookstores, I've realized even small communities still have at least a few locally owned and operated independent bookstores with well-trained and enthusiastic staff. They are more commonly known as classrooms. We're selling books every day, even though no money changes hands. We're asking for something far more precious from students - their time and willingness to take a chance on the unfamiliar texts we place in their hands.

I've never been a fan of the word facilitator to describe the work of a teacher. It's a slippery, cold, cardboard-thin word. Hard to imagine a person living in it, let alone one with a beating heart. Now curator - that's an easy word to fall in love with. It sounds like a cross between care and cure. With the right book, we can cure almost any literary ailment afflicting young readers in our care - boredom with the same characters, frustration that their current book is too difficult, confusion about how text features work in a favorite nonfiction text. . . .

As book production and selling continues its rapid shift from dead tree to digital, our teaching role as a book curator will become more important than ever. We're the ones who need to decide which books are worth buying for students, in which format. Maybe most important of all, we'll need to think through in new ways which books are worth displaying prominently in our classroom libraries, or featuring with a read-aloud or booktalk for the whole class.

And as the publishing industry continues its cycle of rapid change, the bookstores that remain will be more akin to gift shops. Ten or fifteen years ago, you could walk into any large Barnes and Noble or Borders store with a title and author scrawled on a post-it, fairly confident you'd be able to find it on a shelf with a little help from a clerk. Those days will soon be gone. Yet imagine a similar scenario with a gift shop. You wouldn't walk into a gift shop and expect to find every conceivable gift available. The gift shops you return to are the ones with good curators - folks who scour the catalogs and suppliers to find unique offerings that match your taste. You don't know what you're looking for when you walk in the door, but you're often delighted when you walk out, packages in hand. The smaller bookstores that succeed in the coming years will have a similar clientele, with book curators who can tell us what we're looking for when we don't really know ourselves.

When you start thinking of yourself as a book curator, you realize there's no replacement for a teacher's role in matching students and books. It's an awe-inspiring task. You're in charge of a cultural heritage, and knowing each child well. Those are skills that take a lifetime to develop fully, and will only become more highly prized over time.

For all that, I feel such sadness at the thought of my local Borders closing someday soon. It was a landmark event in our small community when it opened years ago. I support my local booksellers, but I've also made countless trips to that Borders store. When I walk through that door - the low display tables front and center piled high with books, the curve up on either side of loaded bookshelves stretching all the way to the windows. . . it's like being greeted with a huge smile of books every time I cross the threshold. Many teachers learned much of what they know about displaying books with endcaps, recommendation notes, and pairing known authors with new writers from carefully studying the ways big chains showcase books to pique interest. Those stores will be sorely missed in so many small towns and cities.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Snowy Morning

This morning, I woke up bright and early, logged a quick mile on the treadmill and headed to my computer.  I must admit that my "blog" had been on my mind quite a bit more than usual in the past few days.  I am pretty confident that my heightened awareness was spurred by my grad students' writing this week.  The complex meanings of their blog titles (White Blank Page, My Journey) really were titles representing what they were trying to accomplish.  My own blog title was (and still is) pretty blah; however, I am borrowing from the title of my dissertation and trying to more accurately depict what I am trying to do in a title.  I am also confident that this title will change again! SO, this is my title FOR NOW.  Amazingly, this process of renaming my blog has reminded me once again that all writing is indeed a process.  Written words are "more static" than spoken language; however, in the 21st Century, my written words can be changed with the click of a mouse!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Draft 3 Writing Memoir

In fifth grade, I spent a good deal of time wondering why Mrs. Peters wore such ugly, old fashioned shoes and how she formed her near perfect, cursive writing. She spent all day firmly planted in her desk at the front of the room (offereing us hours to look at those shoes under her desk); however, at night, she must have spent hours filling the chalkboard with nealy written questions for us to answer. Our job was to turned in neatly handwritten pages to the bin on the corner of her desk. Neatly formed cursive letters were the goal and to be quite honest, I do not think she read what we wrote! My year spent pleasing Mrs. Peters convinced me tht IF your written schoolwork LOOKED good, then it would be pleasing to your teacher!

I subsequent years of school, I must have written a few things; however, I really do not remember anything of substance. Those were years when education focused on science and math, a movement fueled by the Russian launching of Sputnick.  They were also years with very large public school classes (35 students was the norm) fueled by the “baby boom!” Now that I look back, I suspect my teachers taught from their teachers' manuals and there was not manual for teaching writing.  Perhaps my teachers believed what I inferred: IF you read enough AND if you were “born” to be a writer, it would happen to you!

When I arrived on the campus of Syracuse University, they ASSUMED that IF I had qualified for advanced placement English, then I was a writer! I am POSITIVE that I did not take ANY writing test before coming to college or qualifying for Brittish Literature; however, in the fall of my freshman year, it was learn to write or return home a failure – so you know what I did!  I carefully drafted on legal pads, writing and revising and rewriting. I went in for extra help with teaching assistants who offered me the greatest of teaching gifts: models of what was expected. They did not want neat handwriting or neatly typed papers. They did not want me to write a specific number or words or a specific response to a question. They wanted me to express my ideas in writing using details from the text to explain my point. Sounds simple when you state it like that! NO matter what the task, students need models and scaffolds in order to progress within their zone of proximal development.

I’m not very proud of those early years of my own teaching of writing. Like MY teachers, I focused on copying rather than content. I focused on learning to read and then learning to write. Yet, I knew in my heart that there needed to be more and thus I read and studied the works of early writing researchers such as Donald Graves.  Their ideas morphed my thinking and teaching. I dove deeply into the teaching of writing as I researched and wrote my own dissertation. My mornings and evenings are now always spent in front of a computer. I write now because I can and because it is how I clarify and share my ideas and knowledge.

I’m not sure that I would consider myself a confident writer even now. My dream of publishing my collection of easy readers for beginning readers is still a shapeless vision. I do, however, know what I need to make that writing dream a reality: someone to guide me to if not through the maze of publishing.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

too much snow

The "good" thing about a snowy wintery day when you live on top of a mountain is that you can't go any place so you really are "stuck" at home.  Normally, this means that I "tackle" a book that has been waiting for me or "tackle" some school work that bekons me.  After 5 snow days in 5 weeks, something VERY strange happened to me today.  For some reason, I decided to clean my refrigerator and pantry.  Perhaps it was the looming realization that Spring Break will not be part of this year's vocabulary.  Perhaps it was the realization that we will be in school until mid July at this rate of snow.  Whatever the reason, it was an OH MY kind of day. Oh my, someone needs to be neater and oh my how did we get 4 containers of cilantro? Now that that is done, I will get back to my previously scheduled reading and school work.   

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