Monday, June 30, 2014

Looking Closely

I was thinking my year long focus on Close Reading was over as the school year wrapped up. My book club was done.  My teaching focus was finished. My thoughts and notes were secure in my APPR binder where no one was likely to disturb them. I had stockpiled my list of probing questions for the littlest readers. I knew, in my heart, that while the concept of closely reading and thinking was not new, taking time to stop, look, and reflect deeply in our busy world was a lost art that remained critically important to seeing the beauty in words and images.

I smiled as I tossed papers and never used materials into garbage bags, without looking closely, the way teachers do at the end of the year.  I smiled as I read (much too quickly)a tongue in cheek obituary by Dave Stuart, Teaching the Core.  I was overwhelmed with heat and humidity as well as end of the reports, packing up the classroom, and saying goodbye, again, to colleagues! Like so many BUZZ phrases and phases in education, perhaps this one had served its purpose.  Perhaps it could be "retired."

Then, in the early hours of my summer vacation, I headed out to the mall.  We were not there long when I acknowledged that ol' "close reading" perspective.  We were looking closely at dresses from many angles and reflecting deeply, through repeated viewing at fabrics, styles, and prices.  We talked about how others would see what we were seeing.  We pondered how the dresses would glow in a grand ballroom on a snowy evening as we squished into the tiny dressing room on a hot summer morning.  We looked at similar and different fabrics and weighed pros and cons of styles, & colors.  We questioned how others might see them.  So much talking and thinking, deeply and recursively, about such a tiny part of the big day. It was indeed the "first" of many "reads" on dresses.

Displaying DSCN2208.JPG
Then, I settled onto the porch for that first, real summer evening without the alarm looming in my horizon and noticed that the sunset was incredible.  As I looked, closely, I noticed the layers of colors and wondered if they painted, on purpose, just for us?  Did others see the reminder of cold Syracuse evenings in the summer sky?  I viewed the changing skyline closely for a long while and I must admit that my smile reflected the complex layers of thoughts in my own head.

So, on this, first morning of summer, I am confident that my year of closely viewing, thinking and reading has NOT come to an end!


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Shel Silverstein's Little Boy and Old Man

Said the little boy, "Sometimes I drop my spoon." 
Said the old man, (old woman), "I do that too."
The little boy whispered, "I wet my pants."
"I do too," laughed the old man (old woman).
Said the little boy, "I often cry."
The old man nodded. "So do I."
"But worst of all," said the boy, "it seems Grown-ups don't pay attention to me."
And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand. "I know what you mean, "said the little old man. 

- Written by 
Shel Silverstein : The Little Boy and Old Man

#celebratelu2014 End of yearitis

It happens every year! 
 It's nearing the end of the school year in these parts and so the ritual of filling folders, cleaning files and running at full throttle is in full swing.  There are numerous picnics, writing celebrations and more "moving up" days than I can count.  This week, there will be graduations and curriculum rewriting will commence K-12 as soon as the graduates walk across the stage! On the one hand, we should ALL (kids and teachers) be exhausted and should be limping our way towards summer vacation; however, it never seems to be that way!  Instead, this week, I celebrate "The End of Yearitis." 

Perhaps you have never heard it named before, but if you are a student or a teacher or live with either one,you have experienced that energy surge that borders on mania that accompanies the end of each school year.  There is a bit of the "Bob the Builder" I can take on the world feeling that causes individuals to begin projects that would have been seen as  impossible just weeks before! 

Some clear signs of it were evident this week:

  • More than one of my reluctant readers and writers showed up each morning with "made at home" writing creations.  In their own way, they are reflecting on the year and trying to savor the memories.  They have been listening and learning even when we thought they weren't.  Now, as the sun sets in this school year, they are filled with energy to write! Why, I wonder?  It's the end of yearitis.
  • Parents are clamoring for books, ideas, suggestions, worksheets for their kids for the summer.  They have been assured by their children, who are suffering from end of yearitis, that they are eager to read every day this summer. Yes, some students who have been reluctant readers for the past 190 days are just clamoring to get at those piles of books their parents are stockpiling!  Why, I wonder?  It's the end of yearitis
  • It's not that I don't have anything to do for school, like progress reports to edit, but I found myself recovering cushions for the porch this week!  I also cleaned out a closet! Why, I wonder?  It's the end of yearitis!  
  • My son, a teacher, must have a particularly bad case this year as evidenced by his Depot visit yesterday! As the mania, now known as end of yearitis kicks in, he can certainly build fine furniture, take on home repair, and become a master chef!      
  • As for me?  Yes I have it bad, too. When I found out that I would be moving classrooms, again, I began singing and dancing to Johnny Cash's "Going Down Down Down...." and the old 70's sitcom theme, "Moving On Up!" Moving, again, no problem!  I can pack 'em up, ship 'em out like Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched!  I have plans to write, read, sew and oh yes, clean up the mess I made sewing those cushions!   
  •  It's a glorious feeling, this end of the yearitis! 


Thursday, June 19, 2014

I Pad Apps For Summer Learning

iPad Apps for School

There are people who do not sleep.  That is a good thing because they are making the internet a better and easier to navigate place for all of us!  These are links that Richard Byrne suggests for Ipad access....there are some great ones!

It's OK to Spend the Whole Summer (or even a year) in the Magic Tree House

Abe Lincoln at Last!What about kids who spend an entire summer (or year or two) in the The Magic Tree House?

Yes, more than once I have patted a parent on the back and said it was ok for kids to read oodles of Magic Tree House books!  "They are the cement that builds a foundation for future reading," I say.  "Reading series books builds a foundation for reading success," I assure parents again and again.  Now I can add honestly that buying MPO's books will help to make the world a better place!

I've been deep in reflection of late as I lay in bed in those moments before sleep and as I walk to garner energy for the end of the year madness surrounding me.  Perhaps it is my ending of the school year season of reflection or perhaps it is the annual realization that few of my students will spend their summers with books that makes me think about what is important! Whatever it is, I got a bit teary as I read the Facebook link a friend shared the other day!  

I read the first books in the Magic Tree House series in the nearly 20 years ago and knew they were winners!  I have wondered, over the years, about the magic in the books.  Is it the subtle intermingling of what is real and what is clearly not possible?  Is it the characters that endure and take us where we clearly cannot go otherwise?  Is it the stable, simple initial setting, a tree house that launches us into adventures?   Is it the interwoven genres and the interspersing of reality and fantasy?

Whatever it is, I have likely "sold" quite a few books for MPO over the years and I have "bought" more than I care to admit publicly, as my husband reads my blog!  Now, MPO is giving back through her own magical program putting books directly into kids hands. I cannot imagine a greater legacy.  I smile as my mind wanders to the "tale"of an epidemic of reading in a small city after MPO puts books into the hands of kids....and the books take them through time and space!

"Children start with Magic Tree House, and then they move on to harder books," says author Mary Pope Osborne. "They take a leap."
Thanks Mary Pope Osborne.  You are a REAL, live HERO using your gifts, all of them, to make the world a better place.  

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Summer Reading: It's Essential

While I certainly understand the thought of "Run, run as fast as you can...." as the last bell of the school year sounds, the image of children, a century ago, tossing their papers in the air as they headed into the fields for the summer is no longer realistic!
Summer reading is essential for maintaining and even growing the reading habit!  In fact, in our busy school year lives, there may be even less time to read than during the summer,!
  • Parents and caregivers, set an example and have a book or magazine available during down times at the pool or on long, hot summer evenings! 
  • Make sure kids go to the library to pick out books they WANT to read.  
  • Have shared reading moments regularly. 
  • Take books and magazines on trips.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

#SOL2014 Charred Beef or Tuckered Out

It was well before noon on the Hallmark-Designated-Day-Honoring-Fathers, and the air was already permeated with the smell of charred beef and pork.  He smiled, took a deep breath and laughed, "Fire up those new Fathers' Day grills, people!"  He seemed happy as he headed to work for a few hours.  "I'll call you when I am done and we can head off for a hike," he promised.

I will admit that for at least a moment I wondered what it would be like to buy a shirt or tie for Fathers' Day rather than take on tics and wilderness adventure!  For just a moment, I thought about all those people who really would be firing up new grills or heading to pig roasts and eating their way through the holiday.

Yet, that is not us.  Years ago, when our kids were little, the closest we ever got to going out for this holiday was when we stopped for ice cream cones as part of what he dubbed Sat-Ur-Daddy-Day.  This year, like last year, the year before, and the year before that, there would be a hike or bike trek to mark the day.

He was smiling as the "grand-dogs" took turns pulling him along the trail at breakneck speed.  I am sure I saw him glow as we stopped to savor his favorite spots along the trail: Mdm. Brett Park's falls; Denning Point's "beach"; Pete Seeger's famous Sloop Clearwater; and the Long Dock Wharf's waterfront hull. While there were several of us who might have liked to indulge in a strawberry shortcake over at the Strawberry Festival, he had what he wanted.  While we were "tuckered-out" at the end of the day, our hearts were so full that he did not give me "grief" when I realized I had left my phone way back on the trail as I attempted to capture the memories! So we retraced our steps, happy!   

Monday, June 16, 2014

Summer 2014 Resources: Wonderopolis
Camp W map-title view
We use it all year long....and now, they will head up a summer of learning!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

SOL2014 Taking Risks

I opened the TWT email from Betsy the other day proposing a summer writing group, and for a minute, I thought she was writing just to me! How did she know about that letter responding to a story draft sent long, long ago?  How did she know they suggested maybe, that long ago drafted story had some merit? I hit "yes" quickly but then, like those I teach, the reality of possibly failing in front of my peers caused me to rethink my response.  

I've thought about my response and my feelings quite a bit in the past few days.  None of us can grow without taking risks. None of us can grow without feedback from our peers.  While it's scary to try new things and it's embarrassing to fall on your face in front of our peers, the reality of not saying "yes" is certainly worse!  
Brian Cambourne's Conditions of Learning are not just "old school ideas"! 

Learner (child or adult) believes
This is something I want to do. 
This is something I can do
This is something I can try without fear 
of begin criticized or punished. 
B. Cambourne

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Sharing some thoughts on Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids | Edutopia

5 Tips for Teaching the Tough Kids | Edutopia

I too have had some tough kids, the kind you think about dream about getting sick for a week or perhaps even moving away.  They are the kinds of kids who impact group dynamics or who take lots of teaching energy.  Some say there are more of those kids these days.  I agree that WE, as teachers, can make a difference if we set the tone, be a mentor, and try to connect with the student.  We need to take these kids as our personal challenge and expect them to succeed.  

Saturday, June 7, 2014

#celebratelu2014 Finding Joy in My Happy Place

It's June and I guess my husband it right: it's a tough month for teachers. This wrapping up and packing up and preparing for next year while making every moment's a busy and stressful time of year. So this celebration, like my writing this week, will be brief while I celebrate and remember this small moment. One of my colleagues walked by yesterday as I was doing what I do every day, sitting with kids, sharing books. I'm sure I was glowing with pride as I listened to this shining star proudly read.  As I glanced up, my colleague said softly, "I love to walk by this room.  It's such a happy place."  The student, oblivious to the visitor, kept on reading, engrossed in the tale of some dog named Maisey.  The colleague offered to snap a photo (it's APPR binder season). As I looked at the photo later, I realized I could not share the magic of a six year old who had discovered the magic of reading without showing her smiling face; however, I could share that my colleague had captured my "happy place." As I glance at this photo, I am celebrating:

  • Possibilities for learning even when there are obstacles along the way
  • Progress made possible with assessment-guided, differentiated instruction
  • Professional reflection (even if I am not fond of paper filled binders)
  • Passion for teaching that has not grown old
  • Pillows (rescues from an abandoned sofa) that provide a platform for grounded learning
  • Phones that capture moments in time
  • Pride that I can still get down (and up) to meet my students wherever they are!  
Thanks Ruth for reminding me to stop, celebrate, and remember these wonderful small moments. 

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

#SOL2014 The Impact of Cultural Language on Multi-Meaning Words

I have a short and sweet SOL about misunderstandings that can occur when background knowledge "distorts" our understanding of mult-imeaning words!
The Setting: My Aunt and I are sitting in a podiatrist's office.
The Problem: My Aunt has a nasty,lingering toe infection. We've tried a host of antibiotics already.
The Solution: The podiatrist says, "You should get her a pair of thongs!"

Now my Aunt does not get out much anymore, however, she can tell you the details of J'Lo's love life and knows about "red carpet" styles!  She also informs ME of the "in" colors and styles each season as her cultural language is strong, even IF based on day-time TV talk shows like The View and The Chew!

So with a strong, perhaps even sultry, yet over 90, interpretation of what the doctor has just said, she turns to me and asks, "Did he just say I should get a thong?" Without waiting for a response, she adds, "How is that going to help my toe?"
I smiled as I reassured her that the good doctor meant flip flops! 
"Oh,  you mean a Japanese sandal," she corrected me!
I smiled as I bought a pair of thongs, flip-flops, or Japanese sandals (depending on your cultural language about such items) later than afternoon.  I couldn't help but wonder how many other words in English might evoke strong (perhaps even sultry) images in different contexts!