Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Slice of Life: Book Life

I can get so involved in a book that I lose touch with reality, so much so that coming back to real life feels more like reading a list.

  1. Make dinner
  2. Tidy up
  3. Grade papers
  4. Then you may go back to your life––in a book. 
I can always tell when things in my real life aren't sitting right with me because I have trouble getting into a book. I start them and don't finish them. I wander a bookstore and don't come home with anything. It feels uncomfortable and makes me angry. Like, "Listen life, I need my books! So you better wise up and get easier." Picture me shaking my fist at the sky.

Recently I've been working hard to make some changes in my life and it's clearly affected my reading life. I've picked up and put down no less than five books over the past month. I've started watching my nemesis––TV.
While visiting my mother this weekend, I sat in front of her bookshelf desperate to find something that worked for where I was, in this moment, in my life. Then I saw it,
A book that I, myself, had purchased for my mother to read. Mostly I bought the book because I went to high school with the author and wanted to be sure his book sales increased, but when I looked at its book flap I got that weird tug that happens when I'm about to go into a book life that matters. So I took it home and I can't stop reading it. Even when I'm back in reality, I'm thinking about Lilliet, the main character who is fascinating and holds a bit of every girl within her––or maybe not. I won't speak for all women, but she's got a whole lotta me in her, that's for sure.

Alex Chee is a master at adding historical research in at points where you need to orient yourself to the geographical location (sometimes Paris, sometimes Minnesota, sometimes New York) and what was happening globally at the end of the 19th century in the world of Opera. His details about clothing and cultural expectations pull me in even closer. I want to know more. I make mental notes and wish I had better strategies for tracking my reading thinking. For once, I am thrilled that there are over 500 pages. I want to stay here a while. I find myself telling time by the chapter or page. As in, "I will start dinner after page 148." Then I hide my book pages so my children, who are starving at this point, won't see that I'm on 157.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

DigiLit Sunday: Relationships

In the light of the moon, a little egg lay on a leaf..

On Sunday, I interviewed a woman named Julie Lindsay. She lives in Australia and started a company called Flat Connections. Her message to me was that Web 2.0 tools have changed the face of education. It brought the walls down so that we could all reach each other.

On  Monday, I read a book by Pernille Ripp, a teacher living in Wisconsin. In Reimagining Literacy through Global Connections, Ripp's message to me was to keep it simple when going global, the students just need to know they can connect and share who they are.

On Tuesday, I voxed Julieanne Harmatz. "Let's do this!" I said. "I've got a fourth grade, you've got a fifth. Mine is in Maine, yours is in California. Let's read together and share thoughts." She agreed.

On Wednesday, Julieanne emailed suggestions for three books she had multiple copies of. I book talked them to my students that afternoon.

On Thursday, I worked online with Julieanne to draft a google doc for our students to use. We'd like to share this with you right HERE.

On Friday, we talked with our kids about how the book groups were going to work and about how important it would be to comment often and connect with the kids in their groups.

On Saturday and Sunday, we waited--well, we graded assessments and worked on lesson plans, but we also waited.

On Monday, our students came in ready to comment. They had read and thought about their reading and knew that somewhere nearly 3000 miles away, other kids were coming into their classrooms to share their ideas about the same books. The excitement was palpable.

We didn't hatch butterflies during our global book club, but we did show our students that relationships are built on finding commonalities despite what looks like a whole lot of differences. After reading our books and writing our thoughts, we Skyped so the students could meet. It wasn't earth shattering, but somewhere between the oohs and aahs about snow and 9 degree weather vs green and 75 degree weather, we built a relationship based on trust and good books.

We can't wait to do it all over again.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Poetry Friday: The Whole Story

“In the beginning I was so young and such a stranger to myself I hardly existed. I had to go out into the world and see it and hear it and react to it, before I knew at all who I was, what I was, what I wanted to be.” Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver

I go down to the edge of the sea.
How everything shines in the morning light!
The cusp of the whelk,
the broken cupboard of the clam,
the opened, blue mussels,
moon snails, pale pink and barnacle scarred—
and nothing at all whole or shut, but tattered, split,
dropped by the gulls onto the gray rocks and all the moisture gone.
It's like a schoolhouse
of little words,
thousands of words.
First you figure out what each one means by itself,
the jingle, the periwinkle, the scallop
       full of moonlight.

Then you begin, slowly, to read the whole story.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Slice of Life: Too Much Stuff

Yesterday we got around 20 inches of snow. School got cancelled the night before which is always a treat. My kids are happily playing outside, so I race upstairs to get rid of old toys.

I can't do this while anyone (including my husband) is watching because it will go like this, "Oh that! I forgot I had that. Don't get rid of that. I love that!"

On my way upstairs, I pass a large tote filled with hats and mittens. I dump it out on the floor in the dining room and bring the empty tote with me. Now in my son's room, I pull out games from his closet and sort them. I find stuff no one is ever going to play with again. Candyland, Headbands, and Qwirkle all make their way into the tote.

All this money wasted, I start to think, but quickly stop myself. It is what it is at this point. We buy things for Christmas or whenever hoping we've hit the jackpot and sometimes (apparently a lot) we're wrong.

By the time I finish, his room looks incredible and the tote is overflowing. I don't want my kids to see this tote. I drag it down the stairs. Bump, bump, bump, 18 times. I click the metal handle on the front door and it whips open. Over two feet of snow rush into the front hall. I pull the tote out and drag it down the front steps. I am wearing boots, but no jacket, hat, or gloves. I pull on the door to close it behind me, but it won't shut. I use my bare hand to dust off the snow stuck in the frame. Again I try to close it. Nope.

My heart starts to race. There is only so much time. Someone, a child or husband, will eventually come into sight and see what I am trying to do. I close the door as best I can resolving to come back after hiding the evidence.

I wade through 24 inch drifts of snow, as I pull the tote towards my white Volvo sedan. My hands began to hurt in the manner of a thousand pinprick torture system but I can not stop now. I know what Shackleton must have felt like. Getting to the car and opening the trunk should be a victory, but as I lift the 50 pound tote––it wont. fit. in. the. trunk.

Suddenly, I hear voices. "Mom! Where are you?" I must not let them see these toys. I flip the blue tote on its side with the open part inside the car and started banging on the bottom so the stuff dumps into the boot of the car loose and completely unorganized. I feel sorry for the Goodwill employee who will have to sort through this to make it sellable, but I cannot let this sadness hurt my mission.

Loose playing cards blow down the street. The trunk closes, the job is done. Only a yoyo string hanging out the trunk seam tells the tale of my mission.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Slice of Life: Action Research

On Tuesdays I try to join Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life because it gives my week focus and helps me connect my life to education.

I glance around the room making sure to record who is at the table: curriculum coordinator, GT coordinator, principal, teacher, teacher, Me. Got it. The meeting agenda for the Gifted and Talented Advisory Council is underway. I won't say I dread these meetings, but i don't set the bar high for them. We move from agenda item to agenda item:
  • Students who've recently been tested
  • Paperwork needing to be filed
  • What we've been doing with students in the classroom
The topic of how we have students who teachers think should be identified as gifted, but because of circumstances like poverty, lack of advocacy, and cultural differences, will probably never be identified. The tests aren't finding them. Their schoolwork, while interesting, isn't mind-blowing when compared to the students who have more experiences under their belts.

There is a collective silence while we all take this in. It feels like something pretty big has been put on the table.

Our curriculum coordinator says, "how many are we talking about?" We go around the circle sharing about the children who've stolen our hearts because of their ability to write or analyze or communicate purpose despite terrible circumstances at home. It seems everyone has a story of one or two kids.

There is another moment of silence pregnant with that "what should we do?" weight hanging in the air. If you aren't a teacher, you may need to reach for your parent hat. There is a feeling of desperation that sometimes happens in eduaction where we realize we must do something.

"I think we should find some money to do action research about this," says the only one at the table who can truly make that happen the fastest.

"We'll do it!" my colleague and friend Ruth and I say in unison smiling at each other. So here I am using a template I have from my teaching preschool days where action research is always King. I'm still drafting a proposal, but I plan to share my understanding of the situation along the way.


What is the makeup of the kids who show giftedness, but don't make the cut because they live in poverty or their culture is very different, or they have no one to advocate for them? Can these factors be altered to change their circumstances and lift them up?

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Poetry About Refugees: Sixth Graders Speak

Today I showed this video to my sixth grade students. Then I asked them to respond in poetic form.

I care about Syria.
It is cruel to reject exiles
That are yearning to be free.
They are escaping from their country
Because it is not safe for them to stay.
3.8 million people - including thousands of children -
Are trying to stay alive, but our government thinks that
They are dangerous and will not let those poor refugees
Cross our border just because our government will not save
Over a million lives. That needs to change. We need to change.

This. Is. Not. Okay. (Charlotte)


Syrian refugees crossing the border,
yearning to escape the cruelty.

Exiles have no decision,
to leave their own country.

Trying to save their families,
trying to earn back their dignity.

they understand,

that freedom isn't free. (Stacy)


Wanting freedom.
No hope
No escape.
Syrian refugees.
3.8 million out
Yet only 36 allowed in
Big decisions
Risk your life
possible death.
Save Syrian people.

They want to escape. (Brock)


Our country is a melting pot of immigration
Exiles trying to
Do we have dignity,
and open our borders to them?
Provide them with a place to go?
Or do we turn our backs to them,
and let them
It is a decision of life
Or death
Are we willing to choose? (Peyton)


Syrian refugees have been
yearning for
from their country
for years.
Having countries
a sense of dignity, and
closing borders with no way to get in,
give the refugees a hard decision.
whether or not to leave their country.
A chance of death if they leave.
Almost certain death if they stay.

A secure home. (Peter)

Monday, January 30, 2017

Look here, though you might want to look away

Hate is back in our schools. I've heard teachers talk about kids forming groups they call 'Whites are Rising'. I've heard middle school students in my own school talk about how Trump is going to put the Muslims back in their place.

I'm in a unique position to affect how change occurs. As a gifted and talented teacher, I work with students who are designed to dig deeper and live with the kind of emotional intensity it may take for us to bring back the world we want to live in. I don't think this is an exaggeration.

So, I worked all weekend to put together lesson plans around what human migration looks like, how it feels to be a refugee, and what we can do to help human beings. It took focus to figure out how to help children in my district, most of whose parents voted for Trump, will absorb this information without feeling scared or thinking I'm trying to scare them.

It's a precarious balance being a teacher of social justice, particularly in a school system. I used to say it was harder because I taught in a public school, but now I see that it's more about teaching children whose families are taking a long time to see that this change is happening.

Here are some resources I'm planning to use that may help you plan your own lessons.

Finally, as a way to help myself think about human migration, I've chosen this book as my next read. If you know of any books written for children that might help my lessons, please share them in the comments.