Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year

    For some strange reason when I think of goodbyes, especially to the old year, I think of The Sound of Music, when the family says goodbye in that song that sticks in our minds, sometimes not even welcome.  

     Yet it is poignant, that song, full of the grief of leaving something loved, that will not be re-visited.  In part, it says "So long, farewell/Auf Wiedersehen, goodnight/I hate to go and leave this pretty sight,” and later "I leave and heave/A sigh and say goodbye".

Goodbye 2011; it's been a year of surprises, wonderful things, and those not so much.  I will remember.  

        And then, I love Rainer Maria Rilke's thoughts:

       "And now let us welcome the New Year full of things that have never been."  

         Happy New Year Everyone!

Friday, December 30, 2011

A Guest Post At Two Writing Teachers

       Maria Robinson said nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending.  I believe teachers think about change all the time, and they make positive changes, often through much sacrifice of their time and their money.  Here's a picture of a classroom of long ago.  Consider what has happened since that teacher stood at the front and wrote on the blackboard.  

      You are invited to read my post today at the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The previous time I wrote a post for Ruth and Stacey, the topic was starting students as writers from the very first day of school.  This time, also at a time for fresh beginnings, I’m honored to write about meeting the needs of each student one teaches, especially the nice ones, and so grateful to Stacey and Ruth for giving me the chance.   
       I hope you enjoy it, and take away some ideas for this start to the new year, 2012.   Best wishes and  Happy New Year! 
      I will be excited to hear your ideas and opinions too!


Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Be Kind To Yourself In The New Year

Slice of Life Tuesday is enjoyed at Stacey and Ruth's Two Writing Teachers blog

       One recent reading experience began my thinking again about my theory that writing is deepening my reading.  I read Journey, by Patricia MacLachlan a while ago.  I love her work, both in picture books and chapter books, and I am excited to see her speak in February when I attend the Colorado Council of the International Reading Association annual conference.  In this book, a young child relies on much of his grandfather’s support, and the grandfather’s words are wise.  At an earlier time, I might have read the  scene below, enjoyed it, and moved on to another part of the book, but this time two things happened.  First, I paid particular attention to the lesson, thinking about its application to teachers who work so hard to do their very best; and, second, I noticed that MacLachlan was very good at sneaking life lessons for the reader into her book, but doing it so subtly within dialogue that it seemed just another talk between grandparent and grandchild in order to move the plot along. 

       While speaking of the grandparent’s comment about a photograph, we first hear Journey, the main character. 
“Well, I said, embarrassed and pleased.  “Well, it’s not perfect.”
”Perfect!”  Grandfather almost spit out the word.  His face softened.  “What is perfect?  Journey, a thing doesn’t have to be perfect to be fine.  That goes for a picture.  That goes for life.”  He paused.  “Things can be good enough.” 

Monday, December 26, 2011

What I'm Reading This Week

It's Monday! What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journeys. You can recap what you read and/or reviewed the previous week and plan out your reading and reviews for the coming week. It's also a great chance to see what others are reading right now, to find more ideas for reading

Our Kid Lit to YA version is hosted by Teach Mentor Texts.

Sometimes the primary teachers at our school talk about the value of helping their students learn how to play, because some young children’s lives are quite structured and they do not have the time for imagination to hold sway in their backyards and in vacant lots down the street.  This particular story tells how one of these teachers uses a book to help her students expand their horizons beyond dance lessons and soccer teams.
           Right before the winter break I had an extraordinarily wonderful experience.  Four young primary students made an appointment to interview me.  Their quest, to discover my early memories of favorite places I used to play.  They brought their journals so they could record my answers.  In the journals they had questions ready, and took turns asking and recording.  All this came about from a book their teacher had read to them.  It was published in 1991 by Alice McLerran and illustrated by Barbara Cooney, winner of two Caldecott medals for Chanticleer and the Fox and The Ox-Cart Man.  She is also known for the books Miss Rumphius and Island Boy

The book’s title is Roxaboxen, a picture book telling of the playing place of a few children long ago.  The story is based on a story told to the author about her mother’s adventures as a child with friends in a place near their homes, a place they named Roxaboxen

Thursday, December 22, 2011

This Poet Gives Another Look At That Special Night

Poetry Friday is celebrated today with Dori at Dori Reads

I have a friend who sends favorite poems at Christmas time in her cards.  It is a thoughtful gift and something I look forward to each Christmas time.   A few years ago, she sent the poem BC:AD by UA Fanthorpe.  I did not know this poet, or the poem, but it made me want to know more.  Fanthorpe has an amazing gift of word knowledge, paring down to what must be said, and then no more, what all poets attempt with varied success.  I love the different paths she takes by looking at known topics as new ones. You can find this poem with two others that Fanthorpe wrote about Christmas here.   In 2002, the poet’s Christmas poems that she wrote and sent to friends for many years were collected into one volume, Christmas Poems.      Several people have set this poem to music too, easily found by a Google search. 
Happy Holidays everyone!

This is the beginning:
by UA Fanthorpe:

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Reading And Memories

Tuesday Slice of Life is enjoyed at the Two Writing Teachers blog, with Stacey and Ruth.

      This time of year no matter what holiday we celebrate brings back memories, not always good, but mostly warm tender memories of times gone by.   Charles Dickens said it best in The Pickwick PapersHappy, happy Christmas, that can win us back to the delusions of our childish days; that can recall to the old man the pleasures of his youth; that can transport the sailor and the traveler, thousands of miles away, back to his own fire-side and his quiet home!  I feel blessed that I had wonderful grandparents well into my adult life, and my numerous connections to them are an important part of who I am.  One of those connections has to do with being a passionate reader, and some of my earliest memories begin with a grandfather reading to me, which leads me to Christmas, which leads me to one of our favorite activities, reading the funnies!

A Poem That Speaks Forwards and Backwards!

         Happy Holidays Everyone – Thanks to the Stenhouse blog for the reverse poem idea.  This is a lesson from Kelly Gallagher’s new book Write Like This, which includes the poem The Lost Generation, found here.  I loved taking this challenging exercise and applying it to my own life right now.  It would be great to do with older students.

My holiday could possibly be not everything I want
So I try not to believe that
All I wish is some time for myself and those I love
It may be surprising to others that
I think education today is too challenging for teachers
I won’t accept that
I can do everything for students
And I might tell others that
It is not worth it
Some educators believe
Hard work pays dividends  
I see things differently because
It is not easy to say that
The hours spent correcting papers and creating curriculum are always wise
I am against the belief that
So much personal investment of time is profitable, and
I am convinced that
In the new year
There will be an increase in students behind in their work
I am not certain that
We will benefit from the weeks of rest and recuperation because
Our renewal as teachers stems only in part from sleeping in and eating well, and
It is true that
We do not love our work and definitely
It is a false belief that
We will have a happy holiday because

       All of this will stay a reality unless we choose to reverse it.

           Read the poem down, then up, thus a reverse poem!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Pantry Stores

  It's always a pleasure to visit Poetry Friday, this week hosted by Kate Coombs at the Book Aunt!

"Oh the weather outside is frightful" and I'm still not delighted!  I’m already begrudging the winter weather, and though I might enjoy a white Christmas, I miss the warmer times.  It is cold, therefore after the new year, I will start the countdown to spring, beginning with the exciting arrival of seed catalogs.  Here is what I did before the temperature dropped:

          My Pantry Stores

I traveled all the way up to the sun,
managed to steal a little chunk away
for now it’s winter, and I am thankful
for this warm, bright ray.

I captured the humming buzz of the bees
and the wings of a dragonfly.
I plucked the petals of the flowers because
when they at last are dry

I’ll have life instead of the death
of this icy-fingered world.
And the wings will boost my spirits.
All these things I carefully swirled,

then boiled for several hours on end
to make the charmed ingredients blend.
Finally I filled tiny Mason jars
to ensure spring at my house will never end.

I’ll open only for times less bright,
and if your happiness hangs by a string
I gladly give, too, one jar to help your
winter metamorphose into spring.

Taking A Reading Challenge

   I've finally decided to participate in the 2012 Award-Winning-Books Challenge hosted by the Gathering Books blog.  I have been lately been trying to keep up reading books recommended by others as possible Newbery winners and I read many books every year, so this is interesting to me to see if I can make it, with a review for each too.  Myra and Iphigene talk about so many books on their blog that it should be easy to find new ideas, and I've never had too much trouble with a TBR list anyway.
  So here goes, I'm choosing the silver medal challenge - 11-25 books.  If you're interested too, go to the link at Gathering Books!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Another View of A Backstory

Posted by Picasa                  The Tuesday Slice of Life Posts can be found at Two Writing Teachers.

According to Writer’s Digest, online, In Hollywood-speak, a character’s "backstory" is what happened before he or she leaped onto the silver screen.   It’s   considered wise to spend time and energy working at the backstory of a fictional character, but I’d also like to introduce this term as a part of lesson planning.  This kind of backstory includes the work that either has already occurred  or that needs to be introduced before a unit of study begins. 
Perhaps it’s an investigation in a study of fiction writing.  Maybe you’d like to introduce your students to literature circles.  Or poetry group is starting and one idea you’ve read about is that art postcards invite wonderful word images, a motivating introduction to the poetry unit.  Students will need at least part of the backstory of whatever topic is being introduced in order to fully participate in the learning, and sometimes different students need different backstories.  
Every time I believe it’s time to create a new unit of study, I back up to see what specific skills/experiences are important to include.  How do I do that?  I begin with working out what I see as the end goal.  For example, I will be teaching a group who are choosing to learn about writing memoirs in January.  For this, I would consider my goal, and then list all the background skills that seemed important for students to bring to the lesson.  As I work, I also list what has already happened during the year that might give support to the experience, too.  Since it is not my classroom this time, I will confer with the teacher so I can find this information.
Here’s one way I plan when I want to consider the backstory, and examples of the notes I would take:

The end goal:  a written memoir, as opposed to a personal narrative.  A memoir differs from the narrative in that although it is a story, it includes the writer’s personal view of the impact of the event (or events) on one’s life.  Usually it’s about just a few events.  Before starting, I will have discussed with the teacher that students in the class are ready for this kind of writing, different from just narrating an event from their lives. This time they will need to make a personal connection of life learning to the event they will write.  It invites a deeper thought process.

Skills  & experiences I believe are important in order to reach the goal
*Ability to write an organized piece in some story form; and to include plot, characters, setting and dialogue if needed. 
            *Understanding the need to choose an audience for which to write & use a certain style for that audience
            *Use of different kinds of sentences in order to make the writing more interesting
            *Deeper examination of different memoirs
*Leads are important in all genres, and if students have not had previous lessons in ‘reeling the reader in’, a lesson in this is important. 
             *Setting is another way to firm up the background of one’s memoir.  An examination of the way it works in memoir compared with fiction is important.
             *Transitions help the ease of reading any kind of writing, and in the memoir genre, transitions are important because one must lead the reader into both time and place as smoothly as possible.  An examination of authors’ style of transitions will add to the students’ skills.

Skills already taught & experiences that have previously occurred
      *Students have written about different memories from writers’ notebook entries and mini-lessons/conversations held in class
      *Completed specific lessons in fiction-both reading and writing.
      *Read multiple samples of memoirs created for various audiences.  (I might introduce some new examples from Ralph Fletcher’s new book, Mentor Author, Mentor Texts)
     *Teacher has read aloud memoir samples for discussion. 
      *Students have worked in a variety of ways with word work, looking both for kinds of wording that authors use, and for different words that appeal.

I realize that one can’t teach every single skill, like how to craft a sentence or how to use more sophisticated punctuation, but by the time I am ready to begin a new genre study, I should know the students’ abilities well, and know what the next step in each individual’s needs might be.  Planning some parts of what I call the backstory  (in this case for the memoir unit) aids students to move further in the study than if we just jumped right in.
Note:  As I gather and organize them, I’ll post a list of sources that are useful in teaching this unit.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Take Time To See!

We five students and teacher
strolled two blocks from our city school
to enjoy a near patch of green
on this warm winter day.
I’d thought more people would come
to catch the rays, enjoy the balm
no one came to see
that pansies here
on December second
were still in bloom.
I gave a thought to them
because others near
just walked right by,
of this sweet gift.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Sometimes The Holidays Are Not Always Jolly

  Poetry Friday is to be enjoyed today with Robyn at Read, Write, Howl

      In the days of these holidays arriving, and they’ve been arriving since before Halloween, I become excited at the prospect of sitting with family and friends by the fire, perhaps working on a jigsaw puzzle, or reading a story aloud to my grandchildren.  I like baking and will certainly bake some Christmas cookies, letting my husband choose which ones he’d like.  I enjoy shopping and will be sure to give my business at some small shops as well as order online from some other small businesses.  I really do love Christmas and have lots of spirit to go around.
At the same time that I’m enjoying my personal version of a Rockwell Christmas, I also think of those who have few friends, no family close by, or no family at all.  I know that there are those who are lonely this time of year especially, and when they view the television commercials or see the newspaper advertisements, they become lonelier.  The expectation that is marketed includes lots of gift giving, and parties with happy people, and often enough happy children and happy pets.  These advertisements are tough to swallow for anyone who has neither the means nor the opportunity to participate in the merriment that swirls around us in December. 
            I do attempt to connect with those who might be loneliest this time of year and include them with my family's festivities.  At this time while planning this post, I thought I’d search for a poem that might help us understand the feeling.  Although this particular poem references Thanksgiving instead of Christmas, I find it fits my imaginings of how it must feel to be so lonely.  The author writes a monologue of a man who is ill and is speaking to a visitor.  This visitor has dropped in to bring a selection of books for the housebound man.  As you read, the voice seems to tremble, and the gush of words shows clearly the appreciation for the visitor, even alongside the apologetic flavor.   

            The poem is The Transparent Man, by Anthony Hecht

It begins with
            I'm mighty glad to see you, Mrs. Curtis,
And thank you very kindly for this visit--
Especially now when all the others here
Are having holiday visitors, and I feel
A little conspicuous and in the way.

You can read or listen to the rest of the poem here at    I’m hoping that we all have happy holidays this year, but that we also give some care to those in need. 

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

What Is Happening To My Own Reading?

       Recently I’m noticing more possibilities for lessons from the various books, magazines and journals I read that inform my teaching.  Perhaps it’s just that I’m making better choices, but I am really reading more intentionally than ever before.  How can that be?  I’ve been an avid reader all my life, and read prolifically.  I’ve taught reading skills and facilitated countless book groups.  I belonged to a book group for several years.  
        So, I have a theory.  Because I have been writing more regularly this year than ever before, I believe the writing is informing my reading.  I know that there are numerous connections from reading to writing, but most of them focus on reading makes the better writer.  I use mentor texts to teach students writing skills and to learn the lessons myself.  Yet, as I write more, I am noticing so much more in the books I read.  I wonder if some of the writing we do with students should now place some emphasis on increasing student awareness of entertaining new kinds of questions as they read? 
Here are some examples:

            Remember when you struggled to write the beginning of your (short story, memoir, personal essay)?  What are some of the reasons you had for what you chose?  Why do you think this author chose this lead?

            What senses do you see this author using in the writing that you have used in your own writing?  Which one do you like using the most?  Why do you think that’s a favorite?

            When you write a poem, what kind of lines seem to end up on the page first?  What do you think this poet did in this particular poem?  What did he leave out that you might include?  How did the lines break?  Do you remember thinking about your line breaks?  What made sense to you? 

            What does the author do here to make a connection with the rest of the text?  Is there a time you started with a personal story that helped you lead into a report?  Do you enjoy authors who do that?  Do you have another way that you’ve written when beginning an essay?

            If we can move the writing student into examining their reading as they have examined their writing, we might see deeper reading.  It could become totally circular, not just reading to writing.  I realize there is already some of this back and forth connecting, but also that teachers could become more deliberate in their lessons about writing that leads to better reading.  From Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Project FAQ’s:  There is a great deal of data suggesting that improvements in writing will have a payoff across the curriculum.  This is the only reference I was able to find that appears to address directly what I am suggesting.  Numerous other sites give specific ideas in using mentor texts to aid in writing improvement.  

Monday, December 5, 2011

In This Season of Giving-One Place To Learn About

     Today is Colorado Gives Day, a day where giving to your favorite charity can double your money, at least I hope so!  It has occurred for a number of years, where a Denver foundation named Community First sponsors a day for donors to give to their favorite non-profits, with the backing of a grant that will match at least a portion of the donations.  There are several charities that I support, but one is special to me because a former colleague and her husband created it.
     My friend and fellow teacher Libby, and her husband Brad, have long been supporters of those in need.  As she taught with us, we all knew that Brad was going to cooking school to become a chef, and at the same time, they volunteered for various organizations like the Ronald McDonald House, giving food and their expertise, good cooking, to help others. They had a dream, to open a restaurant that served good food, where anyone could come to eat, and pay what they could.  After Brad graduated, he and Libby opened what they called The Same Cafe, using the acronym Same (So All May Eat).   for the first few years of operation, Libby still taught, and worked the other hours of her life at the restaurant.  I'm not sure when she slept.
       Sadly for us, she resigned and is now working full time at the restaurant.  It celebrated its fifth year in business this year!  It's a special place, one where one might eat alongside business people, young mothers out to lunch with their toddlers, school kids (they're very close to one of the Denver high schools), a resident in the neighborhood, or a homeless man or woman.  They keep a box for donations, they hire people that work for meals, they welcome volunteers.  And, they cook great food.  The menu varies some, because they buy locally as much as possible, but you can always get a great personal pizza with fresh ingredients, a wonderful bowl of soup, a tasty salad of available greens, and one of Libby's famous sugar cookies.
      I imagine that each one of you has a favorite place to give your money or your time at this time of year, or any time of year.  There are many who do good works, and deserve all we can do to help.  One friend and I often dream, "When we win the lottery, we're..."  But for now, I give at different times of the year, but especially on this Tuesday, Colorado Gives Day!  And I wanted to pay a tribute in this blog to my friend, Libby.  I'm proud of her and her husband for following their dream.

                 The Tuesday Slice of Life can be found at the Two Writing Teachers blog.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

December Third

December Third.  
       I’m rising in the dark, although I know I should stay in bed.  It’s Saturday after all and I can sleep as long as I want.  But I don’t.  It’s so quiet outside and I can’t wait any longer to peek out the window to see if the weatherman was right, to see if it snowed.  Yes, snow is coming down heavily, the back yard is covered and I can barely see across the park to the school.  I love it.  I don’t have to go to work or drive anywhere, although I think the snow is supposed to stop by lunchtime.  We can go out then if we choose.  The main streets will be clear.  It’s Saturday and nearing the holidays.  Merchants want us in the stores, not snowed in!  I have a wonderful gift of a day, starting even before sunrise.  I spent the morning doing some favorite things.
         I had my first cup of coffee and sat down at my laptop to check my e-mail, Facebook, and my blog to see if there were new comments.  I replied to a few e-mails, then began reading some of the later Poetry Friday blogs so I could make at least a few comments.  I also receive Your Daily Poem.  Yesterday’s poem was good, better than today’s for me, and I re-read it.  It is about finding the best in everything, titled Bounty, by Robyn Small.  It begins:  Make much of something small.  You can read the rest here.   
         Soon enough, my husband joins me and brings in the newspaper.  He is the news guy, and spends the first 15 minutes of his day with coffee while reading several news stories to me.  Yes, he reads them aloud, along with commenting on each.  He also tells me which comic strips are likely to make me laugh, or that there are no laughs today.  He’s my own “Dave Letterman”.
         Because it’s snowing, I start boiling water for a delicious pot of Bob’s Red Mill five grain rolled cereal.  If you haven’t tried it, do.  It’s delicious, fills me up, and always makes me feel so virtuous because on a really cold day, I’ve prepared (and eaten) something good for me.  Today we added a lot of raspberries, and of course, honey. 
         I couldn’t sit still any longer because I love snow and wanted to be out in it, warming up the bird bath water, taking care of the bird’s food, putting out peanuts for the crows and squirrels, and shoveling the walk.  I also had an idea to take a few pictures so I could create a Christmas card this year. 
         I put on the layers: fleece pants, turtleneck, Smart wool socks, warm sweater, boots, coat, hat, scarf, and gloves.  Then I get the food for the little animals, and tramp out.  Doesn’t it feel great to crunch and tramp and even sloosh through the snow; doesn’t it sound great?  I fix the water in the birdbath, put out the seed, and spread the peanuts.  I shovel the patio and take lots of photos, get a sudden idea, and return to the house for the accessories I need.  What do you think?  It’s a little spruce tree we planted several years ago, brought from the forest near our cabin.  It is growing, but spruces take a long time.  WE love that tree and know we won’t be here probably when it reaches its full growth, but hope someone in the future will love seeing a huge spruce out the kitchen window. 
         Back in the house, laundry to do, more coffee, and time to start the Christmas tree.  We finally caved in a few years ago and bought an artificial tree.  Now instead of trimming off the bottom to make an ornament, I place branches and bend the wire twigs to make it look just right.  I place the lights, swirl the garlands on, and arrange the old quilt top from my grandmother around the bottom.  Then goes the little elves that sit under the tree, plus Woodstock and a little stuffed giraffe.  They have appeared each Christmas to live under the tree since our children have been born.  It’s expected, if you know what I mean. I decide that’s enough for today; the ornaments will come out tomorrow.
         The sun is out; I’m off to the grocery, after having a perfect, snowy morning.  When I get back, I’ll finish this post, have another cup of coffee, and move onto other things, thinking of past Christmases, and the one coming.  My son, daughter-in-law, and grandson are coming for a week!  And we have a new baby to welcome to our Christmas, too.  I’m looking forward to the next weeks.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Beauty In Children's Novels Written In Verse

Poetry Friday can be enjoyed with Carol at Carol's Corner!

Home Sweet Home
No matter what kind of writing I am working with both personally and in my teaching, I always return to saying, “tell the story”.  Recently, I have read several books that tell their wonderful stories in verse.  They are both written for children, and both are heartbreaking in the telling of memories of place.  They communicate more than about being homesick, but rather grief stricken or heartsick for their homes.  Thanhha Lai won the National Book Award this year for her poetic novel, Inside Out And Back Again, which tells the tale of a family immigrating to the United States at the end of the Vietnam War and the fall of Saigon.  And Karen Hesse, whose book Out Of The Dust won the Newbery in 1998, also wrote Aleutian Sparrow, a chronicling of the removal of the Aleut people from their homes in the Aleutian islands in order to protect them from the Japanese at the beginning of World War II.  They were not allowed to return, although the Japanese threat ended in 1942, until April of 1945, only to find their villages looted and destroyed.  It can’t be easy to write an entire novel in verse, but these two writers, along with others, create something very easy to read.  I’d like to share a little bit from each.

From Inside Out And Back Again:

         When the main character’s mother visits a kind of fortuneteller in the New Year:        
This year he predicts
         our lives will twist inside out.
         Maybe soldiers will no longer
         patrol our neighborhood,
maybe I can jump rope
          after dark,
         maybe the whistles
         that tell Mother
         to push us under the bed
         will stop screeching.

From Aleutian Sparrow:

         I was six when I stood outside Alfred’s grandfather’s house,
                  where the old ways steep like tea in a cup of hours.


Most of us dreamed of going Outside, hungry for a taste of
         life beyond the Aleutians.
Few of us truly meant it, few of us ever really intended to
         leave the fog and the wind, the sun and the rain, the
         hunting and trapping and fishing, the easy welcome
         of neighbors.
We never thought who we were was so dependent on where
we were.

Other books in verse I’ve enjoyed are Love That Dog and Hate That Cat by Sharon Creech, Witness, also by Karen Hesse, the trilogy beginning with Make Lemonade by Virginia Ewer Wolfe, and Keesha’s House, by Helen Frost.  There are others.   Each tells a compelling story like the ones above, and is worthy of recommendations to students who might think they don’t like poetry, but do love to read a great story.  

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Possible Newbery, But Already A Winner

                          Tuesday Slice of Life can be found at the Two Writing Teachers blog

In my reading life, I’ve been trying to read books about which others are whispering NEWBERY, NEWBERY!  The most recent book I’ve read is Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu and illustrated by Erin McGuire.  The book is marketed for middle grade readers, yet I know I would encourage my middle school aged students to read it, too.  It speaks with such compassion about the pain that children feel when they are suffering from tragedy in their lives that not only young adults, but parents and teachers should also read this poignant tale.  And tale it is, including the heroine, Hazel who saves her knight, Jack, because that is what friends do.  The book is over three hundred pages, yet I imagine that reading it aloud to a class would open up such opportunities for immediate personal sharing in either conversations or in writing workshop that it would be worthwhile to spend the time.  It is about friendship, bullying, heroism, reversing the stereotype of the prince saving the princess, and being true to oneself.  It is about so many things important to growing up.
On one level, I can see that students will love the sweetness of Breadcrumbs about a friendship and the things one can imagine doing for a friend, even challenging and defeating the Snow Queen.  On another level, if a student has been often immersed in fantasy, the subtle references to other favorite tales delight often.  Not only are there references to stories of Hans Christian Andersen, but from Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling, too.   From the viewpoint of a teacher, one can read this book to see examples of the incredible strength of childhood/young adult friendship, and the alarming disconnect of these same children with the adults in their lives.   I know we teachers make strong connections with our students, and I am proud of those relationships; yet I have also known that many of my students did not tell all. 
Read this passage from Ursu:  ‘Hazel Anderson’, said Mrs. Jacobs, who was the thing that had deflated, ‘would you sit still?’ / Someone sniggered.  From somewhere in the back of the room, someone else sneered, ‘Yeah, Hazel,’ which was not the greatest insult ever, but one thing Hazel had learned at her new school was when it comes to insults it’s the thought that counts./Mrs. Jacobs looked at her with weary eyes, and Hazel froze.  She was still like the snow-covered morning.  She did not even breathe, at least very much.  She was going to listen, she was going to try, because she was not a little kid anymore, because it was her job to sit still and listen to the teacher and we all have to do our jobs in the world, even if we don’t like them very much.  There are other times in the book that Hazel tries to do what everyone wants her to do, to say the words they want her to say, and I felt sorrowful that I have probably been that teacher sometimes, and watched as the student dried up, became quiet, and did as he or she was told. 

Later in the book, the main story shows Hazel defying the rules and taking back the pieces of her self in order to save her friend.  The story of this friendship as told so clearly by Ursu, although couched in fantasy terms, shows fantastical heroism as the metaphor for the real-life saving done by children for their friends. 
And my approach to curriculum seems to have changed lately, perhaps because of conversations I’ve been having with teachers I coach about their students.  This book, Breadcrumbs touched me so much because it showed the ability of a child to be lost in a class lesson when experiencing personal turmoil.   I’ve been thinking more about the student’s personal and emotional support that leads to improved success in the curriculum.  To integrate thoughtful lessons that connect to the personal seems critical.   There are writing experiences that do come from the heart, and do help us know our students.  If we are not gaining the trust needed, if students aren’t personally ready for the lesson (no matter how well prepared is the lesson), plus if students aren’t getting the care they need—rest and food first, then we have a battle like Hazel’s to fight, to forge the good relationships in order that we might teach well.  What to do?  What to do?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Feeling Grateful Before and After Thanksgiving, Too

              I have written recently of my many blessings; this past Thanksgiving was rich because of them.  When counting the blessings this year, I must include being welcomed into a writing community mostly through the Two Writing Teachers blog.  It has been a life-changing experience for me as a teacher, to meet teachers all over the world who will talk (write) about their teaching lives with such dedication to and compassion for their students.  Years ago, Adlai Stevenson said, “On this shrunken globe, men can no longer live as strangers.”  I imagine it would interest him to see just how small our world today has become because of the Internet.  I am grateful to be a part of this new kind of community.
As part of the community, I reflect on those words written by others, many times about their teaching experiences.   One of the words that describe what I’m ‘hearing’ is resilience.  According to the online Free Dictionary, the definition of resilient is marked by the ability to recover readily, as from misfortune.  I often wonder if those who do not teach understand how resilient teachers must be in their day-to-day challenges while teaching?  There are a number of times, when a lesson must be adjusted (read changed, dropped, or interrupted) because of circumstances beyond the control of the teacher and/or the students.  While beginning a lesson, when students are settling into the group, one may burst out crying and run from the room.  Another might get sick, right there, in the meeting area.  Someone might say, “I have to go really bad!”   The electricity may go. Two students might whisper to tell that they have to talk about their conflict, right then, right now!  This is beginning to look like a list poem.
Of course, we realize there are often glitches in the plans and one must be flexible enough to make changes.  We are ready and know that we’ll find ways to make up time lost because we take care of the sudden problem even if the lesson must be abandoned.  We make time for that which is most important, the students.  I’m sorry that I don’t remember where I found the following link, but this man, Michael Josephson, a radio commentator and founder of the nonprofit Josephson Institute of Ethics and CHARACTER COUNTS, has re-worked a piece by a teacher named Taylor Mali, who wrote a strong response to a critic who was putting down teachers.  It’s called Making Lives, and shows well what teachers do in the very midst of being resilient.
One year when my school site was downtown near our capitol, I had planned on the very first day to walk the class to that capitol to climb to the top and look out over the city.  We were going to write our first notebook entries there, with the caption “this is my world to explore”.    On the morning of the first day, I glimpsed one of my first students arriving, with his mother helping.  He was moving slowly up the stairs on crutches!  My mind whirled as I greeted him with a big sympathetic smile.  This day was changing already, but we had a very good start to the year (in the building).  Do you have a story to tell about your resilience?  I imagine you have more than one.  Give yourself a pat on the back for “making lives”.