Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Happy To Be Back

   As I watched some parts of writing workshop last week, I felt that writing was very much a delightful part of the students’ day.


                                 Comfortable sounds help us nestle
                                   into the classroom
                                   with contentment.
                                   Gray clouds hover outside,
                                   Small murmurings and
                                   brain clouds float inside.
                                   A chair scrapes.  Someone coughs.
                                   A student sighs; I wonder why. 
                                   They sit at computers,
                                   fingers tapping.
                                   Others journal,
                                   pencils scratching.
                                   Quiet friendly voices wing in from the hall
                                   “Hey, nice to see you, how are you all?”
                                   Time to move, and re-sharpen pencils. 
                                   Workshop gathering
                                   to the carpet,
                                   sharing words, sharing thoughts.
                                   Everyone is thinking hard
                                   even before lunch.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Planning With My Colleagues

          I’ve created a way of planning on a chart that’s been helpful to me and the teachers with whom I work.  Sometimes we create the chart together, and sometimes I do much of the planning and the teacher adds or subtracts to it according to what she or he believes are the needs of the class.  Certainly response by students can change the plan.  When, for example, some first drafts of a writing assignment are read, a different lesson may be needed before moving on to another draft, or additional conferring with individuals and small groups, etc.  Here is a sample of part of one chart created with another teacher as we were beginning a few weeks of writing experiences with her students.

      Date   -  Weekly Goal    What Teachers Do          What Students Do
Monday – During Workshop

Goal-Support for personal essay- something near and dear to one’s beliefs/heart – similar to a personal column piece-requires some research
  Explore two topics - 1st draft of one
Read – I Want To Be by Thylias Moss, about a girl who discusses all the choices she has in the world.  The point is to have students ponder who they are, what they believe in, what is important to them.  Give copies of music essay by Julia B., but read together.  Review page of the basic parts that are expected in this kind of essay.  Let students brainstorm ideas that might be important ones for them to write about.  (Another set of essays to use for examples is available for individual student study.)
Discuss their beliefs, what is important to each.  Create a personal list after filing out the page called ‘first brainstorming’.  Share many kinds of columns and essays for students to read, then come together as a group to share what was found. 
    After this session, independent writing time.  The assignment is to write about two personal topics identified as personally important to see where it leads.  In a few days, they should choose which is the one they’d like to develop.

Wednesday – During Workshop

Examine what is working well with the students.  Share the positive and the negative-identify needs.

Make available the time for a productive conversation, listing tips from the group along with challenges. 

During quiet writing time, individual conferring about the writing so far.

The plan will continue being filled in as we talk together and choose the paths the students need.  It’s fun to work together, pooling resources and discussing what we’ve seen in the student work.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Ready To Say Goodbye To Summer - Or Am I?

                               If summer has lost its glory and power, and
                               we wish hot summer weather to be gone in an hour,
                               then it must be late August and school has begun
                               taking lazy days and heated haze and some of our fun!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Good Teaching Is A Conversation - part two

              Since I wrote my previous post, I have continued to talk with the teachers with whom I'll work this year, and I am struck by the amount of reflection we are considering in the questions asked:  What happened last year that felt successful? What needs more time? What scaffolds were needed most (and why)? What prevents your basic goals as a language arts teacher from being achieved?  And so on.  And as I reflected on these conversations, I began to see that reflection holds the top place in our talks.  This led me to wondering how to place this same kind of reflection into the curriculum for students, and to explain its importance to the teachers.
                Reflection is the heart of learning.  For teachers to reflect on their plans and their students in the year ahead and along the way at each juncture is critical.  And the more they understand what critical reflection can mean, the more they will understand about their teaching.  Yet I wonder how much reflection is asked of the student?  And how is the reflection taught so that the thinking can be more productive?  So often curriculum plans demand such time constraints that students might not have the time for reflection of their own work, considering whether they are ready to move onto another part of learning, or prefer to flesh out that which was previously studied, to see if improvement or going deeper is what is needed. 
I believe students could be taught to do thoughtful reflection as a habit.  To respond to a project with answers to these questions is a beginning:  what worked? what didn’t work?, why?, what’s next? In addition to contemplating the answers that are given, students need time to follow through with what’s next.  And finally, they may need to ask the questions again. 

          If the questions are asked, in a form of evaluation of the learning task, can the answers to what’s next be ignored?  How can reflection be authentic if there is no follow-up?  Teachers reflect often and make changes because of their thinking.  Students should be able to do that too.  Two articles that are meaningful to me in the area of critical reflection are here and here.  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Good Teaching Is A Conversation

Tuesday Slice of Life

Something I did this past week:

Last year, in several whole group sessions with teachers, I used the saying, “good teaching is a conversation”.  I believed it, and used it to help us all contribute to the current topic being discussed.  I can’t remember where I found it, but the sentence became so meaningful to me that I have it written at the beginning of my planning calendar so I won’t forget it, especially when I’m conferring with my colleagues. 

Since I’m writing this for my blog post, I thought I should search Google it to see if I could find the saying's origin.  While with slightly different wording, there were thousands of sites with references to the quote, but it seems that the most recent reference can be to an article by Eileen Shakespear from the Coalition of Essential Schools.  In it, she also Googled the idea, and found a reference to “good talk about good teaching” by Parker J. Palmer to in a 1993 issue of Change magazine.  Shakespear’s ending is eloquent:  With our colleagues, knowledge that influences practice grows as we share it and “work it” with each other. Good talk is difficult but it makes our work more powerful, satisfying, fun, and beautiful.

I met with four colleagues this past week, to talk over their goals for the year, what they need right now, and how things might work differently (if they wished) in the various literacy areas of their teaching.  I was inspired, and spoke with each more than the hour we had planned.  We had great conversations; even I would say, powerful.  We created plans, looked up resources, brainstormed about specific lessons, enjoyed talking about certain students and their abilities and needs, and shared about our personal lives.  I can’t imagine if I was sitting alone at my desk and someone told me to plan a lesson for ten year olds in personal narrative that I would create anything as vibrant and exciting as the teachers and I planned together. 

Much of our conversations included questions:  How do you see your class as a whole?  Where are the students who will need extra scaffolding?  Who will be the leaders?  What can happen to enhance different student strengths?  What mentor texts will be helpful in ____________ assignment?  Have you considered . . .?  Do you have. . .?  What time do you think you can commit to  . . . ?  What do you think . . .?

Most of our sessions concluded with some plans that were definite, and the needs of each were listed.  Some of the conversations put some ideas on a hold list, to be researched a bit more by each of us, with a deadline for completion.  All of the conversations were learning ones between colleagues.  We listened, questioned, considered, disagreed or agreed, and we had a really good time doing it.

I am so happy I have a job where I may have many, many good conversations, and hope always that they will result in good teaching, as that saying goes!

Monday, August 22, 2011

I Have Pickles!

             A Teacher's Need

It occurred to me this weekend that the profession of teachers is such an unsettled profession that I’m not sure how we survive, but we do!  First, it must be because we love children, and then second, we love learning.  There are basic precepts that most of us follow, techniques change with the times, and with continuing research, new ideas appear that we entertain.  We keep up or we don’t.  There are those, especially recently, who argue over what makes a great teacher, that indefinable nugget that means success with students.   It would be terrific if they would agree, then we would have a list to follow.  However, they don’t.

So, great teaching to me means having a great deal of resilience and grit.  And because our profession is often defined tenuously, it helps to include some things in our lives that are definite, assured, and dependable, like pickles.

I have so many decisions to weigh in my job and so many ideas wandering around in my head that keep saying pick me, pick me.  It’s wonderful to enjoy the definite beginning, middle and end of something so I can relax, enjoy the process, and complete something that is tangible, like pickles.

And at our local farmer’s market last Saturday, while filling my basket with tomatoes and cantaloupes, I spied a box of small cucumbers, plenty of them.  I know I needed thirty for my recipe and snapped them up.   By Sunday, I had a gallon of sweet pickles sitting in a jar in my refrigerator and some smaller jars ready to fill next week to give as gifts.  I am happy that the pickle recipe kept me from making any decisions.  I counted, bought, sliced, soaked, boiled, stirred and cooled.  Nothing to it!  I have pickles!

But I’m still going to continue being a teacher!

Friday, August 19, 2011

Guest Blog Post

        This afternoon, come visit the marvelous Two Writing Teachers blog.  I’m honored to write a guest post for them about the first days of school and the importance of starting the writing process with students from the very beginning.   I hope you enjoy it, and take away some ideas for your own start to the school year.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Words, The Words, Where Are The Words?

Tuesday slice of life, Aug. 16, 2011

The Words, The Words, Where Are The Words?

       Sometimes the words
       don’t work.
       The labor is too intense.
       No poem is born.
       I think I may wait
       until the words
       come a bit easier.

I wrote this poem, trying to find one way to share my feelings with students when I can’t get started with a writing idea, and to let them know that sometimes I can’t get started, too. 
Sometimes in the classroom when we have writing time, I see students fiddling with their pencils, getting up to get a drink or another writing instrument.  I see they are struggling with finding an idea that that editor in their heads will approve.  How I help depends on the student.  When I know that they usually don’t struggle, and have plenty of ideas percolating in their notebooks, I leave them alone.  When it’s a student who muddles through consistently, and I’ve seen the slim entries in their notebooks, I try to intervene in a variety of ways.  Sometimes my aids work, sometimes not.  I do believe that as a teacher, I should try, but I also believe that there are students who are challenging to help, even resistive.  Here are a few ideas I use with those students. 
I have conversations with students that include questions about life outside school, sports played, musical pursuits, current status of friendships, etc.  Just talking can help a student begin an opinion about something, and then I encourage the writing about it.
There are lots of poems to use for student response, but the one that can be fun, because anything goes and it works for all ages is Judith Viorst’s poem “If I Was In Charge Of The World”.  If the student will begin just listing all the changes he or she would make, sometimes one thing on the list is what I respond to with “how would you do this?”
And finally, one topic that works well for me is to ask about other people.  What has the student noticed that indicates that a person is having some kind of problem?  It may be a friend that’s had a recent disappointment, a parent that is stressed about something at work, or someone at school this particular student knows has struggled in some way.  Helping the struggling writer think about someone else can motivate the writer to describe the person, the problem, and even to project further into a ‘what if’ scenario.  Here again, I’m just digging deeper into what this student knows, to help her or him see that they have indeed a wealth of interesting things to write about.
             I wonder what you do when a student struggles?

Friday, August 12, 2011

At The Beginning of School-Thoughts of Reading

August 12, 2011

The 10 for 10 picture book gathering yesterday made me start thinking about my reading and where it's taken me through the years.  It would be fun to have students reflect on their history and what kind of reader they think they are today.

I would be most content if my children grew up to be the kind of people who think decorating consists mostly of building enough bookshelves.  ~Anna Quindlen, "Enough Bookshelves," New York Times, 7 August 1991

My life with books began very early, in a grandparents’ home, where I lived until I was five years old.  My father was killed in World War II in the Pacific, a young pilot, shot down somewhere near Leyte Island in the Philippines.  The plane was never found.  And so my mother and I lived with her parents until I was five, when she re-married.  I give this information because both my mother’s and my father’s parents were avid readers, and being with them so often in my early childhood set my path toward the crazed reader I am today.
I was the only grandchild on both sides of the family until I went to school.  Everyone wanted to read to me!  My mother was an artist, and wrote and illustrated stories for me.  One grandfather loved Shakespeare.  No matter that I was young, he still read the poems, the plays, even a biography of Shakespeare to me.  A grandmother was a pianist, and taught me the language of songs.  I learned the music of the classics, but also hymns, the words of Stephen Foster, the carols of Christmas.  When I visited my father’s parents for weeks in the summer, the first thing we did was visit the library, to gather a pile of books for me.  I saw them all reading, in the afternoon, during the hot parts of the day, during a ‘siesta-time’ of sorts; and also during the evening, after listening to an occasional radio show.  Remember this was before television!  How could I not be a reader!
Until I was in junior high, we lived in a little town, without a library.  I mostly had to depend upon books we owned, magazines subscribed to, and the very small collection of books at my little school.  There was one gift that came every couple of weeks, called the bookmobile!  I can still imagine my clomp, clomp, clomping up the metal stairs of that big van, greeting the librarian who traveled with it, and racing to the children’s section.  I was allowed five books, only five, so I learned to pick the biggest books I could find, and, as I grew older, sometimes was able to persuade my mother to check out some of the adult books I thought would be good.  In those days, I couldn’t check out just any book; I was restricted to the children’s shelves.  Still, it was a wonderful day when the bookmobile rolled into town and as soon as it left, I began to count the days until the next time.  Here were the books called the Betsy-Tacy books, the Lad, a dog, books, and Nancy Drew.   Others sneaked in, too, like biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Helen Keller, and Rembrandt.  I read as many kinds as I could find-and sifted the words into some kind of recipe just for me.
         The inscription over the entrance to the library at Thebes, one of the oldest libraries in the world is that libraries are ‘medicine for the soul’.  When I was twelve, my family moved to the city, where there was a real, wonderfully big, library.  I spent many hours there, discovering authors like Louisa Alcott, Jane Austen, Ayn Rand, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Twain, Ernest Hemingway.   I had moved into the adult world of literature.  Teachers at school introduced other names.  I read, and read, then read some more. 
What do books do for me?  The words of a wonderful writer can turn me into a woman who is struggling with her place in the world in the seventeenth century, a teacher on an island in New Zealand, or a mother who is trying to save her children from the Nazis.   I celebrate those words – teaching me to be the best person I can be in our world.  In other ways, the author’s words also turn me into people I cannot be:  a black woman struggling as a maid in Atlanta, Georgia, in the 1950’s, a teenager who is facing troubles with friends, a person with a debilitating disease.  They give me other points of views, other ways to think of living.  I say to them:  Turn me into something else, writers of the world.  I want to know about those other people, how they live, work, play, and love.  I want to know how they become who they are, how they survive.  Give me your words.
At this beginning of the school year, I often turn to the topic of reading and how I get so excited to think of the worlds I can introduce to students.  I hope I can find wonderful books for them that will add to the experience of their individual reading lives.   

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

10 for 10 picture book event!

August 10, 2011
   Today is the big 10 for 10 picture book event.  You can also find it here.  How exciting to start the year with many teachers' ideas for great books!   I use and share many picture books from my collection, but the ones I've used with different levels and for multiple reasons are ones that are on this list.  

Ten Books I couldn’t teach without:

Home - A Journey Through America – illus. by Thomas Locker, edited by Thomas Locker and Candace Christensen – poems about home (and place) from various writers, like Eloise Greenfield and Jane Yolen, also Abraham Lincoln.  I love to use this to motivate students to write about place and their own home or even earliest memories of a childhood home they have left.

The Important Book – by Margaret Wise Brown, ill. by Leonard Weisgard – It’s pure poetry, or is it?  It’s also a book that can help students summarize, get to the core of ‘what’s important’.  I use this for both ideas.

Storm in the Night  – by Mary Stolz, ill. by Pat Cummings – A beautiful book about a relationship and sharing of memories between a grandfather and a grandson, and about sharing fears, always a good topic to help start writing about.

Galimoto  – by Karen Lynn Williams, illus. by Catherine Stock – about  persistence and ingenuity, to make something out of what’s available – also shows village life in a positive way

The Table Where Rich People Sit – by Byrd Baylor, illus. by Peter Parnall - about the lesson learned that money does not buy those things in life that are important.  It can start so many conversations and memories of family life. 

Antler, Bear, Canoe – A Northwoods alphabet year – written & illus. by Betsy Bowen – There are many alphabet books, but this one is a lovely example that takes the place and gives concrete examples of what is found there, in beautiful woodblock prints

Emily – by Michael Bedard, illus. by Barbara Cooney – recently out, a sweet story of a relationship between a little neighbor girl & her famous neighbor, Emily Dickinson.

Crow Call – by Lois Lowry, illus. by Bagram Ibatoulline –  in our lives now, military fathers and mothers are coming home to children who don’t know them very well.  This book shows what can happen to renew that relationship. 

The Relatives Came – by Cynthia Rylant, illus. by Stephen Gammell – Can be used for such a lot of things, writing ideas of beginnings and endings, and memories of visits students have in their own homes.

Owl Moon – by Jane Yolen, illus. by John Schoenherr  - Just beautiful writing, and another good story that’s a sweet childhood memory.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Poem for My New Granddaughter

Slice of Life Tuesday, August 9, 2011

To Imogene-My New Granddaughter

I didn’t expect after your arrival
to have my breath shortened,
to need that quick intake of oxygen
meant to overcome my surprise-
my surprise-
at your perfection.
Your head-smooth roundness-
nestles in my hand,
as my fingers gentle your cheek,
so soft I finally comprehend
the meaning of gossamer.
At only these few hours old
you open your eyes
and search my face,
begin to memorize your world.
You wait to be shaped.
I see your questions,
your desire to be protected,
the wish to be loved.
A small cry turns the calm
into need.
You nuzzle for your mother.
I give you over to her,
glad to have held
a bit of perfection
for that moment.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Switching Writing Identities

Monday, August 8, 2022

     I've been writing in a variety of ways lately, and have also lately observed that it's a challenge to keep all the parts separate, to keep all the balls up in the air in the balanced way I would like.  I'm creating a literacy newsletter for my school, writing for my blog almost every day, and recently working on WFMAD, Laurie Halse Anderson's August writing challenge.  I need different resources for each kind of writing, different ways of thinking at the task, and sometimes even different places to write so I can feel productive.  It makes me wonder how I'd like teachers to think about this as they work with students in all the various writing genres.  What conversations can this lead to?  As teachers, should we set up the writing places first, but discuss the importance of finding places that are ideal for the different kinds of writing?  Helping student awareness that writers think about this part of the writing process might be very helpful in the classroom.  

Friday, August 5, 2011

Examining Reading Habits - Great Conversations

August 5, 2011

This is sometimes what I feel my TBR list looks like!

 My Reading Habits – Wondering What Students Do, Too?

Sometime early in the year, I’ve always liked to have students write about their reading habits, what they’re currently reading, what kinds of things they read besides books, what they love and what they don’t.  I usually write too, to let students know how diverse reading habits can be.  Those who are avid readers will see that I’m usually reading several books at a time, as they do, and those who are less enthusiastic will see that reading behavior doesn’t just mean books. 

Here’s a sample of my reading during a regular day:

o   The local newspaper.  I read the front-page articles, and if especially interested, finish them when they move to the inner pages.  I check the baseball stats for the Rockies, I read certain columns in the local news section and the funnies and my horoscope.  This is wake up reading, starting the day with words, coffee, yogurt and cereal.
o   Several times a day, I read blogs from my online reader, and then turn to the e-mail.  On e-mail, I receive newsletters from Choice Literacy and NCTE, which I skim, and save for the future if some of what is shared looks like I’ll want to look again.
o   For writing inspiration, I am currently reading from Roger Rosenblatt’s Unless It Moves The Human Heart.
o   For non-fiction, which I read a bit at a time, I’m reading The Food of a Younger Land:  The WPA’s Portrait of Food in Pre-World War II American, by Mark Kurlansky.
o   For teaching, I am re-reading Becoming A Literacy Leader by Jennifer Allen, and articles I’ve downloaded like the recent tips that Two Writing Teachers shared on Facebook, the Stenhouse Blogstitute articles, and some from Education Week.  I also read the NCTE journal, In The Middle.
o   For pleasure, and lately for teaching, I’m reading Cynthia Voigt’s latest novel, Young Fredle.  Our school librarian and I are planning to hold weekly book groups through the holidays called ‘looking for Newbery’, so she and I are reading the books that are creating Newbery talk for the coming award.  And, I read magazines like Orion, High Country News, The Smithsonian, Sunset, and a local one titled 5280

That’s it, mostly.  You who are readers know that readers will pick up anything to read just a bit, to see what it’s like, or to skim something interesting.  When I share some or all of this with students, they begin to examine their days, and realize that they’re really reading more than they think.  I didn’t add texts, but they will, along with Facebook.  After discussions about what we read, the next step is how do we read each kind of print?  And then, sometimes questions come about how fast, which mean ‘how much to skim and when’?  And, where is the most productive place for focused reading? 

Making a list of what is currently being read supports great conversation, which leads to other conversations, some lessons in different approaches to different kinds of reading, and recommendations by peers.  Reading, critical to all learning, is one of the topics that can’t be ignored just because students appear to read well.  There’s a depth and a breadth of individual learning to consider. 

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Fight For All Women

Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011

I listen to the stories on National Public Radio on my way to work.  I come from a family of strong courageous women, blessed by a grandmother who fought for equal rights for both women and people of color in her little town, long before laws were passed in the US.  She served as a city leader, led the charge to integrate the schools, and fought for good education for all children, poor and rich alike.  In a time when many children in her school came from poor rural homes, often without running water, she felt they needed to be taught, not just ignored because their clothes were dirty and torn, or their bodies smelled.  At times other teachers did not even wish to give them textbooks, thinking it was just a waste of time and money.  But my grandmother spent time both in class and after school, tutoring, advising, and giving recommendations for jobs and help with class assignments.  She used her own money for textbooks.   She deplored discrimination for any reason.
I come from that background, of respect for others, greeting politely, giving my time and energy to make the world in which I live a happy place for all.  So-when I heard a recent story from NPR, concerning a high number of suicides among Afghan women, I felt both thankful for my life in the United States, yet saddened that women today in many parts of the world still are second-class citizens.  Here’s what I heard at the beginning of the story: Seeking to escape cultural oppression and economic hardship, an alarming number of Afghan women are taking their own lives. The trend has prompted a bill aimed at ending such practices as forced marriages. The story continued to explain that because the lives of women, especially in rural areas, and especially for young women forced into arranged marriages at twelve and younger, the belief is that often the only choice in their lives is to end them.  The law referred to is promised by Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, but some say that it will be a law defied by many because of cultural traditions that ignore the laws of Islam protecting women. 
So, what can I do to help-thousands of miles from Afghanistan, here in the safety of my own life?  I can start with home; move out into the circle of my life, which includes young adult women and men.  I can research the issues of dating violence here in the United States, and support those I come into contact with by teaching self-respect, the first defense against violence. 
According to About.com: One in 10 teen girls and one in 11 teen boys admits to having experienced physical violence in a dating relationship in the past year. One in three teens stay they know someone who has been physically assaulted or hurt by a dating partner.  Because I teach in a school that prides itself in asking for respect between all persons at the school, this seems outrageous.  Yet, even here I have experienced opinions that appear to think that some violence is simply kids working things out, learning that they must be tougher in order to ‘win’.  Even with teachers who are asking that children respect differences, some students still name-call, are reluctant to be friends with those that are deemed, ‘not so popular’.  
It’s time for me to learn more, do more, and fight for the behavior I know to be right.  I look to those who have acted before me, my grandmother, too, as models.  For example, there are 83 million mothers - single, married and otherwise - who make big and small sacrifices to give their children every opportunity to succeed.  I look at them, and others, to follow.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Gifts Come In Unlikely Places

August 3,  2011

      We took our two year old granddaughter back home yesterday after keeping her while her baby sister was born, spent a little time with the new baby and parents, and traveled back home.  It was quiet in the car, no toddler singing little songs, or saying "Gramma, look there!"  As we left their house it had started raining, and a wonderful cooling of the day arrived.  Of course I had my camera because of the visit, lucky me.  On our way home, we marveled at the rain, turned a corner and there was a double rainbow!  It was like a reminder of our gift of a new grandchild, a reminder to give thanks for our blessings.   I did, then took the picture!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Inside-Outside--Discovering New Ideas

Tuesday Slice of Life, August 2, 2011

Collecting words and phrases that help writers imagine stories and pictures from their lives can be another way to help writers discover ideas and start writing.  When I give this lesson, I actually just begin with a few phrases, and then let the chart fill with ideas from the group.  At the same time, I’ve suggested to students that they find a place toward the end of their notebooks for lists and seed ideas.  We add to it every now and then just as a way for me to show students the breadth of what can go into their notebooks.   Here are some starters used in the past:  first-lasts, inside out, upside down, left out, after dinner, found, lost, it’s the name of the game, night-day, expectations, out the window. . .   Please add your own. 

            After our brainstorming session, it’s time to write, and as I’ve said before, the ideas are still personal choice.  I just ask that they record these ideas as described above in case they need a new idea sometime.

Here is my choice for today:  a poem from the words, Inside-Outside

Inside, at 60 beats a minute,
my heart is resting,
accumulating layers
of life on the outside.
These layers, like tree rings,
remain hidden inside,
and show only a peek to the outside
of the sometimes sweet
and occasionally bitter
when we add a pinch of salt
and then a lot of sugar.
Inside, my heart is racing
but you might not know
until I tell you, on the outside.

            I’d like to add that I’m not really satisfied with this poem.  I feel it needs something that I can’t yet figure out.  I’ve worked on it for quite a while, and messed with different lines, frustrated that it just won’t go right!  As I worked in the classroom with students, I would have shown them my process, all the cross-outs and changes, demonstrating that sometimes things don’t always go so well, and that’s what happens with writers.  As the French poet Paul Valery said, “A poem is never finished, only abandoned.”

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Gift of A Glass of Water

Monday, August 1, 2011

If you’ve read my blog recently, you would know that I recently became a grandmother again, to a quite small granddaughter named Imogene.  We are happy to have this new person in our lives, and look forward to knowing her as we know her older sister, and older cousin.  Because of this new arrival, I’ve had the pleasure, with a few challenges, of caring for Imogene’s older sister who is a few months over two.  We’ve had as good a time as ever one can when life is rather disrupted and we didn’t really plan for this because we thought there was about two more weeks left, and of course, two year olds don’t plan ahead at all!  Really, it has been a pleasure to have more time with this lovely young lady.  Her name is Ingrid and she has spent one night with us often, but not three or more!  And, certainly she’s never been asked to visit her parents and this new small and uninteresting thing, and then say goodbye to them each day.  We’ve asked her to comprehend a new idea, while continuing her usual good behavior, and then to go live for a while with people she loves and is comfortable with, yet we know she misses her home and her parents (although she’s too young to realize it).  We’re asking a lot!
As I have cared for Ingrid and watched her behavior these few days, I have wondered if there is something to connect to our students in this.  Throughout the year, we ask similar things of all the students.  We want them to act civilly, no matter what, to work with new people-adults and classmates, to meet challenges without falling apart, and even to eat differently than usual.   With a two year old, it’s not so easy to know what she’s really thinking, but I’ve found that a hug and maybe even a glass of juice helps divert attention from something that seems frustrating.  In the classroom, one of the things I often do is to suggest that a student who appears to need some kind of break should go get a drink, take a walk down the hall and back, and sometimes I even get a big glass of ice water for the student, a small token that shows I care.   Drinking the water gives the student time to relax and to contemplate what is really going on.  Often, he or she is then able to confide more, and I am able to offer some advice.  With a two year old, diversion is the key, and a hug along with that diversion gets us going again.  With any other age, words can be the ending help, but not before the break in the behavior.  A gift of a glass of water helped me often.