A Bittersweet Time of the Year

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring the Slice of Life Challenge every Tuesday.

Winter settles in. The snow is everywhere. More snow is on the way.

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Indoor recess is more frequent as the temperature dips below -20 degrees Celsius.

Students rush in from lunch to find an independent reading spot. The room is silent as I take attendance; you can hear a pin drop.

January is done. February is slipping away fast.

World Read Aloud Day ends tomorrow for us; two more Skype sessions in the morning.

Teachers’ Convention is next week. Two days of learning and then a three-day weekend to rejuvenate.

In my mind, this is the mid-way point of the year. The next few months will follow in a blur as we read, write, talk and learn our way through grade 4. We’ve accomplished so much. So much more learning to do.

This is a bittersweet time of the year.

 

 

I am a Teacher Writer

Thank you to the Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring the Slice of Life Challenge every Tuesday.

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The workshop approach to reading and writing is as second nature to me as anything else I do as a teacher. It’s not perfect. In fact, I would never want it to be. Nevertheless, it feels familiar despite the many revisions and adaptations I’ve made to it over the years. It provides an invaluable routine for productive reading and writing habits to develop and for joyful learning to flourish. I have been teaching this way since my second year as a teacher when I happened to come across Donald Graves’ seminal work – Writing: Teachers and Children at Work. At about the same time I was becoming familiar with the writing process, I was attending professional learning sessions at the Writing Project at UC Berkeley and later that summer I participated in an urban teacher cohort that studied children’s writing in the classroom, also as part of the Writing Project.

Years later, I am still that writing teacher that believes in the importance of “writing my way through meaning” and in sharing this passion with my students. I reject “prompt writing” or the “creative-writing-on-Fridays” approach as the only writing kids do. I have rebelled against the imposed rigidity of packaged units of study, particularly without a deep understanding of the workshop approach and have argued that canned programs are not good for kids and teachers.

And, I am a teacher writer myself, even if it’s hard to say it, much less to write it. But the more I say it, the less false it seems. So, here it goes –

I am a teacher writer.

Yet, and still, I let the inaccurate perceptions of others cloud my own studied ideas about teaching and learning. I get distracted by uninformed nay sayers, innocent or otherwise. Some days are harder than others for staying the course. I flinch when I see my students’ reaction to my version of “tightening up” in response to self-doubt.

There are no simple solutions. There are ebbs and flows all the time. Like most teachers, I am incredibly hard on myself. If something is not going well, I dwell on the negative rather than celebrating the positive. I don’t give myself enough credit for the great things happening in my classroom because I’m self-conscious about doing so; it feels like I’m tooting my own horn. But would that be such a bad thing?

I am aware that not paying attention to and documenting the ways in which I create a classroom culture conducive to joyful learning means I can easily fall through the rabbit hole of others’ perceptions and lose sight of the techniques and strategies that make what I do in the classroom work for my students and for me. This awareness is making me more determined than ever to intentionally notice and name what I do to make my classroom a happy, energetic learning space for my students.

 

 

 

Review of Zachary’s Dinnertime – Multicultural Children’s Book Day #ReadYourWorld

Zachary’s Dinnertime, a picture booZachary's Dinnertimek for elementary aged children, written by Lara Levinson and illustrated by Cornelius Van Wright, highlights traditional meals from several different cultures.

Zachary, the main character, doesn’t like taking part in the daily preparation and clean up of his family’s dinners. He is also bored with having to prepare the same dishes day in and day out. Therefore, in a sudden flash of apparent rebellion, he decides to eat dinner at the houses of five different friends where, as a guest, he is certain he won’t have to help prepare the meal or clean up afterwards. During the next five days, Zachary is treated to Japanese, Mexican, Israeli, African, and Indian-American meals.  After each meal away from home, Zachary discovers that, although each meal is uniquely delicious, he misses participating in his own family’s meal preparations. And, in the end, he invites his friends to enjoy dinner at his house.

I appreciated the colorful illustrations of families enjoying their meals together. If I didn’t know anything about the food preferences of the cultures depicted in this book, I would be able to learn a little bit about typical Indian-American foods, for example; this information could motivate me to find out more.

If I were to read Zachary’s Dinnertime to my grade 4 students, I can anticipate some of their questions about the structure of this story. For example, my students might say that it’s not clear how he can skip his family dinners to go to his friends’ family suppers instead. Did his parents give him permission? Is this a technique the author uses so that Zachary can then tell about what his diverse group of friends typically eat for dinner, so different from what his own family enjoys? Or, is Zachary so bored with having to do chores (or is it that he is bored of having to prepare the same foods every night?) that he daydreams about enjoying the colorful meals at his friends’ houses?

Like my students, this reader is confused when the narrator tells us about Zachary not liking to do chores at home and then quickly jumps to Zachary’s determination to skip his own family’s dinners altogether to go to a different friend’s house instead. An uninformed reader might get the impression that these are the only kinds of foods these families eat. The illustrations depict nuclear families, yet a quick scan of any classroom would suffice to confirm that this is not the reality of most of our students today.

You might think I’m being nit picky here. Perhaps. After all, this is one book among many about multicultural families. True. That’s why I would make sure to pair Zachary’s Dinnertime with other books that help students understand the complexity of different cultures and peoples.

In conclusion, Zachary’s Dinnertime is a pleasant introduction to different cultural traditions, particularly around food. I would follow up this book with stories that can serve as talking points about more authentic multicultural traditions and experiences.

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Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2017 (1/27/18) is in its 5th year and was founded by Valarie Budayr from Jump Into A Book and Mia Wenjen from PragmaticMom. Our mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in home and school bookshelves while also working diligently to get more of these types of books into the hands of young readers, parents and educators.

Current Sponsors:  MCBD 2018 is honored to have some amazing Sponsors on board.

2018 MCBD Medallion Sponsors

HONORARY: Children’s Book Council, Junior Library Guild

PLATINUM:Scholastic Book Clubs

GOLD:Audrey Press, Candlewick Press, Loving Lion Books, Second Story Press, Star Bright Books, Worldwide Buddies

SILVER:Capstone Publishing, Author Charlotte Riggle, Child’s Play USA, KidLit TV, Pack-n-Go Girls, Plum Street Press

BRONZE: Barefoot Books, Carole P. Roman, Charlesbridge Publishing, Dr. Crystal BoweGokul! World, Green Kids Club, Gwen Jackson, Jacqueline Woodson, Juan J. Guerra, Language Lizard, Lee & Low Books, RhymeTime Storybooks, Sanya Whittaker Gragg, TimTimTom Books, WaterBrook & Multnomah, Wisdom Tales Press

2018 Author Sponsors

Honorary Author Sponsors: Author/Illustrator Aram Kim and Author/Illustrator Juana Medina

Author Janet Balletta, Author Susan Bernardo, Author Carmen Bernier-Grand, Author Tasheba Berry-McLaren and Space2Launch, Bollywood Groove Books, Author Anne Broyles, Author Kathleen Burkinshaw, Author Eugenia Chu, Author Lesa Cline-Ransome, Author Medeia Cohan and Shade 7 Publishing, Desi Babies, Author Dani Dixon and Tumble Creek Press, Author Judy Dodge Cummings, Author D.G. Driver, Author Nicole Fenner and Sister Girl Publishing, Debbi Michiko Florence, Author Josh Funk, Author Maria Gianferrari, Author Daphnie Glenn, Globe Smart Kids, Author Kimberly Gordon Biddle, Author Quentin Holmes, Author Esther Iverem, Jennifer Joseph: Alphabet Oddities, Author Kizzie Jones, Author Faith L Justice , Author P.J. LaRue and MysticPrincesses.com, Author Karen Leggett Abouraya, Author Sylvia Liu, Author Sherri Maret, Author Melissa Martin Ph.D., Author Lesli Mitchell, Pinky Mukhi and We Are One, Author Miranda Paul, Author Carlotta Penn, Real Dads Read, Greg Ransom, Author Sandra L. Richards, RealMVPKids Author Andrea Scott, Alva Sachs and Three Wishes Publishing, Shelly Bean the Sports Queen, Author Sarah Stevenson, Author Gayle H. Swift Author Elsa Takaoka, Author Christine Taylor-Butler, Nicholette Thomas and  MFL Publishing Author Andrea Y. Wang, Author Jane Whittingham Author Natasha Yim

We’d like to also give a shout-out to MCBD’s impressive CoHost Team who not only hosts the book review link-up on celebration day, but who also works tirelessly to spread the word of this event. View our CoHosts HERE.

TWITTER PARTY Sponsored by Scholastic Book Clubs: MCBD’s super-popular (and crazy-fun) annual Twitter Party will be held 1/27/18 at 9:00pm.

Join the conversation and win one of 12-5 book bundles and one Grand Prize Book Bundle (12 books) that will be given away at the party! http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/twitter-party-great-conversations-fun-prizes-chance-readyourworld-1-27-18/

Free Multicultural Books for Teachers: http://bit.ly/1kGZrta

Free Empathy Classroom Kit for Homeschoolers, Organizations, Librarians and Educators: http://multiculturalchildrensbookday.com/teacher-classroom-empathy-kit/

Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.

10 minutes of uninterrupted writing

Once a week, on Mondays, my students have writing homework.

They write, anything, for at least 10 minutes without stopping. A parent used the term “uninterrupted writing” in an email message to me earlier this year, and so the phrase has stuck.

10 minutes of uninterrupted writing

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My students keep track of their writing on a sheet of paper. They record what they wrote that night and how it went for them. Comments range from “no one interrupted me” to “I wrote more than I have previously”. Although this is a start, we’ll be working on being more metacognitive over the next few months.

 

Sometimes my students

  • write a letter to someone
  • write the next section of a story they’ve been working on
  • write about their families
  • tell a story about an after school activity
  • make lists.

And, sometimes, they don’t even share their writing with me.

But, when they do, I am often pleasantly surprised and secretly pleased.

Last night two students wrote poems.

The first poem was about getting writer’s block in the middle of writing her poem, and how she overcame it.

The second poem was shorter than the first poem. It rhymed, just like the first poem. It was written on a loose sheet of paper, unlike the first poem. It was about running and walking at the same time.

My students are finding their voices. Slowly. Tentatively.

They are learning to explore their ideas and feelings through their writing. They are discovering, whether or not they know it yet, that writing worth reading isn’t about the extraordinary experiences in life, although it is that too. But, writing worth reading,the kind of writing readers gravitate to, is about the everyday. The mundane. The ordinary.

It’s writing that mirrors all of our stories.

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If that is my students’ one takeaway from our writing experience this year, that will have been enough.

Crossposted to The Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life Challenge

House Hunting

This post is crossposted to the Two Writing Teachers Tuesday Slice of Life.

My husband, my son and I have been in the market for a house since November. We have seen over 50 houses at this point. In fact, we’ve seen so many that we have a pretty good idea of what we want and what we don’t want. We can now walk into a house and  decide quickly if it’s worth exploring further. In fact, my son has become an expert: he opens the front door, peeks inside and quickly decides if it’s worth the look or not. With some, he has even refused to go past the foyer.

Fortunately, we don’t need to move into a new home until the end of March. We have some wiggle room. But, I’m getting impatient.

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We have seen large, medium-sized and smallish houses. We have looked at bungalows (the Calgary equivalent of ranch homes, but smaller) and one-family homes. We have looked at houses with attached garages (most of them) and we have looked at houses with detached garages (not our favorite). We have seen houses with unfinished, partially finished and fully finished basements.

We have gone to open houses, and arranged house viewings with our realtor at all times of the day – after school, in the evenings and on the weekends.

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We’ve seen houses close to my work and to my son’s school. We’ve also discussed the practicality of living in a neighborhood farther away.

We’ve explored old neighborhoods and new ones.

I think we’ve seen the gamut. And, guess what? None of the houses we’ve seen measures up to our ideal house. Not surprising, right? Nevertheless, we keep searching for the perfect house…

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For the curious among you, here is our list of priorities –

  • a view to the Rocky Mountains,
  • an office,
  • a good sized yard,
  • space for our daughters to visit with their growing families,
  • a good sized bedroom for my son,
  • a finished basement, preferably of the walkout variety,  
  • on a quiet street,
  • not a run of the mill house.

I know it’s a tall order. No house will live up to our ideal. Nevertheless, we keep looking.

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So, as my family continues to debate the merits of this or that house, I will take a deep breath (remember, I’m impatient) and try not to fall in love with each new house I see. Maybe if I let go and be true to myself (speak my truth) about each house we see, we will end up with the house of our dreams. Not perfect, but just right!

 

 

2018

We are now two days into the New Year.

I have selected and blogged about my #OLW here. (Disclosure: my #OLW is TRUTH.)

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I have committed to controlling my presence on social media without tuning out altogether. I am choosing carefully what I do and what I don’t do on @Twitter, @Facebook, @Voxer, etc.

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I am writing something most days, mostly because I need to write between 350 – 500 words every day for my doctoral theses in order to stay on track. Even if what I write turns out to be less than stellar, I won’t get far if I don’t have anything to work on. That’s what I tell my students all the time; I am living this somewhat painfully at the moment.

Once a week I will continue to blog about my journey as a teacher, learner, reader and writer.

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I will update parents on happenings in our classroom and post these on our school website. See my first entry here.

I have started to rethink my to-do list thanks to Angela Watson’s Say Goodbye to Teacher Tired 5-day Challenge. I will prioritize what’s important to accomplish every day, rather than drowning in a list of too many things to do that never get done.

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I am going to address problems as opportunities and not obstacles by finding solutions rather than perseverating on the why of the problems. (My daughter told me that’s an important aspect of being happy. At least it’s better than complaining.)

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So, I’m all set for a productive 2018.

How about you? Have you set some goals for how you are going to live in the coming year? If so, or if you just want to think through some ideas, I invite you to share these in the comments section. Let’s start a conversation!

 

One Little Word 2018 – #OLW18

     For the past few years I have participated in the social media initiative around One Little Word or #OLW, but if you were to ask me TODAY what words I’d selected in previous years, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.

     Those words were clearly unimpressionable.

     Choosing #OLW was supposed to replace the much maligned New Year’s resolutions that start off with good intentions, peter out before the end of January, and are quickly forgotten in February. However, my #OLW’s were not any more successful than my New Year’s resolutions in helping me live a healthier, happier and more productive year. Wasn’t that always the purpose in sweating over just the right wording of your New Year’s resolutions or finding the precise #OLW?

     What always unhinged me when selecting that perfect #OLW was that other people seemed to do really well with theirs, so why couldn’t I? How come my life wasn’t being transformed in the same way other #OLW enthusiasts claimed in their very effusive blog posts? How come I didn’t feel the same attraction and devotion to my #OLW as other teacher friends?

     The process of choosing my #OLW was always painful. I agonized for days over the “perfect” word, yet it never seemed to surface for me. And, when I finally picked my #OLW, it sounded forced; the blog posts were strained and insincere.

     Let’s face it: I was a fake.

     So, this year, as I think about that perfect, idyllic, unique #OLW, I am once again confronted with the difficulty of New Year’s routines, such as resolutions and one little words. Unless I truly meditate and reflect on these every day of the year, they are meaningless exercises in social media pop culture. And, if there’s something I know for sure it’s that I don’t want to participate in to-me cutesy, ineffective activities. Therefore, my New Year’s resolution is simple: stay true to myself.  My #OLW: Truth.

What about you? Any New Year’s Resolutions or #OLW? Share in the comments section below. 

Disclaimer: It is not my intention to disparage the #OLW movement, only to make sense of what I think is a potentially useful exercise for setting goals and intentions for the new year.

Note to self: Remember that writing always reveals that which is hidden. If I hadn’t written this post, I wouldn’t have arrived at what truly matters to me.

Thank you Two Writing Teachers for sponsoring the Tuesday #SOL Challenge.