book review

A Very Brief Review of The Lazarus Rumba by Ernesto Mestre

I finally finished The Lazarus Rumba by Ernesto Mestre!

I started reading in August. It was a slow read for a long time. I would pick it up, then put it down and pick it up several days later, which sometimes turned into weeks. Finally, a couple of weeks ago I decided that I needed to finish it; there were too many other books waiting to be read. I didn’t dislike the book enough to abandon it but I was having a hard time getting through a chunk at a time; it seemed like I was reading two or three pages a sitting for way too long.

So, during this previously unplanned February break from school, I was determined to finish it. And, as it turned out, once I started reading in earnest, I couldn’t put it down. Once again I proved my own theory, and one that I often share with my students: if you don’t read a chunk of a book at a time you can’t know if you really like it or not, and you will not understand, or remember, enough of what’s going on to want to keep reading.

Although I did not appreciate the thread of political conservatism that winds throughout this book, I loved the magical realism side of it. And, as usually happens with books of this type, I wondered what parts of the story were real, and what parts were magical? Or, maybe the important take away is that the entire book is a statement about life as a magical journey that is over all too soon. In the end, whether or not the events in the book are real is irrelevant since it’s always about the story and what the reader can learn about his/her own life, as a result.

Despite some misgivings about Mestre’s political stance in the book, I am planning on reading his second book, The Second Death of Única Aveyano. From the summary of this book on Amazon, it may not take me as long to read it as it did to read The Lazarus Rumba. Keeping my fingers crossed.

One Little Word

My One Little Word – Confident

My One Little Word (OWL) for 2015…drum roll, please…is…”confident“!

I came about this word fairly quickly during the last two weeks of 2014.

I started by making a list.

The first word on that list was “confident”. Then, came a stream of words and short phrases – assertive, confidence, be myself, just do it!, health, communication, exercise, and change. My methodical but slow search for the perfect OLW for 2015, made me realize that the word “confident” addressed or subsumed all the other words on my list quite nicely.

In order to be assertive and stand up for myself, I need to be confident in my professional abilities and expertise. That way I can speak eloquently for whatever I want to accomplish in my job.

In order to focus on my health during 2015, such as exercising more, I need to be confident that I can develop a daily 30 minute exercise routine, whatever shape or form that happens to take.

In order to be myself, I need the confidence to trust in whatever gifts I can bring to the table and that these gifts will be welcomed by others. This last self-knowledge has always been hard for me; it’s connected to communicating what I want and need in my personal and professional relationships.

“Just do it!” and “Be myself” are really about the same thing – going after what I want and deserve rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for it to be delivered to me. An administrator once said, “If you want something, go after it. Don’t expect others to come to you. It doesn’t work that way.”

After I chose my OLW, I searched for a dictionary definition of confidence and found the following three definitions – (1) the feeling or belief that one can rely on someone or something; firm trust; (2) the state of feeling certain about the truth of something; (3) a feeling of self-assurance arising from one’s appreciation of one’s own abilities or qualities. Of these three definitions, the third one was the one that resonated the most with me. My dirty little secret, according to my family, is that I don’t have a full appreciation for my own abilities and expertise. In fact, I am in awe of people who seem to have this quality or at least pretend that they do. In the big scheme of things, is there a difference between the two? I read somewhere that “if you act as if”, then that “acting” will become reality.

Therefore, a focus on building my “confidence” in 2015 will mean taking risks with the knowledge that if I want something, I better go after it. No one is going to give it to me on a silver platter.

Maybe 2015 will be the year that I focus on writing that professional book that has been incubating inside me for years? Who knows? The only way I will know is to confront my fears with confidence and grace.

There! I said it! Wish me luck.

Genius Hour

Genius Hour

Four weeks ago I implemented Genius Hour with my grade seven students. As is wont to happen when I implement something new in the classroom, I read and think about it a lot before I finally do it. But, that doesn’t necessarily mean I have a well-thought out plan for how I’m going to do something! It’s more of a skeleton of what we’re going to do and depending on how my students respond – I am rarely prepared for what they will say or do no matter how long I’ve been teaching – I will make modifications as we go along.

In order introduce Genius Hour to my class, we viewed a couple of motivational videos of Caine’s Arcade. Then, we talked about finding something you are passionate about and using Genius Hour to work on that interest. In my eyes, this was enough to launch the first Genius Hour work session, so the week following the Caine’s Arcade videos the kids got to work on their Genius Hour projects. I would address any unforeseen events or problems as they presented themselves.

On the first Genius Hour class day, I was surprised that so many of my students had come to school with a fairly good idea of what they wanted to do. Some had even brought materials for creating an Iron Man suit! However, even though they were enthusiastic and got to work right away, I felt uneasy. Shouldn’t I have them prepare and plan their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn’t they pitch their project to the class and me, first? Shouldn’t I approve their projects before they start working on them? Shouldn’t I put a limit on how many students work together? What should I be doing while the kids are working? How much should I probe? How much should I just stand back and watch? How can I be sure they are learning anything of value, including the mandated standards and benchmarks for my grade? (Even as I write this I know there is much learning going on, maybe more authentic learning than during a regular content area class because everyone is working on something they developed and are committed to seeing through from start to finish. However, since I am the only one in my school doing Genius Hour, I want to be prepared in case I am questioned about the educational value of Genius Hour.)

During the second Genius Hour class, I had my students respond on paper to the following three questions: “What am I not OK with? What do I have? (I interpreted this question as: “What skills, expertise, etc can I bring to this problem?) And, What am I (we, if working with others) going to do about it?” I found that these three questions allowed students to shift from the mentality of Genius Hour as “free time” to Genius Hour as “serious work/play/explore/learn time”. I haven’t talked to my students this explicitly about Genius Hour. However, yesterday (our third Genius Hour class), I had students determine the purpose of their project: to teach, persuade, or create something for others. Although some are clearly not seeing this connection yet, I trust that the more we focus on how a project is going to impact or influence others, they will start to see a clear and intentional purpose to what they’re doing during this time.

I can already see that some of their projects are nearing their completion stage so when we get back after Carnival break, we will talk about getting ready to share their projects with others, namely their classmates for now.

So, although I should have probably followed a different progression to Genius Hour – viewing Caine’s Arcade’s videos, individual reflection and class discussion on the three questions mentioned above, and a write up of a project proposal – things have been going well. I am particularly encouraged by my students’ self-reflections at the end of Genius Hour. Yesterday, they wrote these in their blogs and although this took longer than I had expected, it was time well spent as the kids learned how to navigate their blog, write meaningful entries and work with me to polish them and make them appropriate for publishing.

When I am nagged by doubts about whether or not this is valuable time taken out of a subject area like social studies or language arts, I think about all the planning, writing, reflecting, conflict resolution, and negotiation skills that my students are using in a project of their own choosing during school time. And, I am comforted and certain that this is a good use of one hour of our time during the week.

If you have implemented Genius Hour in you class, please leave a comment about your experiences below.

Note: The three questions mentioned above, plus many other great resources including videos, templates, articles, and posters, can be found in Joy Kirk’s LiveBinder for Genius Hour.