Friday, October 29, 2010

Recommending Hunger Games

If you know any middle school students, then you have probably heard the buzz about Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. It is the first book in a futuristic trilogy. It has so many powerful themes. I think it would be a great book club choice--for teens or adults. If you wonder how much more we can blur the line between reality and reality media, than this is a great choice for you.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Fun Decorations

Have you ever seen the floating eyeball watching you? There are 26 floating eyeballs hanging from the ceiling of my classroom. I don't even remember where I saw this idea, but I can't take credit for it. 4th graders love anything gross or disgusting. That makes this an ideal decoration for our Fall Party.

It's very simple to create, so it doesn't take much class time. Kids can just pull them down and take them home after the party, too. Here's what to do:

  • Blow up white balloons

  • Use a compass to make 2 circles for the iris and pupil

  • Tape the paper circles onto the balloon

  • Use a permanent red marker to add bloodshot veins

  • Attach yarn or string and hang from the ceiling

What simple party decorating ideas do you have?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Respectfully Asking

“There’s nothing more generous than asking for help and accepting it freely.” There’s great strength, courage and kindness in asking for help.

I read this quote as part of the Dream Lab course I'm doing. It struck me right between the eyes. I'm terrible at asking for help. (Sometimes I'm good at faking it, or I only ask when I don't really need it.) Often I don't even know exactly what I need or exactly how to ask so I sit in isolated fear.

One thing I know for sure right now is that I need help! I don't know exactly who or what. So today I'm going to have the courage to just put it out there and say I'm not doing that great. I need help! I'm anxious. I'm off balance. My focus is off. I'm trying to do too much. I have almost no time to just be. I feel stale in my spirit and lonely for accepting companions.

So I'm respectfully asking and freely accepting the response.

Any suggestions?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Surprised by Inspiration

I find myself surprised by what inspires me. I really should not be surprised because I have a strong intuitive sense that leads me to what I want and need. Sometimes I resist or get wrapped up in lesser pursuits. Sometimes what I'm doing is just not right for me at the time, but I'm often led to what I most need--even if I'm kicking and screaming the whole way.

The Dream Lab I'm participating in is focused on tribe, generosity, and courage. I can see how much those are all interconnected. I'm really inspired to investigate those three, but at the same time I fear it. I'm feeling a deficit in all three, but I'm moving forward. . .ever so slowly.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Power of Generosity

My book recommendation for today is POWER-FULL! It is 29 Gifts by Cami Walker. It is an amazing story of the healing power of generosity. I don't mean receiving it. I mean giving. Cami Walker was in her early 30s and diagnosed with MS. One of her spiritual advisers challenged her to give 29 gifts in 29 days. This memoir chronicles the journey. I cannot recommend this book too much. A whole movement of generosity has been spawned by this book and the author's experience. Click here to see the author on the Today Show.

If you read it, tell me what you think.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Respectful Work

A couple days ago I started thinking about what it means to provide respectful work for students to do. This means so many different things to me. . .

**It's high quality.
**It's stretching, but not too frustrating.
**It's motivational.
**It's consistent yet fresh.
**It's attainable.
**Success can be measured.
**Workers are enthusiastic.
**Workers strive to do their best.
**It helps them learn about life, not just school.
**They know it's valued by authority figures.

I'm sure my list can just keep going.

Then I started to think about what respectful work looks like to me. This got pretty depressing very quickly. It got me thinking about how much of what I do is because of someone else's agenda. I am a realistic idealist. My beliefs are often devalued and cast aside. That has stuck with me, and it continues to lead me to question what I'm doing and why I'm doing it. I remember leaving a job because I believed I was doing more harm then good. I wonder where that line is drawn in the sand for me. I wonder where this will lead me. I want to do respectful work, and I want to empower others to do respectful work.

What does respectful work look like to you?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Inspirational Flip

I'm about a day behind with my inspiration post. It can be explained by the fact that I've been playing with a new little tech toy--my inspiration--the Flip. I took a 3 hour class that showed by how to use it. The possibilities are endless. It's so fast and easy to make videos with this little baby. Did I mention I'm seriously challenged around technology? Did I mention how little this thing is?

I can't even begin to imagine all the applications for the classroom. It's fun to just daydream about all the ways kids could use this. It's also fun to daydream about all the ways teachers could use this!

If you have used a Flip professionally, how did you use it? If you're interested in acquiring some for your classroom or school is a great way to go.

Friday, October 15, 2010

4th Grader's Book Recommendations

One thing I love about 4th graders is they will always recommend the book they have recently read. I'm still that way. I can't wait to talk about what I'm reading or have read recently.

This week there are 3 books recommended by 4th graders. Here they are:

Geronimo Stilton: The Kingdom of Fantasy. Click on the title to read a review, but my student said "it is a very exciting and adventurous story."

Next we have the classic, Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary. The movie of this book that came out this summer has sparked renewed interest for Beverly Cleary books in my classroom. My student said this book reminded her of her and her big sister. It's hard to believe that book was written in 1955. It's so timeless!

Finally, I'm trying to add more Greek mythology to my classroom library (in part because of the interest in Percy Jackson.) There is a whole series designed to appeal to girls called Goddess Girls by Joan Holub and Susan Williams. My student read Goddess Girls: Athena the Brain. She said,"This book has a lot of chapters and was a great book. I would recommend it for 4th, 5th, and 6th graders." (I suspect that is the exact audience this series desires.)

These were all recommended by girls. I hope to get some boys recommending books in the future. They're reading, but seem slower to recommend.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Just Gonna' Listen

Some days as a teacher are a little more insane than others. Field trip days are fairly crazy. It's hard to know if everyone will bring a lunch. Or which grown ups will show up. Or how the weather will be. Do we need to take any meds from the office with us? Will everyone be safe and return in one piece?

It just so happens that my class is going on a field trip today. We are going to the Akron Art Museum, with its award winning architecture. We are also going to the Civic Theater to a concert by the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra. To make it a little more complicated my class is being split in half--of course 4th graders are complaining about their group!

In and of its self this would be no big deal, but we also have conferences tomorrow evening.

Instead of worrying and fretting about this, I'm going to take the advice I gave to my students, I said lets just see how much we enjoy listening today. That's my plan--I'm gonna' listen to museum docents, jazz musicians, kids, and parents. It feels so much simpler when I put it that way. It seems so much more doable. I'm looking forward to sharing what happened when I listened.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Feeling Respected

I went on a little fall hike over the weekend. I looked down on this wall of rock, and here was this little magical garden growing. I loved the contrast and complexity and the improbability that life would be there on a rock. It caught my attention, or I paid attention. Either way I gave it a little value. This is how I think being respected feels.

Of course I can go on forever about what disrespect feels like. The late Rodney Dangerfield made a lot of money with that schtick. But respect is so much more subtle and enduring.

Just yesterday I felt respected by our literacy coach. (You rock, Judi!) It wasn't that she did anything huge. She gave me time. She listened to me. She was not judgemental. She appreciated the complexity of the situations I described. She respected me. We talked. She suggested. Nothing was solved, but I felt respected.

This makes me think of how respect isn't this huge fix everything bandage. It's more about being acknowledged. How do we respect ourselves? Our family? Our coworkers? The people and children around us?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Building Background and Vocabulary

I feel a certain sense of obligation when someone makes a suggestion and it works to pass it on. So get ready, because here's the pass. . .

Most elementary students lack the background knowledge and vocabulary to fully understand what they are reading, even fiction. (This is not surprising to anyone who works with kids.) My literacy coach watched a lesson in my class of a first read where it was so obvious kids didn't get it all. She suggested bringing nonfiction books on those topics.

This is how it worked the first time out--we were reading Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say. I went to the library the weekend before and got books on topics like: California, Japan, Japanese Immigration, Japanese Internment Camps, World War 2, and Song birds. I listed those on the board and asked students to think about how these would relate to our story as they listened. After the first reading by me, I passed out one book to each 2 or 3 students. I gave them about 10 minutes to scan and discuss how it related to the story. Each group reported out in just 1 sentence.

Then the books were in a basket in our class library, and one center was looking through the books and finding 2 interesting facts to display on post-it notes. I was very pleased by the results in background, vocabulary, and research. I plan to use this strategy frequently. Any suggestions? How do you build background knowledge?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Inspiration vs. Procrastination

After a sunny and warm weekend I arrived at school this morning more prepared for a Monday than usual. So what was I to do with my time? Well, it wasn't going to be all the stuff I've been avoiding!

I've observed something interesting about myself: I let all kinds of little ideas, tasks, and inspirations crowd my time so I don't have to do things I don't particularly enjoy--grading, locating extra practice, etc. There are even tasks that I enjoy, but they take a lot of energy (i.e. writing friendly letters to my students or planning for my parent class on reading) so I avoid them.

Am I alone in this? I doubt it! How do you balance the inspirational parts of life with the tasks you would rather procrastinate?

Friday, October 8, 2010

No Time For Book Recommendations

Sometimes I pressure myself about a book to recommend--Friday's coming, think of a book. Not this week! After almost a week of wet rainy weather the sun was shining and the skies were blue.

I left school today with a lighter load than usual for a Friday, and I headed to the woods with my little family. It was delicious and luxurious. We strolled. We ran into a friend who took our picture. We saw dogs and scampering squirrels and ducks and airplanes painting white lines on the blue skiy.

Sam wanted to touch every tree and most stones. And he watches everything, observing, soaking it in. It's hard to imagine that I was once like that, but it feels a little closer when I'm with him. And the pressure melts away. At least for a few moments.

Stay tuned as there will be some young book recommenders sharing their thoughts on books in the weeks to come.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Respectful Teaching

I'm feeling internal conflict about myself as a teacher. I want to do cool involved hands on learner centered projects and activities, but I need to have some resources left over at the end of the day for myself and my family and the world outside of school.

That struggle has really got me thinking about what does respectful teaching look like. I think it's balanced--not all quiet or all noisy. I think it considers the needs of the teacher as well as the needs of the learners. (This is a new one for me!) I think it accepts imperfection from both parties. I think respectful teaching is always striving for better, not perfect. I think respectful teaching steps back and lets the learner make mistakes, question, and accept responsibility for wise and unwise choices. I think respectful teaching has a positive twist, but spends time in the shadows, too.

The bottom line is that respectful teaching is a complicated and lonely path. It's hard. It's living in the gray, when everything in the profession is supposed to be quantifiable. I think there is always going to be a tug of war, but I want to learn how to embrace the struggle, instead of being afraid I might lose the war.

These are some ways I'm embracing respectful teaching this week:

1. Writing a letter back to every student in correct letter format to which they will respond.
2. Giving myself permission to not meet with reading groups this week.
3. Talking to every child about their choices around behavior, talking, and self control.
4. Accepting the imperfection of running 6 experiment stations in science.
5. Beginning to plan for student led conferences in 4 weeks.
6. Digging myself out from under the filing, forms, graded and ungraded papers.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Play * Practice * Learn

I'm inspired by Fall! Today is the first day of the new Fall Dream Lab! I'm absolutely inspired by this, and it's not too late for you to sign up for a good personal boost! It's all about courage and gratitude and tribe.

I always see the words play, practice, and learn on their web page.

It got me to thinking and inspired me to focus this week on practicing. I'm practicing compassion for myself and exploring what that might mean when I'm behind on doing my job.

I also want to talk to my students and focus our week around practicing. Instead of being frustrated when they are disrespectful, we will practice respect. Instead of wondering why they don't turn in their work, we will practice turning in everything on time. I think that little shift is going to one of those small things that makes a big difference! Stay tuned for updates.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Board Books Are Not Boring

I live with a 20 month old, and like any parent my reading habits have changed. I'm the kind of reader who slowly savors a book. I can't remember the last time I've savored a full grown up novel, but I've read more board books than any one person should read. (Board books are those books made for little kids with really thick pages.)

I've seen more that I've loved than I've ever imagined. I've even seen some books that really are great for older kids. Today I'd like to recommend one of those that is hanging out in my house right now.

It's Catch Picasso's Rooster by By Julie Appel and Amy Guglielmo It's one of a series of books that have famous pieces of art and then some tactile object. The rooster has a red feather over his comb. The back pages have descriptions of the art and artists.

Online I've even seen lesson plans for using this book and then giving kids prints of art to add items to make it their own.

I think it's a fun way to bring fine art home. There is a warning that little kids could pull off the pieces and choke. All I can say is that Sam loves this book, and he wants to share the fun with anyone who comes to our house.