Ironing–I’ve been doing it wrong

Today’s Slice of Life post is about a chore I do not do very often, ironing.  When getting dressed in the morning, if something is wrinkled I do one of three things: pick something else to wear, put it in the laundry basket (even though it might be clean), or iron it.  Usually I pick one of the first two options but one morning a few weeks ago I had to go with option three because I was running low on pants options.  I love corduroy pants, especially the jean-style kind.  It’s like wearing jeans to school on any day and getting away with it! When I pulled the gray corduroy pants from my closet, instead of ready to wear pants I found a wrinkled mess!  So wrinkled were these pants that I don’t think the 15 minute dryer steam option would have made any difference (that is sometimes a forgotten option 4 from the earlier list).  I knew the only why I would be walking out of the house with these pants as my fashion choice was the get out the board, fill the iron with water, and try to iron them.  I say “try” because in the past I didn’t seem to be very successful in ironing corduroy pants department.  I’d slap the pants onto the ironing board, set the iron on high (with high steam), and start to spray, steam, and iron away. Sure, most of the wrinkles would be removed but the wale would look funny.  All of a sudden, the thought came “Why not iron the pants inside-out?”  Could that be the answer to my corduroy ironing dilemma? Would simply turning my pants inside-out make ironing easier, give me the wrinkle-free corduroy pants I want while keeping the wale looking crisp and fresh?  People, it was an ironing epiphany! 20 years of being an adult and I just figured out how to easily iron corduroy pants.  Maybe the saying shouldn’t be “you can’t teach old dogs new tricks”.  Maybe, instead the saying should be “old dogs learn new tricks to make life easier”?

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Slice of Life Tuesday-Thinking about 3s

Yesterday I was thinking about threes.  There’s the old thought that events, usually bad things, happen in threes.  Like when celebrities die, it seems to happen in threes (last Christmas we had George Michael, Carrie Fisher, and Debbie Reynolds). Also, many fairy tales and folk tales have three as a main feature: the three little pigs, the three bears, three billy goats, the three musketeers, the three fairies in Sleeping Beauty.   Here’s what I’m calling my three for this week (I’m really hoping!).

Number 1. Last weekend a household idea of convenience, the dryer, started flashing an error message with a “call for service” message.  Never a good sign, but because laundry needed to be done (oldest didn’t have any clean pants) I tried the “turn it off and on again” IT Crowd method.  We were able to get a few more loads clean before the message reappeared.  Now we’re waiting for the repair company to come.  It truly is a convenience to have a washer and dryer just steps away from the family room.  It’s a huge difference from having to go down three flights of stairs when we lived in the apartment the first years we were married and for many it would be a welcomed change from having to walk blocks to the nearest laundry mat.

Number 2. There’s nothing more unnerving than a noise that shouldn’t be there.  What’s more unnerving is when it is a noise that should only happen when turning something on or off.  That’s what happen last week, late one night, when I was coming home from working at the local coffee shop.  I was getting ready to stop at an intersection when I heard it.  My sunroof slid open, just a bit, and then slid shut.  That has never happened before and it didn’t happen again the rest of the ride home.  When I pulled into my driveway I turned the knob to open my sunroof. It worked.  I quickly turned the knob to close it. Hasn’t happened since.

Number 3.  We take for granted the little convenience we have in modern society.  We are able to communicate with anyone at just about anytime and in just about any place with the use of our smartphones.  We have cars with built in GPS to help us get from one place to some place new.  Heck, we don’t even have to put a key in the ignition anymore in some cars!  Just push a button and off you go! But even smaller, to gain entry into our cars we do not have to find the lock, put our key in, and turn (which is a plus the morning after an ice storm).  Just like starting the car, you push a button and the doors unlock, they lock, and a push of a button can even lift the gate of your trunk.  We’re so use to that function that when it doesn’t work we’re almost paralyzed.  At the end of the day yesterday, I was walking out to my car, pressing the unlock button on my key fab.  Usually when the car unlocks the headlights flash.  Nothing was happening!  I kept pressing and still nothing.  I tried locking the car.  It made the “honk” noise indicating that I had successfully locked the car but when I tried, again, to unlock it–nothing.  Try the hatchback, I thought.  I pressed the trunk button.  Success again, but still the car would not unlock.  One of the second grade teachers and her daughter walked by on their way to their car asking if I need anything.  We decide to have the daughter (a 5th grader) climb through the trunk and into the car (not an easy task with two carseats).  She makes her way to the front seat.  We have her try to press the unlock button on the car door.  Nothing!  I know as soon as she opens the door the alarm will sound (past experience) but I have her do it anyway.  We do manage to silence the alarm.  I even try to unlock the door using the real key located in the fob.  I unlock, open the door, and ALARM! Thankfully I live very close to school.  I had my husband bring his key fob.  Miraculously, his worked and I finally arrive home.  I did learn, once home, that you can silence the alarm by starting the car.  Here’s hoping all will work at 7:00 when I get ready to go to school (and today it’s raining–really don’t want to be stuck messing around with it AND getting wet!).

When you think of events happening in threes, once you’re able to identify the three does that mean you’ll be free from mishaps for a while?  I sure hope so.

Slice of Life Tuesday

Parenting, like teaching, is about being flexible.  If we are too rigid and stick to the plan, we miss out on some teachable moments and we miss out on enjoying what is around us.  This past week my family had gone to DC to visit family for Thanksgiving. It was the first time my two children had gone to DC to see their aunt and uncle’s home.  The kids were really excited too (mostly because they would get to stay in a hotel for three nights).  Thanksgiving Day was wonderful and included some of the usual traditions like turkey, pumpkin pie, time with family, and my favorite, the musical previews before the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade!

After dinner, the adults planned to meet up the next afternoon at the Air and Space Museum.  We’re a family that likes a plan.  It has been about 10 years since the last time I visited that museum and I was looking forward to seeing how my two would react when they saw the airplanes suspended from the ceiling.  Unfortunately, at about 10:00 am my husband got sick.  Driving downtown, finding a parking spot, walking, and then enjoying the museum was not something I thought he would like to do in his current condition.  So, we let him sleep.  Suddenly, our nicely planned afternoon and evening just got turned on its head!  We had to get flexible and change things up for the day.  Were my two sad/upset that they missed seeing the airplanes and other exhibits, yes.  I will add, they understood why we had to change our plans and got to learn the life lesson that sometimes plans have to change.  Because our plans had to change, we got to spend some extra time with their Grandma as she and I took the kids to a nearby park to play.  Because our plans had to change, my oldest got to spend some extra time with his Grandpa while they used Grandpa’s phone to take pictures of all the letters of the alphabet they could find around the hotel.  Because our plans had to change, the three of us enjoyed a great dinner that just happened to be across the way from an IKEA.  So, because our plans had to change, the three of us enjoyed doing some IKEA shopping (okay, I guess it was really just me who enjoyed the shopping).

Being flexible and having to change plans, in life or in the classroom, shouldn’t mean that what takes the place of the planned activity doesn’t have to be fun.  Being flexible allows you to be more resourceful, more creative and in the end being flexible shows those around you the true meaning of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”.

The After Thanksgiving Diet

Before we begin, let me put some fears to rest.  This is not a health and fitness post.  I will not be sharing the latest 10 ways to lose 10 pounds before Christmas.  Sadly, in our society diet has become synonymous with ways to lose weight.  In its simplest form, diet means the food and drink we consume.  This post will not be about the food and drink I will be eating after Thanksgiving.  Instead, I want to talk about my holiday reading diet.  It can be easy to get busy during the holiday season.  There’s this feeling that you need to rush here, rush there, buy this, buy that, and then there’s all the cooking, baking, and gift wrapping. It can leave some people feeling like there isn’t much time for anything else.

This year I want to try something new.  Actually, it’s a combination of things I’ve been thinking of and something I saw on Pinterest.

 

24 gift wrapped books under the tree

Image from Pinterest

Now that I’m not a regular classroom teacher, and I don’t even have a regular sized room, most of my picture books now live at home.  I love Christmas books (and have quite a collection).  I consider them a genre onto themselves.  I have your classics like Mr. Willowby’s Christmas Tree, The Grinch, and Polar Express. I did enjoy sharing those with my students, but there were others that I enjoyed just as much (if not more).  The first is The Jolly Christmas Postman.

The Jolly Christmas Postman

Image from Amazon

The original Jolly Postman and Other People’s Stories was a favorite growing up.  My sister and I love all the other little letters and goodies that were part of the overall story and how readers had to think about the fairy tales and nursery rhymes the learned as young children. The Christmas version is no different.  Many of your favorite fairy tale and nursery rhyme characters are back for the Christmas season.  The Jolly Postman delivers cards and gifts to all of them.  Along the way we find out that Goldilocks has a new sibling, and so does Bear. At the end of the story it is snowing really hard, the Jolly Postman has had a little too much Christmas cheer (wink, wink) making it hard to ride his bike.  On his way home he stumbles upon Santa’s workshop, and gets a sleigh ride home.  It’s just a nice story about giving and sharing at Christmas.

One of the themes of Christmas I tried to have my 5-7-year-old students understand was the idea that there is more to Christmas than just getting the newest toy or most of the toys on your list. One book that illustrated this theme was Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant.

Silver Packages

Image from Amazon

I love how the main character in this book never really gets what he wants for Christmas but always gets what he needs.  I think that is an important lesson for today’s youth who many are so used to getting what they want they never stop to think about what they need.  This is a great picture book for older students but don’t be afraid to use it with younger.  It usually took me two days to read and discuss this book when I taught kindergarten.

Along the same lines of getting what you need instead of what you want is the idea of over giving and going over the top.  I know I’ve been guilty of buying too for Christmas. Sadly, I don’t even know if the recipients even remember many of those gifts.  Clark Griswold in Nation Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation was also guilty of being over the top at Christmas and in the process missed out on spending time with his family.   Mr. Merriweather is the same and is the main character in David Shannon’s The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza.  Yes, the same David Shannon of the David books, Duck on a Bike, and Alice the Fairy.

The Amazing Christmas Extravaganza

Image from Amazon

Hands down I would have to say that this is my all time favorite Christmas picture book.  Similar to Silver Packages, the message is that stuff isn’t the most important part of Christmas.  One of the themes in this book is the idea that bigger isn’t better as Mr. Merriweather’s displays get crazy and cause others in the community to adjust their Christmas traditions (too many cars and horns honking for Christmas caroling, the display pulls too much energy that ovens can’t get hot enough to bake).   When Mr. Merriweather’s family start to not enjoy his hard work you would think he would stop, but he doesn’t.  In the end Mr. Merriweather learns the lesson that Christmas is more than decorations.  Also, the ending leaves it open for how Mr. Merriweather might go overboard on an upcoming spring holiday.  That would be a great writing extension.

These books will be part of my after Thanksgiving reading diet, either in school with a third grade classroom a teacher lets me read in or with my own children at home.  While I will include the usual Santa books I really want to make sure that my reading diet (and my children’s listening diet) if full of stories that focus on others and are about the true meaning of Christmas.  The story I hope to consume as part of my after Thanksgiving reading diet is Refugee by Alan Gratz.

Refugee

Image from Amazon

It is three refugee stories, at three different times in history, all in one story.

I better get wrapping if I’m going to have all 24 books wrapped by Friday!

What do you hope to put on your after Thanksgiving reading diet?

Christmas Movie Characters and the 2016 Election

When I used to walk/run I loved how during my second mile my head would clear and I would enjoy the time alone with my thoughts.  Those miles are on hold so now I enjoy those early morning thoughts that come as I get ready for my day.  Today was one of those mornings.

This past weekend my small town kicked off the holiday season with their “It’s a Wonderful Life” parade.  This year, the parade grand marshals dressed up as characters from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.  I have fond memories going to see the movie when it first came out as it was one of the rare times my parents took the family to see a movie at the theater.  I appreciate the movie on a different level now as my husband and I are about the same age as Ellen Griswold in the movie and experience some of the adult struggles and frustrations Clark and Ellen had in the movie (balancing time with family, making sure our children are not forgotten during this busy time…). One of the most enduring, and memorable, characters in the movie is Cousin Eddie (played by Randy Quaid).

Eddie

image from Google

So this morning, out of the blue, I was thinking about Cousin Eddie.  Next came this idea: if 1989 Cousin Eddie came to 2016 to participate in the 2016 Presidential Election who would he had voted for? Trump.  I think he would have voted for Trump.  How do I know?  To support this assumption I’m going to use evidence from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation,  National Lampoon’s Vacation, and Vegas Vacation (and I’m going to use broad generalizations of both major political parties.  Please enjoy this as a thought exercise as it is meant to be entertaining).  First, Cousin Eddie is paranoid of the government but wants the government to help him (his VA benefits).  He is former military and though I’m sure there are many vets who vote Democrat I know far more who vote Republican. He kidnaps Clark’s boss and presents him as a present for Clark (after Clark’s boss did not give the usual Christmas bonus).  What an irrational reaction (and illegal)! My favorite evidence that supports my thought that Cousin Eddie would vote for Trump comes from this clip from Christmas Vacation (the same scene the above photo is taken).

In this clip it is clear that Eddie has little care for the environment as he emptied his waste into a storm drain.  For those of you who do not know, here’s how a storm drain works.  Rain that does not soak into the ground and goes flowing down the street into a storm drain drains directly into the nearest body of water. So that waste Eddie is putting into the drain will not be treated but will end up in the nearby pond or creek.  In a way it is a similar attitude #45 has toward the environment–little regard for the long-term effects of his daily decisions or Executive Orders (such as hunting certain animals).

Once I finished thinking about what oval Cousin Eddie would have filled in to choose who would fill the Oval Office, I got thinking about other popular Christmas movie and Christmas literature characters and how they might have voted in last year’s election.  Here are some I thought of (please add your thoughts in the comments section).

It's a Wonderful Life from imdb (Image from imdb) George Bailey (It’s a Wonderful Life)–Hilary.  He wants to help his neighbors.

Polar Express Conductor (image from imdb) The Conductor (Polar Express)–Hilary.  He looks out for the downtrodden.

Home Alone (image from imdb) Kevin’s Uncle (Home Alone)–Trump.  Very concerned with the cost of things and making sure he only pays what he owes.

Die Hard(image from imdb) John McClane (Die Hard)–Trump.  Don’t think about taking away his guns.

The Grinch (image from imdb) The Grinch and Ebenezer Scrooge are interesting characters as they both change greatly from the beginning to the end of their story.  If we’re looking at them at the beginning of their story I would have to say they would be voting for Trump.  They have very little concern for those less fortunate and want what is due to them.  Through the experiences of their stories both have a change of heart (for The Grinch it is quite literally a change in heart as his heart grows) and have a great appreciation for their fellow man and Who–making them Hilary voters at the end.

Santa (image from imdb) It is hard to forget one of the biggest characters of Christmas, Santa.  Actually, I’m pretty sure I saw Santa’s sleigh sporting an Obama 2012 sticker back in 2010.  He gives to all.  I know it is said that he has the naughty and nice list but I’m pretty sure, at 11:59 on December 24, most people have worked their way to the nice list and will find something under the tree (or in their stocking).  Even his tag line, “Merry Christmas to all!” is a wish for all of humanity, not just the good, the worthy, the wealthy, or the ones who feel they’re entitled, but everyone gets a gift (at least in most of the Santa picture books I read to my students).  I’m sure Santa felt “The Burn” the spring and summer of 2016, and when November rolled around voted for Hilary.

I have enjoyed this little thought exercise and I hope you have too.  I also hope this got your gears turning to think about other characters and how they might have voted in the 2016 election.  Actually, if I was teaching Jr. High or Sr. High English I think this would be a great week before Christmas assignment.  Maybe I’ll play this game at the Thanksgiving dinner table later this week…wonder how that will go…

ELA in Primary

I’m pretty sure, if you were to survey the general public about which they think is the most important part of academic instruction in the primary classroom, you would have half the people say Math and the other say Reading.  Truth be told, I really enjoyed teaching both subjects when I was a classroom teacher (funny, I enjoyed teaching reading more when I taught first and I loved teaching Everyday Math when I taught kindergarten).

Currently I have been thinking about phonics instruction and teacher knowledge related to letter sound correspondence.  This old saying, you don’t know what you don’t know until you know, is a great way to sum up what some teacher know about phonics.  They don’t know what they don’t know.  Moats in her article “Still Wanted: Teachers with Language Knowledge” writes about how teachers with less know are over confident in their knowledge–they really don’t know what they don’t know.

I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know!  My undergraduate program did not prepare me to teach reading, especially phonics.  That’s surprising as you think when you go to college it is to help you learn to teach.  It wasn’t until I started teaching first grade reading and phonics when I realized my undergrad classes didn’t prepare me to teach phonics.  At least, the classes didn’t give me enough knowledge about the English spelling system so I would be able to teach it to others.  To help overcome this lack of knowledge, I sought out professional development in the area of phonics, emergent reading, and word study.

While working on my dissertation I came across the Moats article mentioned above.  The concept that many elementary teachers lack knowledge regarding the English spelling system was alarming but also got me thinking about how I could help.  A PLC, Professional Learning Community, seemed to be the answer.  I’m excited to announce that this school year myself and almost 12 other primary teachers will be expanding our knowledge of teaching phonics.  We had our first session this past week.  It was interesting to hear others say that they don’t remember much of phonics instruction when they were in school or in undergrad.  As the year continues, I’ll try to share some of the topics we discuss and links to any online sources I use.  If you have time, I strongly recommend reading “Still wanted: Teachers with knowledge of language” by Moats.

I’m the Reason, Part II

Recap from Part I-my district has purchased two new reading interventions (LLI and Wilson Fundations), in elementary school I was an awful speller and had a difficult time decoding multisyllabic words, making me the reason why my classmates didn’t get popcorn on Friday or extra recess because I rarely (like never) got a 100% on my Wednesday pretest or Friday final test.

Now onto Part II

So you might be wondering how all the above is related to the title…

Like stated earlier, I had a real spelling problem in elementary.  I also was placed in Title reading every-other-year from 2-5 grade.  Why was I placed in Title reading?  Because placement in Title in that district was based on the CAT (California Achievement Test) results.  I guess you could also say I wasn’t really great at standardized test.  I loved to read, I read a lot and lived in a home filled with books.  There was just something about the CAT that had me doubting and second guessing myself on all the reading comprehension questions.   Because the district I lived in only gave the CAT every-other-year, I was placed in Title every-other-year.

When the Title teacher would pull us to go work in her little room, the work we did was on reading comprehension, as much as I can remember.  We would read aloud a text, mostly in round robin style, and then answer questions orally and in a workbook.  At the end of the school year the Title teacher would recommend that I not receive Title the following year because I could discuss the text we read and I could answer the questions.  My reading problem wasn’t comprehension based but because the district I grew-up in only had a comprehension based intervention that’s what I received.

Fast forward 30 years and now I’m the Reading Specialist deciding what intervention to use on which kids.  I know some of the classroom teachers in my building are very excited about the new interventions we have and some of stated they would like all the students we pull from them to receive a certain intervention.  I think it is great that the teachers in my building are knowledgable enough to know the difference in the interventions and to want their students to receive the same experience.  But, then I think about my time with the reading teacher and how she only used one intervention.  That intervention didn’t work for me.  She, and I, would have been better off if she went back, checked to make sure I had mastered all levels of phonemic awareness and then had a systematic way of teaching me phonics.  That would have been more helpful.

Soon I will have to have the conversation with teachers who only want a certain intervention.  I know exactly how I’m going to start that conversation.  “I think it’s great that you want your students to experience this great program but I want to share something with you.  I’m the reason that’s not a good idea.  I’m the reason we’re going to look at what the students are missing that is keeping them from becoming fluent readers.   Not all students need a comprehension based intervention.  Maybe they’re missing an understanding of the alphabetic principle and need more systematic phonics.”  I will continue to say that I’m the reason we’re doing this because I don’t want one of those students, thirty years from now, writing a blog post similar to this one.