On a cold January night

Tonight I am thankful.  I am thankful for the warm clothing I am wearing.  The layers of wool and cotton I was able to afford.  I am thankful for the warm coat I wore on my way to where I’m writing tonight.  It is long enough to cover the parts that need to be covered and filled with one of nature’s best insulators, down.  I am thankful for the car I that brought me to where I am writing tonight.  It has all of its windows, a heater that works, and as an added bonus–heated seats.  I am thankful  for the warm house I will be able to go home to in a few hours after I have finished my work.  It has more than enough space for our family and provides protection on cold days like today.

I am thankful for the warming stations communities have opened up for those who do not have a warm place today.  I am thankful for modern weather predicting.  While it seems like the predictions that are made vary from the weather that actually appears, it at least gives people a chance to prepare.

For those of you who are feeling the effects of the bitter cold and winter storms now blanketing most of the Eastern part of the United States, stay warm and check on your neighbors.


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”.

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).


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…

Back at it?

This, starting to write on the blog again, is like getting back to an exercise plan, you just have to start again!  I haven’t done much writing since this late winter/early spring when I was trying to finish my dissertation.  I wrote the last two chapters of my dissertation in about 2.5 months while it took me over 3 YEARS to write the first three chapters!  Now that my fingers have rested up, similar to a marathon runner’s legs resting up after a race, they’re ready to get back to writing.  Also similar to getting back into an exercise routine, this post is going to be short as I build my stamina for writing.  I don’t want to strain or sprain a muscle (finger or brain).  It is my hope to return soon and share some of my thoughts on what I am reading right now.

What not to write

I came across a blog post on Two Writing Teachers (if you haven’t read this blog, you need to).  The post was a collection of tweets related to writing.  They’re great.  You really should take some time and read them.  I’m looking forward to next month’s installment.

There were a few that catch my eye. I might write about those another time but tonight I wanted to write some of my reactions to

(these really are reactions and not at all focused–I did not do an outline, Mom)  How much time do people really spend on writing things that shouldn’t be put down somewhere?  I think it depends on the purpose of the writing.  I think about the many blog posts I’ve written but never published.  Would those things be considered pieces of writing that should not have been written?  I don’t think so.  Just because I didn’t publish them doesn’t mean they didn’t fulfill their purpose–mind dumping.

After thinking about myself and the personal writing I’m doing, I start thinking about the writing that teachers are asking students to do (and I think about the writing I did as a student).  Do the teachers know what is important to write and ask their students to do that writing?  Are some teachers not sure what is important for their students to write?  I think the answer would be yes to both questions.

There is lots of excellent writing taking place in classrooms all over but then, right down the hall, there are classrooms where the students are writing what some would call things that they really don’t need to write.

I’m a big fan of Lucy Calkins and have kind of used her Units of Study in my classroom since the books came out. I say “kind of” because I really believe the lessons she has outlined in those books are really a suggestion for teachers to get started and not to be considered a scripted program.  Reggie Routman is another author I’ve use as a base for my writing workshop.  One of these wonderful women talked about when modeling stories to students, the stories need to something that the students might actually do, or have done.  I shouldn’t write about my trip to London because many of my students will never leave the country.  Instead, I should write about something that they might do–like have a HUGE black snake cross the road.  I’m asking them to write true stories that have happened to them so they are able to think about a beginning, middle, and end to their stories. I’m not asking them to rely on an imagination that is ever changing, which means there’s a greater possibility for an ever changing beginning, middle, and end.

How does this connect to the tweet?  I think we teachers ask students do write about things that are beyond their comprehension and therefore the final product is not going to what we want.  Yes there’s a place for creative writing, but students need to write memoir, reactions to the texts they are reading, options, and other informational texts.  The students have the background knowledge to write something really well instead of just relying on their imagination to write something that is just ok.

One last ramble on this tweet and then I’ll be done.  I know I was just talking about the product of writing and that is not were the focus should be in a writing classroom.  I think this tweet would be great to include on a class graffiti wall when students are revising their writing.  It is hard for any writer to think that part of their great work needs to be removed because it hurts the piece as a whole, instead of helping.  The writing is like a piece of them and removing some text is like removing an arm, leg, finger, lips…

Now it is time for me to practice what I preached and go back and revise this piece (or at least edit it).  I hope this tweet makes you think and reflect about the writing you’re doing in your classroom.  I hope it helps others think about what writing doesn’t need to happen so there’s room for the writing that needs to happen.

Two days in a row

It has been a while since I’ve written here and even longer since I’ve written two posts in two days.  I was just thinking through my day trying to come up with something to write about this evening.  There are many things I could write about such as why do kids keep asking adults the same question after they’ve been given an answer they don’t like?  It is the early version of seeking a second medical option?  Another thought was what lessons are our children learning when we have to have a school holiday party 2-days before the actual party because we share a PTA with another school and they’re doing their party on Friday?  I think I’ll write about those things later because tonight I’m going to write about writing.

One of my favorite subjects to teach is writing.  I don’t know if I do a great job at it but I do think my students’ writing improves greatly from the beginning of the year to the end of the year.  Okay, so a little reality check.  My students are in kindergarten.  Many of them start the year barely able to write their name and all the letters of the alphabet.  It would be hoped, and expected, that my students would be able to write more than just their name and the letters.  I am a bit of a black sheep in my grade-level when it comes to writing instruction and I blame myself for that.  Most of my other colleagues have students do fill in the sentence type of writing, or some prompt based writing lesson.  That is a system that works for them and they are happy with the results they are getting.  That is fine with me.  I, on the other hand, teach writing in a workshop style, similar to Calkins and Routman recommend.  So I have genre themes that last for about a month.  In that month I teach about the genre and the students write in that genre.  Currently we are working on song writing.  Actually it is more accurate to call it song parody writing.  We listen to a song, many times, on YouTube (I would share the song but I am currently trying to get an article about this writing published. I’ll add the link once my article has been picked up).  Once the students have a good grasp of the music structure of the song, we start having a little fun with the words.  Using music that students already know also helps free up their brain to focus on some skills, such as leaving space between words and -ing endings.  As a class they have been working on their own parodies for about 2 weeks and it amazes me the number of students who are not picking up on the pattern of the song–or are not interested in going back and checking their work.  This development is shocking to the reading specialist and I today.  We spent a good week working up to having the students write their own songs by working on leaving space between words and -ing ending.  These are the two things that are being left out of the samples we saw.  So here’s kind of a question to the larger (although not terribly huge) audience of this blog about how to help students slow down and understand the importance of going back and looking over your writing before publishing?

Now it is my turn to look over what I’ve written (I did a very poor job) before I press publish–I’m starting to type words with closed eyes.

Task Avoidance

Is something I’m good at.  I know how to completely avoid a task.  I think I was recruited by the pros while I was still in elementary school.  While “cleaning my room” I would find old papers to read, notes and pictures to look at, clothes to try on…anything but clean and put away objects in my room.  Now, fast forward 20 years and I’m doing it again.  Here I am in the library with the knowledge that I need to really get to work on a paper but instead of actually buckling down and getting to work I have found other things to do instead.  I have checked the different blogs I like to read, I checked people.com (one of my favorite task avoidance sites to visit–I love the pictures), looked at the different comics available on Yahoo! News, checked all of my email, I haven’t called my mom or sister but that’s a usual, and now I am writing a new blog post.  While working on this task avoidance activity I got thinking: if I didn’t have the internet what would I do for my task avoidance activities?  Would I have a cleaner house, would I have all my lesson plans done from now to after the winter break, would I find a new way to cook kale…I don’t know!  Right now I KNOW I need to get this paper done and it’s not that I do not enjoy the topic I choose or the books I read (this one and this one), it’s just the starting.

So how does this feeling and knowledge get transfered into the classroom (at any level)?  As a teacher I know the task avoidance behaviors of many of my students (one of the favorites in the past years has been the bathroom) and have a pretty keen sense of when they need to go and when they need a break.  When do I allow this?  Does the observed task avoidance behaviors in many students mean the assignment is too hard, not hard enough, not interesting enough?  Did I explain what the assignment throughly?  Did I really give them guided practice?  Or is today just a day they don’t want to write?  Those questions are hard to answer, and while I freely ask those questions I understand that I do not have the answers to my questions.  Instead I want to remember that I avoided tasks when I was young and I continue to avoid but now the important change is after a good bit of avoiding, I do get to work.  So now, if reading this blog post was part of you avoiding a task I’m going to gently and loving tell you to STOP READING AND GET TO WORK!

Time to take my own advice!