May 23

School’s Out for the Summer!

Isn’t the last day of school always a little bit bittersweet?  Isn’t it exciting?  Even though I don’t have long stretches of fun planned like when I was a kid, I still look forward to the ‘lazy days of summer.’  Don’t you?

Happy summer break!

May 21

High School Summer Reading List

Yesterday I introduced my Middle School Summer Reading List.  Here are some suggestions for those who don’t already have a High School Summer Reading List:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford – Henry Lee comes upon a crowd gathered outside the Panama Hotel, once the gateway to Seattle’s Japantown. It has been boarded up for decades, but now the new owner has made an incredible discovery: the belongings of Japanese families, left when they were rounded up and sent to internment camps during World War II. As Henry looks on, the owner opens a Japanese parasol.  This simple act takes old Henry Lee back to the 1940s, at the height of the war, when young Henry’s world is a jumble of confusion and excitement.  Set during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history, this is an extraordinary story of commitment and enduring hope.

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien – A book that transcends the genre of war fiction.  Vietnam is still O’Brien’s theme in this book that is neither memoir nor novel nor collection of short stories but rather an artful combination of all three. It is a classic work of American literature that has not stopped changing minds and lives since it burst onto the literary scene, this book is a ground-breaking meditation on war, memory, imagination, and the redemptive power of storytelling.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.  Juliet, a writer, begins a correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the German occupation had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.  Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake – In 1940, Iris James is the postmistress in coastal Franklin, Massachusetts. Iris knows more about the townspeople than she will ever say, and believes her job is to deliver secrets. Yet one day she does the unthinkable: slips a letter into her pocket, reads it, and doesn’t deliver it.   This is a tale of two worlds-one shattered by violence, the other willfully naïve-and of two women whose job is to deliver the news, yet who find themselves unable to do so. Through their eyes, and the eyes of everyday people caught in history’s tide, it examines how stories are told, and how the fact of war is borne even through everyday life.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker – his classmate and crush – who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why. Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and learns the truth about himself-a truth he never wanted to face.

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Album – Someone older, patient and wise, who understood you when you were young and searching, helped you see the world as a more profound place, gave you sound advice to help you make your way through it.  For Mitch Albom, that person was Morrie Schwartz, his college professor from nearly twenty years ago.  Maybe, like Mitch, you lost track of this mentor as you made your way, and the insights faded, and the world seemed colder. Wouldn’t you like to see that person again, ask the bigger questions that still haunt you, receive wisdom for your busy life today the way you once did when you were younger? Mitch Albom had that second chance.

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens – Against the backdrop of the French Revolution, Dickens unfolds a masterpiece of drama, adventure, and courage featuring Charles Darnay, a man falsely accused of treason. He bears an uncanny resemblance to the dissolute, yet noble Sydney Carton — a coincidence that saves Darnay from certain doom more than once. Brilliantly plotted, the novel culminates in a daring prison escape in the shadow of the guillotine.

The Count of Monte Cristo  by Alexandre Dumas – A dashing young hero, Edmond  Dantès, is betrayed by his enemies and thrown  into a secret dungeon in the Chateau d’If — doomed  to spend his life in a dank prison cell. The story  of his long, intolerable years in captivity, his  miraculous escape, and his carefully wrought  revenge creates a dramatic tale of mystery and intrigue  and paints a vision of France — a dazzling,  dueling, exuberant France — that has become immortal.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green – This is the story of two 16-year-olds who meet at a cancer support group.  Hazel is fascinated with a novel called An Imperial Affliction and longs to know what happened to its  characters after an ambiguous ending. To find out, Augustus makes it possible for them to travel to where Imperial’s author  lives. What happens when they meet him must be left to readers to discover. Suffice it to say, it is significant.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt – There’s only one person who has ever truly understood fourteen-year-old June Elbus, and that’s her uncle, the renowned painter Finn Weiss. Shy at school and distant from her older sister, June can only be herself in Finn’s company; he is her godfather, confidant, and best friend. So when he dies, far too young, of a mysterious illness her mother can barely speak about, June’s world is turned upside down. But Finn’s death brings a surprise acquaintance into June’s life—someone who will help her to heal, and to question what she thinks she knows about Finn, her family, and even her own heart.

Fin and Lady by Cathleen Schine – Eleven-year-old Fin and his glamorous, worldly, older half sister, Lady, have just been orphaned, and Lady, whom Fin hasn’t seen in six years, is now his legal guardian and his only hope. That means Fin is uprooted from a small dairy farm in rural Connecticut, landing in Greenwich Village in the middle of the Swinging Sixties. He soon learns that Lady—giddy, impulsive, and pursued by an ardent and dogged set of suitors—is as much his responsibility as he is hers.

Heft by Liz Moore – Arthur Opp weighs 550 pounds and hasn’t left his rambling Brooklyn home in a decade. Twenty miles away, in Yonkers, seventeen-year-old Kel Keller navigates life as the poor kid in a rich school and pins his hopes on what seems like a promising baseball career—if he can untangle himself from his difficult family life. The link between this unlikely pair is Kel’s mother, Charlene, a former student of Arthur’s. After nearly two decades of silence, it is Charlene’s unexpected phone call to Arthur—a plea for help—that shatters their isolation.

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd – Inspired by the true story of early-nineteenth-century abolitionist and suffragist Sarah Grimké, this is a moving portrait of two women linked by the horrors of slavery. Sarah, daughter of a wealthy South Carolina plantation owner, exhibits an independent spirit and strong belief in the equality of all. Thwarted from her dreams of becoming a lawyer, she struggles throughout life to find an outlet for her convictions. Handful, a slave in the Grimké household, displays a sharp intellect and brave, rebellious disposition. Told in first person, the chapters alternate between the two main characters’ perspectives, as we follow their unlikely friendship from childhood to middle age. Both women strive to be set free—Sarah from the bonds of patriarchy and Southern bigotry, and Handful from the inhuman bonds of slavery.

The Crystal Cave by Mary Stewart – Born the illegitimate son of a Welsh princess, Myridden Emrys — or as he would later be known, Merlin — leads a perilous childhood, haunted by portents and visions. But destiny has great plans for this no-man’s-son, taking him from prophesying before the High King Vortigern to the crowning of Uther Pendragon . . . and the conception of Arthur — king for once and always.

An Hour Before Daylight by Jimmy Carter – Carter re-creates his Depression-era boyhood on a Georgia farm before the civil rights movement forever changed it and the country. He writes about the powerful rhythms of countryside and community in a sharecropping economy, offering an unforgettable portrait of his father, a brilliant farmer and a strict segregationist who treated black workers with respect and fairness; his strong-willed and well-read mother; and the five other people who shaped his early life, three of whom were black.

Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg – For twenty years, Bragg has focused his efforts on the common man. So while some of these stories are about people whose names we know most are people whose names we’ve never heard, people who have survived tornadoes and swamps, racism and bombs. In incisive, unadorned prose that is nonetheless strikingly beautiful, these pieces rise above journalism to become literature and show the triumph of the human spirit.

I think some of these are titles that are not necessarily found on every reading list for adolescents.  Yet, I also found that my students usually loved many of these selections.  Some are also recommendations from my friend, Kris.  There are so many fabulous reads that I have a hard time not sharing more but I think this will get most young folks through the summer!

(All reviews were provided by readers at Amazon.com)

May 20

Middle School Summer Reading Suggestions

One of the reasons I have always looked forward to having a summer break is because it is a time with long stretches of freedom…to…READ!  I cannot ever remember a time when I didn’t read.  (I’m sure my friend Sara can relate!  Right?)  I’ve always loved books and considered them some of my best friends over the years.  I tell each of my grandchildren that they will never be bored or lonely if they make friends with a book.  Books can take your mind to places your body may never be able to go.  Plus, they are free when checked out at the public library!

When I left the classroom to become an instructional technology coach, I had twelve huge 32-gallon tubs of paperback books that had made up my classroom library.  I recently donated them to the middle school teachers at our oldest granddaughter’s school.  Overwhelmed might be an understatement if I were to describe the teacher’s face when we hauled those tubs of books into her classroom!  I also had three tubs of hardback books that I donated to the local library.  I sure hope somebody is enjoying all those books that I collected over the years and my students would curl up in a corner and get lost inside.

One of the things I have always done is compile a summer reading list.  Sometimes it was met with enthusiasm; sometimes it was not – to say the least.  I’m not giving up, though.  I am still sharing a recommended summer reading list for those who don’t already have one for middle-school-aged folks.

The Terrorist by Caroline B. Cooney – Laura and Billy are all-American expat kids living in London with their parents.  But their carefree lives change forever when Billy is handed a mysterious package in a London Underground station.

Code Orange by Caroline B. Conney – Mitty Blake loves New York, and even after 9/11, he always felt safe. Mitty is a carefree guy who doesn’t worry about terrorists or blackouts or grades or anything, which is why he is late getting started on his Advanced Bio report.  If he doesn’t hand something in, he’ll be switched out of Advanced Bio, which would be unfortunate since Olivia’s in Advanced Bio. So he considers it good luck when he finds some old medical books in his family’s weekend house that focus on something he could write about. Then, he discovers an old envelope with two scabs in one of the books, the report is no longer about the grade–it’s about life and death. His own.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne – When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card – Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity.  Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his brother Peter, and his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut—young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.

A Hand to Guide Me by Denzel Washington – This book is a compilation of personal stories about the people who have mentored some of the best, brightest and more notable people in America. Washington recounts his personal story with Bob Stone, whose letter of recommendation gave him the confidence he needed to make it in life.

A Part of the Sky by Robert Newton Peck – Times are difficult during the Great Depression, and thirteen-year-old Rob Peck must struggle to keep his family together after the death of his father. Disaster after disaster strikes and the family is forced to sell their farm. Relying solely on their strong Shaker faith and close family ties, the Pecks finally prevail and young Rob learns that true wealth extends beyond money and that real values are priceless.

Harris and Me by Gary Paulsen – A young city boy is sent to spend the summer on his aunt and uncle’s farm. Though he has lived many places over the years, he has never experienced anything like farm life . . . and he has never met anyone like Harris, his daredevil of a cousin. If the two of them can survive wrestling three-hundred-pound pigs and mouse-hunting with toothless old Louie’s fire-spitting pet lynx–which, unlike his master, has plenty of teeth–they just might make it through the summer!

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer – When Hope and her aunt move to small-town Wisconsin to take over the local diner, Hope’s not sure what to expect. As Hope starts to make her place at the diner, she also finds herself caught up in G.T.’s campaign–particularly his visions for the future. After all, as G.T. points out, everyone can use a little hope to help get through the tough times . . . even Hope herself.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt – Meet Holling Hoodhood, a seventh-grader at Camillo Junior High, who must spend Wednesday afternoons with his teacher, Mrs. Baker, while the rest of the class has religious instruction. Mrs. Baker doesn’t like Holling—he’s sure of it. Why else would she make him read the plays of William Shakespeare outside class? But everyone has bigger things to worry about, like Vietnam. His father wants Holling and his sister to be on their best behavior: the success of his business depends on it. But how can Holling stay out of trouble when he has so much to contend with?

Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo – In 1957, well before Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, Melba Pattillo Beals and eight other teenagers became iconic symbols for the Civil Rights Movement and the dismantling of Jim Crow in the American South as they integrated Little Rock’s Central High School in the wake of the landmark 1954 Supreme Court ruling, Brown v. Board of Education.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens by Sean Covey – Being a teenager is both wonderful and challenging. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens, author Sean Covey applies the timeless principles of the 7 Habits to teens and the tough issues and life-changing decisions they face. In an entertaining style, Covey provides a step-by-step guide to help teens improve self-image, build friendships, resist peer pressure, achieve their goals, get along with their parents, and much more.

Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements – Bobby Phillips is an average fifteen-year-old-boy.  Until the morning he wakes up and can’t see himself in the mirror.  Not blind, not dreaming-Bobby is just plain invisible.  There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to Bobby’s new condition; even his dad the physicist can’t figure it out.  For Bobby that means no school, no friends, no life.  He’s a missing person.  Then he meets Alicia.

Make Lemonade by Virginia Euwer Wolff – This novel, written in free verse, tells the story of fourteen-year-old LaVaughn, who is determined to go to college–she just needs the money to get there. When she answers a babysitting ad, LaVaughn meets Jolly, a seventeen-year-old single mother with two kids by different fathers. As she helps Jolly make lemonade out of the lemons her life has given her, LaVaughn learns some lessons outside the classroom.

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls – Billy lives in the Ozarks and wants 2 hunting dogs. He saves for 2 years, then sends away to get 2 puppies. Once the puppies arrive – Old Dan and Little Ann – Billy begins to live his dream, never realizing that more is happening than he is aware.   It is a wonderful epic adventure story about a boy and his dogs and their heroic devotion to each other.

I think most of these are titles that are not necessarily found on every reading list for adolescents.  Yet, I also found that my students usually loved these selections.  There are so many fabulous reads that I have a hard time not sharing more but I think this will get most young folks through the summer!

(All reviews were provided by readers at Amazon.com)

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May 19

Mirrors Reflecting Our Teaching

Graduation time is near for most every school in our country.  I’ve been reading some interesting news articles, blog posts, and speech scripts regarding or delivered by graduation speakers lately.  Speakers have been protested, speakers have cancelled, invitations have been rescinded and comments have been added to commencement addresses as a result.  Who would have thought that politics could play such a role in something simple like talking to a group of folks who are about to leave school and move onward in life?

Usually the speaker at a commencement ceremony is somebody very famous or somebody who attended school there years ago.  The speaker says a few kind words about the school and offers some advice to the graduates.  Most of the time I think folks just want to have somebody keep the talking short so that they can see the graduates walk across the platform and get their moment of recognition.

If you were asked to give a commencement address, what two or three points would you center your speech around?  Think about it.  What would you want to share with future productive citizens in our society?  What would you tell future educators?  What have you learned that is important enough to be passed along in a brief address that will be memorable to graduates?

Dan Meyer shared in his blog post, Speaking to New Teachers at Their Graduation, summarized his address with two major points.    I liked the concept that we walk around looking in mirrors.  He even stretched that metaphor by saying that our students reflect back to us.  That started me thinking.

What is it that my students are reflecting now?  I know that one student who shared time in class with me back in the mid-1990s reflects the importance of timeliness.  Tony came back to visit me one day and told me that he appreciated my trying to encourage him to get to school and class on time.  He said he lost his first four jobs because he couldn’t get to work on time.  (Imagine my reaction and my trying to figure out how on earth I had made an impact if he lost his first four jobs!  What kind of impact could I possibly have made?)  Tony went on to say that he now owns his own business and one of the biggest issues he deals with daily is a loss of work-time due to the tardiness of his employees.  I also know that one of my former students digested lots of my colloquialisms and parroted them back to family members.  I know this because his aunt bumped into me years after James had been in my class and shared how he had used some of them in conversations with her.  I was recently invited to a celebration by one of my former students.  He put a note in the invitation to me explaining that he wanted me to come to his graduation party because I had helped him realize that he is indeed a writer who has something to say for the world to hear.  He plans to earn a college degree in communications.

All those reflections are pretty good ones and I hold them in my heart to remind me that the impact I’ve made in the classroom has had positive moments.  I know all of the reflections from my classroom teaching might not all be like that.  The nature of the business of education is that we are on duty twenty-four-hours-a-day/seven-days-a-week.  Whether we like it or not, we are always teaching and modeling.  So, I ask you what would be the two or three main points of your commencement address if you were invited to speak and what is it that your students are really reflecting as a result of being a member of your class?

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May 16

It’s about time…

Have you ever noticed what the progression of time brings?  Sometimes it seems like we are always racing the clock or the calendar.  We are challenged with effectively teaching students literacy skills in a limited amount of time.  Sometimes we wonder if we will ever get from point A to point B in our short allotment of time.  Sometimes that same time seems to yawn in front of us like a disappearing vortex.  I recently read an interesting post by Matt Renwick at Reading by Example.  He explains how he thinks principals can support effective literacy instruction.  He maintains that there are three practices which move readers forward: time, texts, and effective teaching.

Renwick’s description of how the ingredient of time is an important part of the recipe for success prompted me to recall a few years ago when my administrator visited my classroom.  I was facilitating an English/Language Arts/Reading time and had a class of seventh graders working in my room.  Three or four students were sitting at their desks reading the article of the week and making annotations.  Five or six students were parked here and there around the room – some on a rug, some in desks, some in free-standing chairs and they were reading a non-fiction book of their choice which somehow related to the over-arching theme of the Civil Rights Movement.  Five students were at computers composing and posting their online discussion board post or revising their personal narrative.  A handful of students were clustered at a table writing, sharing their written drafts with peers, and revising their personal narrative drafts.  Another group of students were researching and answering discovery questions I had posed relating to a couple of magazine articles, an autobiography excerpt in their textbook, and anthology of works (including speech scripts, letters, and other primary documents) which all related to the Civil Rights Movement.  Half the fluorescent lights were turned off and there were lamps perched on shelves and tables around the room for lighting.  There was a buzz of low talk but the room was relatively quiet.  I suggested the administrator perch on a stool and read the students’ revised printouts of their personal narratives.  She read for about fifteen minutes, then circulated through the room and quietly asked students to explain what they were working on at the time.  Then, the administrator left the room.

Immediately the students heaved a sigh and began chattering to me.  They were so concerned because the entire time the principal  had been visiting us, I sat near the back of the room grading papers and conferencing with individual writers in pairs.  They were quite upset and were afraid I was going to lose my job!  I asked them why this was their belief and learned that it was because I “just kept sitting there and only talked to a couple or three students and I did NO teaching while the administrator was in the room”.

My post evaluation conference went just as I had suspected it would.  The administrator scored my classroom practice well and complemented me on my classroom management skills.  She was utterly amazed at the maturity, focus, and dedication of my students and their work.  Now, trust me that not every day and not every evaluation went so smoothly when I was a classroom teacher.  That observation also took place about six months into the school year after students had been ‘trained’ to know my classroom expectations.  Things certainly didn’t work like that and didn’t look like that in the fall!  It took us quite a bit of time and extended practice to get to that calm, independent reading and writing stage.  Yet, just like I had worked with my students, my administrator trusted me and provided us time to get to that stage.  She knew that we started out with ten minute independent practice and work time.  She had seen us take time to rotate through stations to learn how to handle the freedom to work independently.  She had given me time and heard my concerns and offered me advice when I was in despair and thought we would never get to that point.  Time was the most important ingredient to making that strategy work.

Time is still probably the most important component for exceptional teaching and learning.  Sometimes the practice is a bit messy.  Sometimes it is downright chaotic.  Sometimes, though, it is calm and progressive just like it was that day in my classroom.  It is this time of year when everybody seems to be scrambling toward the finish line to get everything done that teachers and students really need to take a little extra time.  We need to pause ever so briefly and reflect on how far we have come since way back in the fall.

Just as time has progressed through the school year, I think teachers and students will see that they have certainly progressed as well.  It is rewarding for me to stop into the schools I support at this time of year and see folks in the hustle and bustle of wrapping up a school year.  The teachers may have a bit of a weary smile on their faces when they see me.  The students may have a jaunty air about them when they notice I’m there again.  Yet, the one who is rewarded the most is always me because I see just how much has been accomplished and I know that those accomplishments can only take place when there has also been a progression of time and a dedication of time to allow exceptional teaching and focused learning to take place.

Time, it certainly marches on and I am thankful that I have been fortunate to be in the midst of great teaching and learning also marching forward and propelling students toward success and lifelong learning.

May 13

How to Write

As a teaching consultant, I have often been asked how to teach students to write.  Oh, I don’t mean how to teach children to form letters and then assemble those letters into words and the words into sentences and sentences into paragraphs… I have been asked how to teach students to create meaningful, insightful, and impactful written pieces.  I have three hard-and-fast rules for teaching writers.

Lillie book illustration

1.  Write what you know.  The best stories ever told are told by those who know most and care most about the topic.  So, my students always start out writing about something they know loads about.  (Most of the time with adolescent writers that would be…are you ready for this?  Adolescents know and care most about themselves.  So, I always encourage them to write about that first!  Writers also need to have choice in their topics and even when writing about themselves, I encourage students to select a topic which suits them best.  This works because – just as each writer is different, each writer’s perspective is also different and only that writer can make that perspective come to life and take on meaning.

I often would write only one word on the board and ask students to take that one word and use it as inspiration for their writing if they didn’t already have a topic in mind.  If there were 28 students in the class, interestingly, there would be 28 different approaches addressing the same topic.  Why is that?  I think it is because each student knows something just a little bit different from the next student.

2. Look for inspiration everywhere.  Using such a methodology like the posting of one word, I was providing some boundaries and offering some freedom to my students.  They could take a suggestion and add an idea and mix them together to come up with their own voice and perspective.  Sometimes we would take time to share where ideas were generated for us.  Each person in the room would contribute to a list for where they accidentally found inspiration.  I almost always contribute the idea of seeing clothing strewn down the interstate when I was on my way to work one morning.  I have written using that inspiration several times by just imagining how those clothes came to be plopped along the dotted line of the highway.  I have written imagining where else those garments had traveled.  I have written demonstrating descriptive techniques to help my reader envision each item.  I have created memoirs describing experiences of them.  Some of my most interesting and insightful pieces started with the vision of those clothes that were stranded just past the on-ramp.

3. Practice, practice, practice.  Athletes don’t improve their skills without practicing their sport and writers don’t improve their skills without practicing their craft.  The more we write, the better writer we become.  I will never forget hearing one of my former students talk about how much better her written assignment was after the third time she had created it from scratch.  (She had such a hard time remembering how and where she saved her digital work.)  She was amazed at her work (and I was, too!) and was really quite proud of how her deadline copy turned out.

Lillie book 1

Mother’s Day was this past Sunday and my daughter shared images of the written work my seven-year-old granddaughter had presented to her as a gift.  It was entitled, A Book About Mom.  I must say that this first grader had been allowed to follow my three hard-and-fast rules.  She has several composition books filled with her drawings and written work.  I’ve read about the differences between horses and unicorns and an untold number of fascinating topics of which this young seven-year-old is an expert.  Her most recent published work truly showed that she knows worlds about her mother.  It shows that she was inspired by even the seemingly insignificant things about her mother like ‘julrey’ and a ‘spancking’ her mother gives when the budding author is ‘bad.’  Finally, it showcases the hours Lillie and her classmates have practiced to hone their craft and communicate their knowledge.

Of course, the most important strategy for any writer is simply to write!  Put the marks on the page.  The rest gets easier and easier.

May 9

Mother’s Day is Sunday!

Did you know that the American holiday was instigated by a woman named Anna Jarvis who started programs to support mothers in years before the American Civil War?  Jarvis’ daughter wanted to honor her mother in 1908 and got the backing of a department store owner to sponsor a church celebration.  Anna Marie Jarvis handed out her mother’s favorite flower, white carnations, at the church memorial.  Carnations became the ‘official’ flower with people wearing pink or red to honor their living mother and white if their mother had died.  Jarvis claimed she intended it to be a day when people set aside time to write a loving letter of appreciation and honor their own mother.

By the 1920s when greeting card companies, florists, and stores had capitalized on the holiday, Jarvis was legally fighting to denounce such a commercialized Mother’s Day celebration.  Intending it to be a personal celebration for people to share with their own mother, she even had the phrases “Second Sunday in May” and “Mother’s Day” (singular, possessive – not plural) trademarked.

There were historical precursors in Greek and Roman cultures.  However, Jarvis’s efforts were what brought the holiday to national attention when President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation establishing the second Sunday in May as the official American holiday.  The History Channel, where most of the facts for this post came from, says more phone calls are made on Mother’s Day each year than any other day of the year.  They claim phone traffic spikes as much as 37 percent on the holiday!

I cut pink and white Peony blossoms this morning with the intention of sharing them with my mother this weekend.  However, I think I will honor historical tradition and search for carnations to give her instead.  I hope you get the chance to celebrate and honor your own mother this Second Sunday in May or at least add to the statistics of Mother’s Day and give her a call!

mama

Happy Mother’s Day, Mama!

(Resources for facts included in this post were The History Channel and Wikipedia)

May 8

When does learning stop?

This is high-stakes test season.  Is that anything like duck hunting season or deer hunting season?

Well, in some cases, yes.  There is a beginning and ending date.  There is a target.  There is a goal.  There is an end result.  The good news is that at the end of testing season, nothing winds up dead.  (We hope!)

I don’t know much about hunting season as I have never been hunting.  The men in my family really love hunting and they seem to thrive on it.  Sometimes it seems like the education business thrives on testing season as well.

It sometimes seems like overall student performance is based upon that one moment in time when the student darkens that bubble.  Yet, that must not be the case because we continue on with school.  As we wrap up testing season here, there are still a few weeks of school left for teachers and students to complete.  We cannot let that test be the end of teaching and learning or we are feeding into the concept that The Test is the most important thing.

Let’s stop and think.  Teaching and learning are the most important things.  Learning continues on right up to our last breath.  As teachers and students in the classroom, we must continue teaching and learning.  These last few days are just as important as those first few days were way back in late summer.

As testing season is coming to a close, keep in mind that if teaching stops, the concept that The Test is the most important thing is simply perpetuated and do we want to confirm that concept?

When does learning stop?

May 7

One Word

I am a woman of many words.  I have often been told my work is “too wordy.”  I generally will type out whatever it is I need to say and then begin to edit it down to fit into a more concise version.

Before I was hired as an instructional technology coach, my supervisor called my references and asked them what is my greatest fault.  My former administrator calmly said, “She cannot write a short email to save her life.”

Word and character limitations are my enemy.  I can never fit all I want to say in such a limited condition.  It really doesn’t matter if the word or character limit is into the hundreds or just into the double digits.

Twitter drives me crazy!

I realize that not everybody has this same stifling problem.  I know that there are folks out there who are just the opposite of me.

I guess I have to be honest and admit that I am much like I described my Granny.  I am a woman of many words.

Today, though, I stumbled across a Twitter post where an organization asked members to submit a word to describe their favorite teacher.  They took those words and created a word cloud on a Thank You card.  What a great idea!

My challenge to you is to think of your own favorite teacher and think of one word to describe that teacher.

What is your word?

May 6

Teacher Appreciation Day

Today is National Teacher Appreciation Day!

I can truly say that I am ever grateful for the teachers of my two children who guided and molded them toward the productive, independent adults they are today.  I’m not sure who they might say was most influential in their lives.  I can say that there are still a couple or three who are quoted on a regular basis, though.  There are those who inspired writing and improved the written skills of my children.  Some teachers encouraged reading and expanded their horizons.  A math teacher noticed one child’s quickness with calculations and nudged him to become a part of the math team.  Another teacher made math seem like a real-life practice that could be visualized and used for the other child. There were coaches who helped to make the day pass swiftly in anticipation of the fun activities they mentored after the bell rang.  One child picked up on the mechanical side of sciences because he had a teacher who turned him loose to explore and learn about that.  The other child’s science teachers truly sparked her interest when dissecting became lab work.  Their social studies teachers helped them to develop a sense of home and appreciate all the heritage that came before them.  All-in-all, I must say, we were lucky to have such a good team of folks to inspire, encourage, mentor, and discipline along the way toward adulthood.  While I have fond memories of those days, I certainly do not want to go back in time and live through all of that again!  I’m glad to hand the reigns of those hectic days over to my now adult children as they raise their own children!

The teachers I appreciate and am grateful to have the opportunity to work with on a daily basis are those in the classrooms today.  They are anxious about how students are going to perform on the mandated tests and hope beyond hope that all their hard work is going to be reflected in those students’ scores.  They enjoy the job and strive for more than test scores but the emphasis placed upon that one response at one moment in time is really what is examined publicly.  So, while I feel confident that the teachers in classrooms today are far more than that score, I do appreciate the anxious tingle in the pit of their stomachs at this time of year.  I recognize and appreciate all those other moments, hours, and days those teachers have devoted to their students leading up to test week.

Congratulations on a job well done and know that you are appreciated far more than anyone can ever let you know.  After all, you are spreading our hope for the future!