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Heart-shaped box. (Or The Giving Tree reimagined.)

Are there two kinds of people in this world? Those who X or those who Y? Or maybe that is the paradox, thinking we can be this or that. But if I was the kind of person who asks if there are two kinds of people, (which I’m not) I would ask if you like The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

You know the book– the story begins with a boy and a tree, and the tree, or Tree, ends up giving the boy everything and ends up being a stump for the boy, now an old man, to sit on and rest.

“Once there was a tree…and she loved a little boy.”

How do you feel about The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein?

The Giving Tree

Do you ever feel tapped out by the financial and emotional demands of teaching? I sure do. This week alone there were tens of broken pencils on the ground. Stolen candy. Requests to buy T-shirts for ourselves for the school fundraiser. Requests to pitch in for the staff morale committee (12 years x $20 = $240, of which I’ve never received a card, birthday cake, or any acknowledgment or benefit. I’ve been in the hospital, my husband had surgery, and yeah); also, requests to pitch in more money for a friend’s birthday present (I have the misfortune of having a birthday during the midwinter break). I pledged $40 to the fundraiser already. Good thing it was payday yesterday…oops, and it’s gone.

Over the summer I thought ahead and made sure I would have  Lord of the Flies books, spending my time and goodwill with friends and family, begging them to donate the books I thought I would be using this fall. Like the Little Red Hen, I planned ahead, spending hours over the summer creating and curating important resources, building on research, professional judgment, and knowledge. And this week I planned lessons, shared knowledge, gave away books, bought a new teacher a $30 gift card for Amazon so she would be able to get a few books, got a request for books for a teacher returning to her classroom, and let’s not forget the four current natural disasters (although one could argue the ferocity of the Level 5 Hurricanes is man-made). There are teachers in Texas and Florida trying to rebuild their classrooms and schools.

So the teachers who are teaching 8th grade ELA this year asked me for the Lord books, and I handed over the box and then went to my room and cried. Those were my brand-new books with really cool book cover illustrations. They didn’t even have my name on them yet. I wanted to write my name. I have black Sharpies. They’re mine.

For me.

New.

Mine.

Later, I asked them both if we could please compromise, and they’re great colleagues, and I’m sure they will. But it wasn’t easy for me to speak up.

It’s so hard for people, and I could make a strong case for women especially (see The Giving Tree reference if you’re confused) to say no. Women have different sins than men. The sin of selfishness. The sin of owning things. The sin of hard work and time not being for everyone else’s benefit but their own.

My family takes emotional energy, in the best of ways, but in hard ways, too. Jobs, health, dreams, goals: mothers/wives circle around the members making sure everyone has what they need, and if she doesn’t, is thought of as toxic or dysfunctional. My own brilliant husband told me the other day he thought I planned stuff because I liked it. After 25 years he still has some things to learn about me. Because I am good at something doesn’t mean I like to do it. 

So here to permission for us all to say No, or I can’t make it. Perhaps another time. Or just back to “no?”

I’ll share a secret, too. Teaching ELA is the best teaching gig ever. Books, stories, creativity, imagination…and oh, did I mention the books?!

In Computer Essentials I answered the same repetitive, mind-numbing questions because students wouldn’t read a sentence or two of instructions. They don’t know how to talk to each other, no matter how many strategies I scaffolded.

But as far as not knowing, yet, how to do and collaborate, I don’t blame them: they have a pass with me. They’re wonderful, and they’re trying. And when they get something, they thank me, and I get a smile in return.

It may not be a coffee mug, but those smiles keep me going.

 

 

 

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Pledge.

These are to re-read, read, and organize: the binders need to be gutted and reorganized. Oh, sticky tabs and Sharpies: how I love thee.

I always have this summer break lag–it takes me a bit to realize it actually is break time, and not only relax, but reflect. And just not think at all.

Last summer I had everything planned out, and offered my time and expertise to go over the CCSS and come up with a menu of critical ones I knew our PLC should take a look at and consider for the common/formative/assessments. Well, that didn’t work, and that’s okay: the team decided to focus on one skill through the lens of one or two standards. Am I going to stop coming up with ideas? Did I learn my lesson? Nah. I can’t help myself. I love designing good curriculum.

Next year I’ve been tapped to construct Computer Essentials for 7th grade, and will be teaching only one class of 8th ELA. (Just can’t quit you, Humanities….). To say our students need the computer skills is an understatement. (I’ll post my ideas on that later.) In the meantime, this post serves as a pledge to myself to read: I have the trifecta of my summer: a hammock, sometimes blue sky, and time. My focus is to create a curriculum map that is more reflective of what ELA students are truly expected to know. The horizontal, silo-approach doesn’t work. I’m actually envisioning a circle map, updated, and global: a way to teach units that are connective and authentic, with a heavy dash of choice and design. Give me a week or two, and I’ll have something figured out.

 

Oh, and I need to add some new videos to the list:

What is one thing you taught more than one year, and feel it is a “must?”

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Deep down.

deep diving
Underwater Cave Diving by Viktor Lyagushkin www.flowcheck.es

 

Today I was observed for the last 40 minutes of my last class of the day on the first day back from winter break, and that was perfectly fine. I trust my evaluator completely and know that the feedback I receive will be informed and valuable. In our time -constrained worlds, though, I am not sure I’ll have the opportunity to tell her all the things leading up to the moment where she came in.

So here is where I get to reflect–this space is a good thinking space.

Today I began a unit I created from scratch. I use the steel-cased, reinforced, V-8 engine with multiple air bags of UBD, or Understanding By Design. It’s adaptive, flexible, and meaty. For my vegan friends: packed with protein.

Since I’m Humanities this year, and love cross-content, real-world connections, this past summer, before news of Zika broke out, I thought I would do a yellow fever unit, and how diseases impact history. My Enduing Understanding is: “Disease shapes the course of history, and often societies’ responses to health/disease are culturally based.” One of the essential questions is: How did our new nation handle health/disease?

And I’m using a classroom set, with an in-class reading of Yellow Fever: 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson. I could only get my hands on 30 copies, so I told the students a few things:

1. We only have 30 copies; I can’t get more (a book angel gave me her 12 books from her classroom library, so now I have a few extras: bless you, book angel!)

2. We will work on stamina: stamina is the ability to focus on text during a time. The reason we work on stamina is mental training, just like we’re training for a sport. It’s endurance. It’s getting in the zone and not wanting to stop reading.

3. I told them my insights about students who say “I HATE READING.”

*They hate reading because they kept reading logs

*They hate reading because they don’t have choice

*They hate reading because someone shamed them when it was difficult

*They may struggle and not know why

But this is what got them: I told them no baby is born hating to read. Every baby loves to communicate, to look at their parents’ faces, to babble and blurb, and every baby loves stories. 

They became believers. But they also don’t know how much I have to fight this current trend of just reading passages. Robert Zaretsky, who teaches at the University of Houston, wrote this article, “Taught to pass tests, they don’t know how to read books” concerning how college students are ill prepared to read and discuss novels. 

Today, we are reaping the results of this strategy. Among its many catastrophic consequences has been its impact on student literacy. Like a koan riddle, we might soon be asking if a textbook war can take place if no one knows how to read. The decline of reading among American youth is reflected by a growing raft of books with titles like “Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It,” “Why Kids Can’t Read” and “I Read It, But I Don’t Get It.” These books, written by teachers, confirm what my conversations with my brother-in-law, a bright and dedicated Houston-based high school English teacher, long ago revealed: Forced to teach to the test, he can no longer encourage students to reach for the texts as sources of wisdom and wonder.

 

I am trying not to let that happen on my watch.

Close reading has an important place in instruction, there is no doubt, because…it’s not new. It’s as old as stories themselves. So I created a quote log that serves a few purposes: it provides 3 lenses to consider:

1. The author puts a quote at the beginning of every chapter: why? How is it significant to the chapter once read?

2. Talk about character/plot events: how are the characters responding to the events?

3. Look through the medical/health lens; was there anything in this chapter that related to health?

They will not be doing this alone. We will read independently, and burst forth with conversation. We will learn everything we can about the medical practices of the time, and how science and superstition can devastate or be our savior.

And they will read the entire book.

A few kids are hooked after the first chapter: who can’t relate to a pouty teenage girl who’s annoyed her nagging mother is waking her up to do chores? This response is universal.

One thing Zaretsky may want to try is what I did– remind his college students they love stories. And if he wants them to read stories worth telling, which he does, they will.

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Media Festival: Go West, Teacher! (Part 2)

Is that 19th Century Texting?!
Is that 19th Century Texting?!

This is a follow-up to Part 1 of “Go West, Teacher!” One of my burning questions is a ‘Now and Then’ sort of game — what do we do now, and what did folks do back then to (fill in the blank)? Many of these will be treated in a constructivist model, with the questions posed as writing about what students’ experiences are now, and then constructing and inquiring about the past. Any suggestions for constructing meaning and thinking are welcome. 

How did the Europeans construct their ‘new world?’ What ideals should they have left behind, and what values and technologies help them survive? (What IF they had left some of their values behind and embraced the indigenous cultures’ values instead–how might our country be different?)

1692 Salem Witch Trials

‘The Crucible” by Arthur Miller

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

How did people find someone to date?

When Flirtation Cards Were All The Rage

Handkerchief Flirting

What did people read for fun?

Washington Irving

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820)

The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne – maybe just close reading excerpts, and let them have all the fun in high school?

Edgar Allan Poe (b. 1809)

The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes –though published in 1906, it harkens back to earlier times.

The Emergence of Popular Culture in Colonial America

American Folklore

AmericanFairyTales

American Fairy Tales by L. Frank Baum

Her Stories: African Folktales, Fairy Tales, and True Tales –Virginia Hamilton

…and I basically bought out the collection of Laurie Halse Anderson.

Who wrote, and why? How were items published? How was freedom of speech manifested and protected then?

*Note to self: research into literary period timelines

*Note to self: re-read Sarah Vowell’s The Wordy Shipmates

How are the Amendments interpreted now?

Bill of Rights

What were forms of entertainment? 

How were gender roles defined, and why?

1747 John Greenwood (Amerian colonial era artist, 1727-1792) The Greenwood-Lee Family MFA (2)
The Greenwood-Lee Family

By the time of the Revolution, historian Jane Carson writes, second to their dolls, the “favorite toy of little girls” was the tea set, sold in Williamsburg shops. This toy offered the colonial girl an opportunity to play at the enormously popular adult pastime, the tea ceremony, which had captivated Americans from the wealthiest to the lower classes. So popular had tea services and daily rituals surrounding the consumption of the beverage become that a survey of estate inventories in New York from 1742 through 1768 shows that wealthy and lowly estates in cities as well as in rural areas included the essentials: teapots, cups, saucers, and teaspoons. The boycott of tea called in response to the Townshend Act of 1767 did not alter the behavior of many colonials, and even those who gave up tea continued their tea ceremonies by substituting chocolate or coffee.

Who contributed to the dialogue?

African-American Women Writers of the 19th Century

African-American Writers/Thinkers of the 19th Century

Women Writing in 19th Century America

Female Writers 19th Century

A Time-Line of Native American Culture

More questions…

How did teenage girls become women? –look across all cultures – more research

How did teenage boys become men?–look across all cultures–more research

Dare I venture back to my fifth grade experience? Johnny Tremain by Esther Hoskins Forbes

What was school like? Who received an education, and how?

'11 Ways School Was Different in the 1800s'
’11 Ways School Was Different in the 1800s’

How did they punish criminals? What were considered crimes compared to now?

And of course, the most important question: how do I keep future generations from believing “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” is fact?

vampire hunter

I appreciate your indulgence in these ‘curation posts’.

 Postscript:

Just as a placeholder, here are the texts used for 7th grade (Washington State) in the past:

novel sets

A unit on Japanese Interment camps would be excellent. No to “Jackie’s Wild” and “Walk Across the Sea”…hard to teach texts that are not engaging personally.

Chock full of unity-goodness, just needs updating and refinement.

 These texts must be reviewed through the text complexity lens, and many other filters, too.

 

 

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New best friends.

This makes me happy: When you put good things out there, good things come back.

I am loving being on Twitter, and receiving resources and ideas from teachers, principals, and parents from all over the country, and the world!

One such new resource that fits perfectly with what we do in our classes is: http://digitalbooktalk.com/?page_id=55

You know you love to read and write, even if you don’t admit it.

More to follow…

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