Saturday, March 31, 2012


Most people who know me know that my aunt was my fourth grade teacher.  For this and many other reasons, fourth grade was an amazing year as a learner for me. It wasn't like the one that I envision for my daughter if I continue to keep her in Florida public schools.  I imagine she will spend time preparing for FCAT Writes as well as FCAT reading and math.  She is already a writer.  She keeps pestering me to set up a blog for her.  Yesterday she started working on a post to be a guest writer on my blog.  She writes for real reasons, reasons that make sense to an eight-year, notes to friends, posters, a journal, and cards. 

In fourth grade my first piece of writing was published.  It was in the local paper, The Clay Today, and it was a letter asking the Iranians to release the American hostages.  I don't remember doing a graphic organizer.  The planning for that piece may have just been reading about the topic and possibly watching the news. I assume that I also developed background knowledge that summer by living in family housing with my mom in Alumni Village on  Pennell Circle at Florida State University.  A multi-ethnic community resided there including an Iranian couple who had come to America to go to graduate school.  I still can't find any eggrolls or wontons that match the ones sold by a Chinese woman who would come around every evening selling them door-to-door out of her bucket.  That summer provided me with enough experience to feed my writing.

As an adult, I realize that my teacher, Mr. Ritchie, had us write for an authentic purpose and audience.  This assignment in 1979  was from a teacher who understood the power of an audience, writing for real people, not just writing for him.  It was an assignment that connected students to the real world.  I am not sure if my daughter or any other 4th graders will have that experience in this state. I envision many hamburger graphic organizers and formulaic five paragraph responses. 

These aren't the experiences that shape real writing. As a writing instructor, I see it in the difference between what my ninth graders write for mandatory practice FCAT writing tests and their well-crafted essays emulating writers such as Rick Reilly and Leonard Pitts Jr ala Kelly Gallagher.  Their FCAT writing is dead. Their writing with these mentors has power and voice.  It is a shame.  Hope too is ready to write for real purposes. Students in a digital age have some many opportunities to write for real live world-wide audiences.  What a wonderful space for teachers to hook kids into writing just as this slice of life blog has been working for me.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Paper vs. Plastic

My mom's doing it. My boss is doing it.  Most of my friends and students are too.  I am not.  I have made a conscious decision to stay in the world of paper, paperback or hard back if the price is right.  To be fair, I am often a late adopter of technologies.  When I finally cross the line, I plunge head first. I just relinquished my razor last year and learned how to text.  I foresee a future where I will have to give in, but right now I can't and just won't.  Having a Kindle or a Nook would be perfect for me, even my daughter recognizes it, because I am an voracious reader.

 When I travel, books weigh down my luggage.  I typically read two or three at a time.   You never hear me utter the words, "I need to recharge my Kindle."  In fact, that would be a dangerous state for me, to be bookless, until the tool is recharged.  Unthinkable! How often do I use my phone until it dies?  Too often much to my husband's dismay. 

I love a book's portability. It can literally go anywhere. There are waterproof books, not that I own any, but you will often find me reading poolside, beachside, or even springside.  Splashes are inevitable. But the fiscal impact of a destroyed book doesn't hurt me as much. My friend loaned her e-reader to a student in the class and the student cracked the screen. Ouch!  When students return books to me, it doesn't matter their state.

The real reason that I haven't crossed-over is that e-books are not built to share. I live and work in a world where I share my books with more than one other reader.  I spend a significant number of dollars on books each year for my classroom.  (Too embarrassed to share the exact amount!)     E-books limit the number of times that I can share a book.

Books in my classroom move like wildfire, the most recent being Divergent by Veronica Roth. (If you read and liked Hunger Games, you will enjoy this book.) We are now anticipating the sequel, Insurgent.  We already have a waiting list.  Kids in my class pass books to their siblings and parents as well. In my personal life, I share books with many different adults, my sister, my ultimate friends, book club members, and others. Books such as The Language of Flowers and The Wild Trees will be passed among five or six adults hands until they makes their way back to me. 

I feel a little awkward sharing with my mom and my boss, people who have gone digital. It's like confessing I am a Luddite.  I still do it though, put good books in their hands. Until obsolescence, I will keep my paper. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Destination Unknown

I love driving my car.* My first car was a 1974 yellow convertible Karman Ghia.  The four of us ( my brother, sister, and friend) would cram into the car every morning with the Violent Femmes or Madonna blaring, the top down, and if cold, the heat toasting our toes to get to school.  The drive would take about 30 minutes and I always imagined that one day we would be channeling Fred and Wilma by using our feet to propel the car.  You could see the pavement through the floorboards. My dad finally figured out that the car was probably better suited to being revamped as a potential collector's item rather than as a car for a sixteen year old.

Thus entered my second car, a 1970 blue bug that I drove off and on throughout the rest of high school and during my last few years of college.   Aside from a few fires, the big one being an engine fire that a nice older gentlemen in a RV put out with his fire extinguisher, it was relatively safe and got me to the places I needed to go school or work within city limits  I could fix it with my bare hands.  But I always dreamed of a day when I would have a reliable vehicle that I could take farther.

The first car that I owned in my name, 1994 Red Honda Civic, took me far and fulfilled that dream to go farther.  I drove that car over 278,000 miles including an 11,000 mile cross country trip one summer.  I finally sold it this past November for $500 dollars. When I sold it, the engine was still reliable and the air conditioner worked. The windows didn't roll down and when it rained, you could swim in the pools that were left behind in the floorboard.  I still laugh about the day my friend caught me bailing my car out at work. I am sure that I could be suffering from some illness induced by mold growth from that car.  It was time to let it go and bring reliability back into my life.  My new car now does that.  Now road trip possibilities unfold only limited by time and money.

*I diverge from my typical posts about work life as today was a true play day.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Food for Thought

My daughter made lunch for me today.  All by herself.  She's eight.  She used the stove and prepared cheese quesadillas.  She told me that the secret is using a little butter in the pan.  They were perfect and not just because she made them.  She has been paying attention to the craft of cooking.  She boasts that her dad makes the best grilled cheese because he pays attention. She knows I get distracted when making grilled cheese and burn them.  I do that with simple things while cooking.  I don't pay close attention.  She prefers my mac and cheese since I use cream instead of milk.  She has a narrow, but nuanced palette. 

She has been at my side in the kitchen since birth.   Her evolution into a cook started quite simply.  First just sitting on the counter watching.  Then she progressed to cracking eggs, then scrambling them with assistance.  This past year she has mastered the microwave, reheating pasta and making hot chocolate.  It has evolved this week into a hot lunch for both of us.  I still use the knife and turn the stove on low, but she did the rest. She paid attention.  Her thoughtful work in the kitchen reminded me of the value of time spent in the classroom nurturing readers and writers.  There never is enough.

Not all students come having paid careful attention to reading and writing. Not all students recognize the secrets of literacy. Not all students have someone by their side to foster their development over time. No matter the experiences that students bring to my my classroom, what I know is we need time.   Time to read and write. Time that isn't uninterrupted or derailed.  Fortunately, I've got nine more weeks to help them pay attention, unlock the secrets and broaden their palette.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


I go to my hair dresser and I let him do what he wants. He knows me. He has cut hair and colored hair for a long time. He is a master stylist. I often joke that I won't tell him what to do with my hair if he won't tell me how to teach reading. Sadly, that is not often the case in our field. People make decisions about education and their expertise stems from the fact that they too once went to school. Guess what? I too once cut hair and it didn't go so well. Just ask my mom and my cousin. Just because I did it, doesn't mean I am an expert. 

Today I got to visit an expert in the field of  Type 1 diabetes.  I have been working with an endocrinologist and a nurse practitioner for the past three years, but my doctor really wanted me to work with Mike.  Mike is special because he is truly an expert in my disease in so many ways.  First he was born this way.  He is a type 1 diabetic. He runs marathons so he understands the unique challenges that type 1s manage while engaged in exercise.  He also has the medical expertise related to his field of study and degrees.  I meet with him every six weeks this year to refine my medical treatment.  We tweak my basal rate each time. 

Morning fasts over the last six weeks have revealed that work brings my sugars up at least forty points, significant and not a one day occurrence.  Now we have to figure out how work really affects my day.  Next week I have to eat the same thing each day and record my numbers. I have to collect tons of data, both quantitative and qualitative.  They are equally important.  The numbers don't matter if he doesn't know what and when I ate and what I did each day, if he doesn't pay attention to my story.

As I think about my visit with Mike today what strikes me most is the trust that we put in other professions to be experts and put our lives in their hands. We don't do this in the field of education.  In fact, the state of education  has even caused the best of teachers to question themselves, their expertise.

What I do know is that I have spent almost nineteen years in the classroom. I have achieved National Board certification and a doctorate. I have shelves lined with books about the teaching and have actually read them. I attend professional conference most often at my expense.  I keep learning and refining my practice.  I am not any different from any other experts in my field.  They are often right there by my side engaging in the same.  I am an expert. Will this matter when my students take their big test of my expertise in three weeks?

If Mike relied on one test, my AIC, he would not be able to treat me well. If he didn't spend a significant amount of time working with me and getting to know me, my treatment would be less effective.  Instead, he relies on tons of data points and my story.  Teachers get tons of data points each day by working with their students, just not the one that matters in this age of high-stakes testing. These are the data points that we can't or don't share.  In a few months, teachers will be judged when FCAT scores come out in this state. Like other states, newspapers will potentially publish my students' scores for one test date. I won't be able to extract all of the variables or tell our story.  But it still matters.

Monday, March 26, 2012


Spring break in my house means two things, finishing my taxes and deep cleaning. The taxes are a small homage to my parents' whose tax business I worked in for most of my life, especially over my spring breaks. Spring cleaning brings back memories of Laura Ingalls Wilder and the Little House on the Prairie.  They would engage in a full-scale exercise of shooing the winter away by cleaning from top to bottom. I admit I don't go that far with the cleaning, that's my husband's job, but I like the purging that spring break brings. While I was in my daughter's room today, I noticed that she has posted dreams on her mirror above her desk.  At age 8, she wants to go to Paris, because that is where many artists live, write a comic, and run a mile.  She wanted to be a dolphin trainer at one time.  Who will she want to do next?

I had many dreams.  The first recorded by one of my mom's college classmates when I was ten. She interviewed me for a child development class. I said that I wanted to be "a lawyer, doctor, and President of the United States." When I was 16, I wanted to be an astronaut.  When I graduated from high school, a chemical engineer or a journalist.  In a round-about way, I did reach one of my 10 year-old dreams of being a doctor.  No matter how I got there, I am living my dream.

What I do remember most on my path to achieving my dream is that no one laughed and people supported me on that quest. When I was in 10th grade and wanted to be an astronaut, someone believed that I could do that and was committed to helping me get into The Naval Academy. I babysat his grandkids.  I watched my dad support my mom's dreams of earning her college degree.  He knew how far your dreams could carry you with the right supports.

 My cousin, age 18 just decided to pursue her dream of going to fashion school.  I am so excited for her.  How many people push aside their dreams because they don't have the courage to believe in themselves or don't have the support they need to channel that courage?  A teacher has the opportunity to help students follow their dreams every day. Help them dream big, no matter the path they will have to take to get there.

Sunday, March 25, 2012


The Florida Sandhill Crane couple that resides across from our school have decided to show off their brood. I love it when they do so; it signifies that spring is officially here.  They fly over and hang out in the stand of pines across from my portable.  Do my students know that these birds mate for life?  Do they stop and watch the babies with their awkward long legs and fluffy chick-like bodies?    Do they know that these birds are a threatened species?  Are they aware of a unique opportunity we have to stand still ?   Is there a way I can connect this to a standard?  Will it be on a test?  Is it important?  Are students curious about these birds?   Should I take advantage of their interest? 

These are questions that race through my mind as I work on finalizing my lesson plans for the fourth nine weeks during spring break.  Anything that means a trip to our library or our computer labs is out due to testing.  The library will be closed for at least 6 weeks and the computer labs for about 8.  Talk about testing narrowing the curriculum, in more ways than one it has. Testing and the resulting progress monitoring have taken away at least 4 weeks of instructional time in my classroom.  I don't cover content.  I create opportunities for students to develop a deeper understanding of what they need to know as well as why.  I find that I have less and less time to do so. I don't have time to change gears as often and respond to that teachable moment.  It's a frustration that many in my field share.

Today I scrapped my plans and headed for the beach.  It was that kind of day.  The weather was sunny and the water was warm, a perfect spring day in Florida.  How often do we do that in teaching anymore?  Scrap our plans, especially when the forecast in the classroom calls for something different.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Red-Letter Day

Today I accomplished something for myself, a red-letter day. After I finished my doctorate in 2005, I decided to focus on my health and get in shape.  I was running 5 miles and biking 2 miles to get to the gym each day.  Then my life changed drastically.  I received my diagnosis of latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) or type 1.5 diabetes.  I received this news the day before my second nephew, Cole,  was born.  He will be four in August and I will be celebrating my fourth anniversary this year.  I remember that year as the year that I cried at work every single day.  I had pretty much given up crying after my dad died, but the challenge of managing the demands of a new role as reading coach and a new role as a human with a chronic illness were overwhelming.

I stopped working out due to cognitive overload and fear.  It felt weird to be on the treadmill at the gym and after 35 minutes "fall out" or eat candy.  One time when I was out walking, my husband had to find me on the road to bring me a coke. Crazy right?  Almost counter-intuitive!  When I played ultimate, my blood sugars soared.  My doctor didn't think that could be right, but numbers don't lie.  Just managing the day-to-day of the disease early on was a challenge and working out, more complicated.  Simple things like forgetting to wear my pump to work or to bring back-up supplies were problems that I needed to figure out. I put working out aside.

In August 2010, on my second anniversary, I decided that I was going to get my life back by giving myself the one prescription that makes a significant difference physiologically in my life, getting up and moving every day no matter what.  On the days that I work out, I use 10 units less of insulin  Initially, it was hard to break old patterns of putting work first and myself second and navigating my fears. It took several months, until April of 2011 to get it right. Several missteps got it in the way because I didn't have the right tools.  A continuous glucose monitor, a machine that checks my blood sugar every five minutes, changed my ability to work out, as well a friend, Jackie, who started walking with me.  Her mission was to figure it out with me.

Since then, we have sort of figured it out. I still have some lows.  I carry about $9000 worth of equipment when I walk\run, my pump, my cgm, my meter, my phone, candy, and ziplocs, in case of rain. Fortunately, like tonight, it never seems to rain on me, even when it looks like it.  Someone wants me to finish my task of taking care of myself. Since August, I have put over 369 miles on these feet, mostly walking.  But tonight, my red-letter day, I was able to run 2.6 miles without stopping, without lows, without fast-acting sugar.  I couldn't have done it without support. Tonight it was the support of my husband and daughter, but it was also on the wings of others who have helped me get this far. Thank you!

What can I take away from this to my classroom?  It is important to be patient. Change takes time.  A network of support is key.  Changing a lifetime of habits is hard work.  Be tenacious.

Friday, March 23, 2012

History Lessons

It seems to me that we can’t explain all the truly awful things in the world like war and murder and brain tumors, and we can’t fix these things, so we look at the frightening things that are closer to us and we magnify them until they burst open. Inside is something that we can manage, something that isn’t as awful as it had a first seemed. It is a relief to discover that although there might be axe murderers and kidnappers in the world, most people seem a lot like us: sometimes afraid and sometimes brave, sometimes cruel and sometimes kind.
—Sharon Creech

I thought that I would respond to earlier SOLSC quote.  It resonated with me for many reasons.    Currently we are reading Lay That Trumpet In Our Hands by Susan McCarthy. It is one of my favorite books for shared reading in ninth grade.  It is historical fiction set in central Florida in the early fifties.  McCarthy reveals our shared history here, one of intolerance and hate crimes.  Some of the events are fictionalized for the purpose of the story and some lifted right out of the headlines from the newspapers such as the murder of Harry T. Moore and his wife.   It is also a perfect companion novel to Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, except there are events that occurred in our own backyard.

The story itself has an eerie similarity to what happened to Trayvon Martin, again in our own backyard.  There are truly awful things in our backyards and if we don't work to understand them, we are destined to repeat them.  Isn't this the purpose of including history in our curriculum?  Last week my students were all fired up about Kony.  This week they were fired up about Trayvon Martin.  We did this by reading articles found in the New York Times, the Orlando Sentinel and The Miami Herald.  Thoughtful reading and discussion helped us uncover what happened and why Trayvon's death matters, why history matters.   It is through education that students learn to be more often brave and more often kind.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Cultivating Readers

100th Day of Kindergarten,
100 Books Read

My daughter and I just left Barnes and Noble. It is the first night of her spring break and she had a gift card to burn.  She's eight, but already knows the value of a $15 gift card.  As she looked at titles, she checked the back for the prices and did the math.  She knew that she could get two paperbacks for the price of one hardback.  With patience you wait until the hardback goes to paper or you go the library. As we left, she said, "I'm going to ask for Barnes and Noble gift cards for Christmas." She didn't speak to me on the way home and we didn't listen to music. When I turned around to check if she had fallen asleep, I caught her with her nose in one of her new books. I often do.

She was born into a world where she had over 200 picture books.  Books were always there for her, even in the womb.  If kids are listening in utero, I am sure that she was lulled to sleep there by tales of Romeo and Juliet, Ginny and Smitty, and other characters who often haunt freshmen English classrooms.  I see her dad's influence on her book choices too.  She loves graphic novels, The Walking Dead and BabyMouse, and she loves slapstick as evidenced by her love of  The Diary of A Wimpy Kids series and Big Nate

 One of my favorite things about being a parent and a reading coach is watching my child develop into a reader. I've always had a secret fear that she wouldn't and maybe she won't choose it later, but now she does. I'll enjoy it. I'll enjoy it along with the discovery that my 1st period students have read over 372 books this year, my 2nd period, 235, and my third period, 325 so far this year.  Many of them stocked up this week knowing that spring break started today.  One of them even came after school was over while most kids were gleefully exiting the building.

At Family Literacy night, Miguel's mom was glad that BN gift cards were prizes as she is having a hard time keeping him in books.  Teens just don't have expensive tastes for electronics; teen readers are expensive to support.  Just ask any reading or English teacher who maintains a classroom library.  Just ask any parent who has one.  I think that is why I love my job the most, the opportunity to help teen readers bloom.

Most of my students don't see themselves as readers in August.  By spring, the time of the year, they  do.  They anxiously chart their progress.  They make recommendations to others. They ask for more suggestions.  They can articulate their likes and dislikes.  They just don't say, "I hate reading." 

After spring break, we will have nine weeks left.  Unlike my daughter, with teen readers, I only have a year to cultivate their love of reading.  There's still plenty of work to do. I'll welcome it after this upcoming week's opportunity to renew.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012


Didn't eat lunch today.
Didn't work out today.
Didn't grade papers today.
Didn't write my reflection today.
Didn't follow my lesson plan today.
Didn't see my kid until 9:30pm today.

Gave 100% all day.
Tomorrow I will get to the rest.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Two of my dedicated team members
I came home tonight and my mother-in-law said, "They really work you in that place."  To really know the unpaid hours that educators put in, you would have to live with one.  In fact, I just fool myself into thinking I have summers off.  My husband knows the truth.  I often joke that I am moving so fast and have so much to do at work that I can't take time to document it all.  Literally I have to send in a spread sheet every two weeks so that the state of Florida knows how I spend my time.  Quantitative data only!

I could have gone home today at 2:30 after my contractual hour, but instead stayed until 8 o'clock tonight with several of  my dedicated colleagues.  The ones, who aside from my students, make my job joyful each day.  It was Family Literacy Night.  To coordinate one well, you need the right people, because there certainly isn't a budget for one of these events and there certainly isn't overtime.  Over thirty adults came out tonight to host Family Literacy Night.  People who are committed to working beyond their 7.5 hour shift to help create a space where we can cultivate lifelong readers.  Because that's what it takes.

Tonight it took a principal, an assistant principal, a dean, a math teacher, a reading coach, a guidance counselor, a media specialist and a community of reading and English teachers.  My colleagues know the value of nurturing readers in a world where cultivating test-takers dominates. Educators live with the value-added model on their backs, but the power of the story is preeminent.  I'm not sure how tonight will impact test scores, but I know tonight, family literacy night allowed students to be poets, readers, thinkers, and writers, maybe even dreamers. It was well worth our time.

Monday, March 19, 2012


Life is fragile.  I accept that but it is also something that I am forced to relearn without warning.  During my 18th year of teaching, last year, I lost a student.   There are no instruction manuals for these situations and I have never attended any workshop that helped me devise a lesson plan for that life lesson. 

I won't forget the day that my principal came and told me.  What a hard job for her, negotiating teachers, parents, and students through this time.  What a hard job for me, figuring out how to handle it. 

We are coming up on the one year anniversary of this student's death.  Even though I have suffered loss in my personal life, the loss of a student is quite different.  The grief is more public.  You aren't managing your grief but the grief of the twenty-four classmates that remain.  Interventions come the first day and they may even linger for more one.  There comes that moment in time when it is just you, your students, and an empty seat.

It's hard.  It takes more courage than you think you can muster.  In my class we wrote, we read, we talked, we listened. My students  understand that these are safe ways to negotiate the world. As Sharon Creech says, "It seems to me that we can’t explain all the truly awful things in the world," and we can't, but we can help our kids learn healthy ways to navigate through dark times.

As the one year anniversary of this student's death approaches, I am trying to figure out how to let the parents know that I remember. I will never forgot your child's smile and the joy that your child's presence brought to our class.  It's the least I can do.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

One Sunday A Month, 8 Years Strong

Since 2004, I have spent at least one Sunday a month with my book club.  I had to call my friend, Rebecca, to figure this out. Isn't that telling enough?  It's been a constant in my life for so long, I don't remember when it started.  We narrowed it down by determining what we read in hardback and what major events occurred during that 1st year.  Possibly it was a blur to me because 2004 was the year that my daughter was born.  The key event that helped us figure it out was Hurricane Charley and the simultaneous read of Atwood's dystopic Oryx and Crake being discomforting for one member.  

We aren't a serious book club as we discovered early in our meetings. Some people left because we weren't cerebral enough.  We do dedicate ourselves to reading quite a variety of books and eating a good meal together.  Although people come in and out of the book club, most of the members have been the same, the core. Not only is a great way to connect with friends that you don't quite see as often as you like, but it is a good way to read out of your comfort zone.  Currently we have a few English teachers, a biology teacher, an athletic trainer, computer engineer now teacher, an accountant, and a massage therapist, a diverse group.  We range in age from the twenties to the seventies. 

Early on there was some mumbling of rules by members who cared about such things, those types of people too have disappeared.  Perfect attendance not being a necessity.    After an ultimate tournament in Savannah, Georgia, I made it my mission to make it back for boo club by the last half hour at 8 pm.  We have Skyped with a member in Japan. The only real rule is that you should just come, even if you haven't read the book.  You should come, especially in those months that you haven't been able to read the book. Those are the times that you need the club the most.

More important than the reads are the lifelines we have created. We have witnessed times worthy of great celebration, graduations, birthdays, and great sorrow, including loss of limb and even death.  Books and our membership have helped us channel our emotions, think more deeply about life, consider perspective, and create an invisible tether among us that hold us when we are not strong. 

 Most people would come up with a list of their favorites, I am just giving superlatives to the most ignoble or most memorable:

Book I Don't Think I Will Ever Get to the End of:   
Uncle Tungsten by Louis Sachs
Most Frivolous Read:   
The Turtle Mound Mystery By Mary Clay
Book that Took Me The Longest to Complete (1 year):
 The Wild Trees by Richard Preston
Most Unappreciated Read:   
Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
Book that Was Proclaimed to be for Harry Potter Fan's But Really Wasn't:  
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Book That Gave me the Complete License to Never Mow A Lawn aka the Freedom Lawn: Suburban Safari by Hannah Holmes
Book Representing the Genre, Snarky Memoirs, That I Discovered I Don't Like:   
Such a Pretty Fat by Jen Lancaster

Most Universally Hated By All Members:
A Heartbreaking Work of a Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers
 Book That Encouraged the Most Talk About Mothering and Breastfeeding: 
 State of Wonder by Ann Pachett
Book I Wished That We Had Read for Book Club But Didn't:  
Garden Spell By Sarah Addison Allen

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Game Time

“Ah, Just like I planned it! You did exactly what I wanted you to do!” Hope shouts gleefully at her dad. She just bested him at a round of Connect Four. Right now while I am writing, her dad is explaining some of his processing strategies on how to plan an attack strategy. We’ve played rounds of Concentration much like I did with my parents except the cards have Disney princesses on them. We've played rounds of Guess Who. We played rounds of Candyland and Chutes and Ladders. We’ve got the slow food movement, the art of slowing reading, and in my house we have the fun of slow gaming, family game night.
When I was 10 years old, I was finally allowed to play the grown-up card game of Hi-Lo-Jack. I still remember learning at my great-grandfather’s side along with my parents and grandparents at their tiny winter home in Melbourne, Florida during my Spring Break one year. The tradition still continues as we’ve taught my husband how to play and invariably any family gathering of a least four adults includes a raucous card game.
In 5th grade, I remember playing rounds and rounds of Pick up Sticks and Uno in Ms. Harvey’s class during lunch. Some of my favorite memories of my Dad include playing Trivial Pursuit. He always had some arcane knowledge that I now realize came from the fact that he was 15 years older than my mom. He had an entire decade and a half of knowledge that no one else in the room had. After someone would pose a question, he would smirk and taunt, “Easy, easy!” In college, it was ultimate Scrabble matches with the OED as challenge reference. As an adult I love to play Turbo Cranium and when I really have time in the summer I love to go play live trivia with my friends.
On my phone, I do still play Tetris. I also indulge in Words with Friends and Scramble, but none of these games bring the joy and laughter into my life like playing games face-to-face with friends. It is actually one of the few things that I like about our school library. Kids can and do check out board games. I watch them play during lunch and before and after school. In fact, our media specialist hosts a board game activity day during school. I look forward to testing days when kids are stuck in my classroom for an extra hour because they are the times when I whip out my 7-8 Scrabble boards and we all play.
As I think about all the time in my life spent gaming, I realized I learned more than just how to play a game. I learned how to talk to adults and how to ask questions. I learned how to strategize and make a plan.  I learned how to lose and I learned how to win.  When we make time for slow gaming with kids, they have an opportunity to learn so much more than meets the eye. Ultimately it's just a sacred time for laughter. It's my time now. Have an Operation scheduled with my daughter.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lighting the Way

The view from outside my portable at 6:30 am.  The windows are full of
figurative language flowers created by my students.  Instead of a word wall,
we have a windows full of words, which I actually have caught them using.
Thank you Kira for showing me how to do this!

I love eavesdropping on teens, especially when they don't think I am listening!  Granted this listening goes with the territory in my field, but I even do a little eavesdropping when they aren't in my class.  With spring forward this week, my portable literally illuminates the sidewalk. Every student who walks to school goes by my classroom and every teacher who parks in the back walks by this bay of windows. I had an opportunity to overhear three girls complementing the windows saying, "That looks like a fun class."  "I wish my classroom looked like that."  I hope all teachers make a classroom inviting for their students.

For the past seven years I have kept the blinds down in this portable. Now the first thing that I do in the morning is turn on the lights and open the blinds.  Initially I kept them closed to keep the sun from hitting us the wrong way and also to keep my students from being distracted.  Besides if I kept my blinds open all the time while I was teaching, what would people see?

Two weeks ago after reading an article about sleep and light, we (my students and I) decided that we should keep our blinds open each day to make sure we are getting enough "blue light."  I love the results.  Students seem awake and I admit sometimes we people watch. The same people come late to school during first period each day.  We wonder, what's their story?  People stop admire and smile at our window.  My students are proud of their work and they get to see the immediate joy it brings others.  I'm glad we made it visible.

I have decided that people should see the inside of my classroom. In this time of high-stakes testing, we need to render our work as visible as possible.  Let people peek into the windows and watch how we inspire students every day, by letting in the light.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Opting In

As a parent, I have thought deeply about what to do with my daughter next year. She will be a third grader.  Last night, I caught her grinding her teeth in her sleep.  What does a second grader have to be stressed out about?  The 44 AR tests that she has to take this nine weeks in order to reach her AR goal? Perhaps?  I have told her not to worry about her AR goal.  The pressure she, however, gets from the teacher easily surpasses my disregard for this.  Unfortunately the AR tests are only a first in a litany of tests that will consume her entire public school career if things keep going the same way that they are in education, especially in the state of Florida. 

When I had a chance to speak to one of the leaders, Kathleen Oropeza, of  Fund Education Now, she asked, "Why not consider opting out of the testing?"  Being a teacher, I know it isn't as simple as that.  Next year, the third grade year, the madness begins!  My daughter will have to demonstrate that she is on grade level by taking the FCAT.  Sadly just missing testing day, does not mean missing the madness that surrounds testing throughout the entire school year.  There are FAIR tests (an oxymoron) and benchmarks to take.   I had been considering opting out all together.  Which makes me cringe! Isn't this what they want?  Parents get mad about testing or get mad about the failure of schools to make the grade.

I love my daughter's school, for all the right reasons. It is small. It is a community school where student live within a two mile distance.  They have art. They have music. They have PE. They have social studies. They have science.  Of course, they also have reading and math.  Did you know some elementary schools opt out of teaching social studies at certain grades because it is not tested?  Have we come down to that?  Scary?  Or is that exactly what they want us to do?  In places where we do not learn from the past, we still continue to make the same mistakes.

Today, I am opting in.  Opting in for public education.  There is a dedicated group of women, founders of Fund Educate Now, who were instrumental in organizing parents to stop the parent trigger law that miraculously did not pass during this legislative section. It will be back with a vengeance next year.  In the meanwhile, consider opting in. Check out the Fund Education Now and think about how you can make a difference in the state of education. I am.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Countdown to Spring Break!

Spring Break 2010, Bahia Honda

We know them the instant that we see them, the snowbirds. My husband works in the hotel business and his work ebbs and flows with the tide of visitors to the Sunshine State. In nine days, my spring break will officially begin. But the spring breakers are already here enjoying their time in the sun. I am looking forward this break as I do every year. It is not an entirely work-free week for me, but I get a chance to move at a slower pace. But before I can do so, over the next nine days I have to

Thursday:  Present to the Reading Task Force
Friday:  Call parents
Saturday: Spend 5 hours training the best reading teachers in the world to me
Sunday:  Write my Reflection for my Evaluation
Monday: Host Academic Intervention with Students
Tuesday: Coordinate Family Literacy Night (16 sessions, hopefully 350 people)
Wednesday:  Finish my Grades
Thursday:  Hunger Games movie release party
Friday:  Host & Evaluate a Full Scale Emergency Exercise

All of these events include managing my regular work week cultivating lifelong readers and writers and future teachers. Luckily, I have many collegues and good friends who will be as exhausted and as excited doing the work with me to make our school a great place for kids. I can't wait to write about each of them in the thoughtful way they deserve, but tonight, here's my slice, a quickwrite.  In the meantime, I will continue to try to find balance. 

The countdown begins!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Stacey's Charge: Reflection on SOLSC

Stacey, one of the co-sponsors of this SOLSC, has charged us with taking some time for reflection about our experiences so far.  Reflection is a habit that I engage in about my teaching practices and is a habit that I try to cultivate in my students who are studying to be teachers.  I also try to cultivate that habit in my students as readers and writers.  Although Bill Bryson is not writing about teaching in his book, At Home, he writes, "It is always quite thrilling to see yourself looking at a world you know well but have never seen from such an angle before." (p. 1)  In a way that is what the process of reflection allows the writer, teacher, and learner to do.
What has been easy for me is taking the time to write.  If you asked me about this last March, I would have said it would have been the hardest part of this challenge.  Now that I have practiced making time to exercise for the past year adding writing into my routine hasn't been as difficult as I thought it would be. What I have learned as I have carved workout time and now writing time is that some ways we choose to spend time aren't a meaningful as the ways that you can choose to spend time.  I gave up watching The Mentalist last week with my husband. Instead, he is my first responder to my blog. My first audience.  Different medium. Shared time.  
I've been challenged in this process because I want to find balance, not only in my blog, but in my writing life. I don't want this to just write about teaching. I don't want write about diabetes. I don't want write about just anything.  I want this blog to be meaningful.   
Well, if you know people are reading your blog, you want to write something worth reading and that is not easy to do every day.  That makes writing hard. Also depending on the writing time that I have available, I can't always make the writing work.  I have many starts and topics that I have saved for another day.  I try to make this blog as clean a draft as possible, but it is hard, because this blog is typically just 1st draft writing with me.  I can't always come up with a clincher or a hook, but practice makes perfect. 

Writing this blog has been the first time that I have participated in a virtual writing community. The last time I have been a member of a writing community was during my work in the National Writing Project at the University of Central Florida in the summer of 1997.  I have been astonished by the number of views.  To me that says, my writing matters to someone aside from me.  And although we would like to all say we should rely on intrinsic motivation,  when we get noticed it still makes you feel good when someone does.  I also value the discipline that it takes to write a blog, especially a daily blog, which has forced me to comment on my friends' blogs.  To truly acknowledge, I hear you from miles away.  I don't have the expectation for everyone who reads my blog to comment.  I appreciate the fact that they have taken the time to stop by.  Yet when I have caught someones' eye or made a connection to them, they comment.  That's powerful.  I  also as a late poster often, always try to comment on another late poster's slice.  They too have been busy and have made it a priority to write.  I like to leave my comment so they too know they have made a connection. 
My favorite read for teachers to learn about reflection, now in 2nd edition!
Will I write in this blog daily after the challenge?  I don't know. I have been thinking about how that might look.  For now, I am content to face the challenge and figure it out another day. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring Hopping

Silver Glen, an unusual salt water spring.
I technically have 3 hobbies that I am most passionate about, reading, ultimate frisbee, and spring hopping.  Spring hopping is a term that my friend Mary coined several years ago as we planned to go to a different spring every week during our summer vacation.  We actually did hop into about 7 different springs on one of those summer days.   My energy to reach such lofty goals has dwindled, but not my passion for one of Florida's best kept secrets, the over 600 springs that dot the interior landscape here. 

Springs never fail to bring you 70 degree water and a relaxing day in the sun . In fact, when it is cold here by Florida standards, springs are almost more preferable to swim, with the temperature differential between the air and the water almost nil. When it is a hot summer day, nothing keeps the heat at bay better than a one hop.

My first experience was at Ginnie Springs, outside of Gainesville Florida in the early nineties.  In my recent travels back to Ginnie Springs, I realized that this spring was more for cave diving creatures or college age crowd.  While tubing down the Sante Fe River between springs, my idyllic memories of days spent here where shattered by the waterproof boom box that had been fashioned out of a cooler.  Spring for me are about disconnecting with technology and reconnecting with nature.  Each spring has its unique characteristics and rules. It is always best to review them before you go.  Here are few of my favorites:
Spring break happens in two weeks.  If I were in charge of the school calendar, I would schedule the entire spring off rather than the summer when it is too hot to go outside.  Now the weather is  ideal and you will perhaps find me hopping in a few springs on my to-see list, Wakulla Springs and Fanning Springs, or perhaps dipping into a few of my favorites.  Remember you only need a suit, a towel, and enough courage to take your first dip.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pre-Observation Writing

It may seem like I am writing little here today, but that is because I have spent the past 4.5 hours writing the answers to my pre-conference form for my formal observation on Tuesday and I am still not done.  I have actually been working on this for over two weeks and today I am finalizing my writing.  I am a veteran teacher and should be done, right?  Not so! I assure you. 

Not having a model and only having a list of questions to answer, I only have one framework for responding to them, which is the type of writing that I had to do for National Board certification. With the National Board process, the way that you help the evaluator see the classroom that they never step into is through your writing.  Although my evaluator is stepping into my classroom and has been by several times, I don't want to leave anything to chance. Having listened to transcripts of my teaching and participating in lesson study, I know that it is difficult to capture every conversation and every step in a lesson.  I am making sure that I answer the questions thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Unlike the National Board process where I had many supports in place, this new evaluation process seems to be a solo journey for many.   I have read the Marzano books and could read many more, but  I would like to get back to the regular work of sustaining daily instruction in my classroom and coaching others.  I am sure that others who are in my position realize that this process is time-consuming and I like them, am trying to learn what I can about my teaching, without too much crazy-making. 

I am little comforted by the fact that my colleagues all over the country are going through this process.  I haven't even begun to think to deeply about the value-added model component of this evaluation.  Nor have I considered the eventual outing of teachers in this state and the outings that have already occurred in states that are a year ahead of Florida in this process.  I can't afford to go there right now.  I can only work with the task I have before me, which is to succinctly and thoughtfully allow someone to understand my instruction aside from my students.

As my daughter said, "Mommy, you have been on the computer all day."  Rarely do I spend my Sundays on the computer.  Thank goodness for the rain,  for my friends who understand why I have cancelled all our time together, and for my daughter and husband who are content to entertain each other today.  Let me get back to the one slice of my instructional life so I am prepared for Monday's meeting and Tuesday's instruction.  Soon it will be next Sunday and I will have the opportunity to share my ordinary slice of life.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Where were you on January 28th, 1986?

Do you remember where you were on January 28th, 1986 between 11:30 and 11:45 am?  I do! I was in chemistry class.  I remember that day and time precisely because I was actually excited about science and math during that time of my life.  That day I was in Mrs. Hart's chemistry class and we were listening to the Challenger shuttle launch over the radio. At that time in my life, age 15, I wanted to go to the Naval Academy just so I could be an astronaut.   I remembered that day this morning when I opened up my web browser and there was rare home video footage posted of the Challenger explosion.  That morning my teacher cried in class.  

I too have cried in class.  The first time that it happened was while doing shared reading of It Happened to Nancy.  If you haven't read it, it is about a girl who is date raped, contracts AIDS and dies. Maybe a little too simply put, but sad stuff, nonetheless.  I read it to my freshman students who were also second language learners.  They cried too, even the boys.  They may have not understood all the words, but they understood the pain that we felt.  We all grieved for Nancy that day.

That was the first time that happened, it was in 1996 during the 3rd year of my teaching career.  I was afraid to cry, but we were moved that day.  A good book does that to a reader. Now in my 17th year of teaching, as we read our book, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands, I am preparing myself for the inevitable tearing up that this book brings. 

I don't think that classrooms should just be filled with the sad stuff, but when your classroom is, I think it is okay to show a reasonable human response to life and death.  I recently got to see Mrs. Hart over Christmas break and thank her for being a phenomenal teacher who made chemistry and calculus engaging, relevant, and comprehensible to me, even before teachers knew they were supposed to do that.  I didn't grow be an astronaut. I didn't grow up to be a scientist. I did grow up to be a teacher and hopefully as she did, inspire my students to new heights as she has for the past 50 years. 

Friday, March 9, 2012

What Are You Reading?

My friend, Rebecca, asked me today about how much professional reading I do each week.  I started thinking about it in terms of books.  During a good work week, I will finish at least one YA book and one grown-up book.  This week it was the sequel to Warrior Heir, Wizard Heir, and the latest Stephanie Plum novel.  My husband keeps me stocked with grown up books from the library and I have a stack of ya on my shelf.  Those are my quick-reads. I would say that YA books are definitely for work, but I then try to read or reread one of my professional books at least once a month.  Currently I am reading Jensen's Teaching With Poverty in Mind. Rebecca reminded me that I do much more professional reading each week, just not from books and she is right, I love my professional learning network (PLN) on Twitter.

I stepped over to the dark side last spring break and got an i-phone.  My razor bit the dust.  I hadn't tasted the apple, but understand temptation now.  My husband encouraged me to get the phone and from there a whole new world opened.  I learned how to text, but most important to me as learner, I finally had easy access to Twitter.  I had been introduced to Twitter in 2008, but had rarely posted.  Before Apple (BA), Twitter chats using Hootsuite were unwieldy.   Now with my app, I can quickly run through the day's feed and send emails to myself about the information that I would like to follow-up.  I have a whole list of items to dig into.

What I enjoy most about tweeting professionally is that I can follow my rock stars- Carol Jago, Kelly Gallagher, Penny Kittle, and Jeff Anderson.  Sure, I have their books, but their tweets feed my daily teaching life.  Their wisdom seems to come at the just right time for me.   It also lets me follow educational politics, Susan Ohanian and Diane Ravitch being among my most favorite.   And most recently, I have been going to Harvard Graduate School of Education at least through my feed. 

I even  had a brief dalliance with Daniel Tosh.  That only lasted for about 24 hours.  I found that the most interesting tweets come from my colleagues, not from celebrities.  Chats are a powerful way to rub elbows with professional all across the world.  On Monday nights, I can participate\lurk in the Eng Chat or if I miss it review their archives.  Another friend, Kellee, hosts a reading workshop chat once a month. If you search, you can find many active chats and develop your PLN. 

I guess the answer is yes, I do read professionally every day and technology, especially Twitter has allowed me to stay connected and grow. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Playing on a Team

On Wednesday, one of the SOL bloggers wrote about her team.  Teams are so important to the well-being and function of many humans and organizations. I thrive on teams. I played on my first team in 5th grade, the only girl on a boys soccer team.  Throughout my young adult life, I played on sports teams.  I have even devised a walking team now. I hate exercising alone, but love working with my team. The same could be said for my work life. 

What I have discovered about one of the real major dysfuntions of a team is not ensuring that the team has the opportunity to work together.  We discovered that this year with our reading team. We normally kicked off the year with a pre-preplanning time, two days devoted to mapping out the year and learning.  I am lucky enough to meet with this team on Saturdays for paid professional learning.  Although they meet twice a month for one hour a week after school, there is nothing like coming together with the team fresh in the morning without the distractions of the day and the clock ticking upon you. When our teams do not get the opportunity to routinely practice, we don't function as well Quality time with a team is important.

One danger of working with a team is that you don't allow other members to join the team, even if they are physically there.  It can be extremely difficult to be an outsider who joins a team. I am often reminded of this when a new student enters my class during the middle of the year.  Now matter how hard we work to embrace the new student as a class, this person is missing all the shared experience of the team.  It is the same for new teachers as they join your professional learning community.  As a leader, I am always reminded to work to pull others into the team.  New members can bring great ideas or insight because they don't have a history with the team.  I think when a team fails to work hard to bring new members they start functioning as a clique.

Another danger of working in teams is always designating team members to play the same position on a team so that others don't develop new skills.  A healthy team should be able to do the work once the leader is gone because members played several roles. I am often reminded of how initiatives work at schools when the leader leaves, so do the initiatives.  Part of leading teams is growing members' skills.  This year we added an additional teacher to our lesson study leadership team to be an apprentice.  We have provided a safe space for her to develop leadership skills.   

There is also the danger of  having the same players on all the teams.  There is an adage in education, "Those who do, are always asked to do more" or "If you want something done, ask the busiest person."  This year I  have been concentrating on focusing on my sphere of influence and stepping back to let other people do the work.  On one occasion this backfired.  The person did not do the work and the event did not occur.  We survived. We devised a solution. We moved on.

My boss has been using this Dyer quote all year, "If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at changes."  Cultivating new teams with different people this year has helped me resee people.  In a school of 3200, the size of a small campus, there are many spaces for people work, learn, and grow.  As I have worked with SLC leadership team over the past year, I have been able to develop new relationships and find new strengths in people.  I was reminded of that when one of them stopped in unexpectedly to check on me today. 

A team can be defined as a group organized to win a contest or as a group gather to put forth a cooperative effort.  We aren't winning any prizes or trophies in our field, but we certainly are collaborating to make the ordinary extraordinary in our classrooms and on our campus.  What a privilege to be a member of  the team.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How do you normally spend your Wednesday nights?

Tonight I received a welcome respite from work.  It is spring break for UCF where I adjunct most of the year.  A certain layer of stress has been removed from me this week.  I often wonder what percent of teachers have jobs other than their full-time day job.  I include the time that we spend coaching on campus as well as the other types of jobs teachers pick up such as the summer my friend had at the pet daycare at Disney.  I can't think of a time in my teaching career where I didn't have a second job. 

Just to get my teaching job, I had to coach cheerleading.  After that job, my life motto became, "I can coach cheerleading for a year, I can survive most anything."  It actually became a pattern at my old school. A person would coach cheerleading for two years and then a new teacher would come aboard and the position would be foisted upon them.  I didn't mind coaching cheerleading. There were other sports that I wanted to coach and did coach, track, volleyball, and girls' flag football.  I loved those jobs, even the cheerleading.  I eventually gave up coaching sports when my daughter was born. I still needed to work, but I needed a job that paid more and took up less of my time.  This led to adjuncting at the local university.  After an arduous 7 years, I finally finished my doctorate. Two semesters later opportunity opened up for me at UCF.  I took it. I always described my other jobs as doing research for my next job.  This one was certainly a step in that direction.

To be honest, my stomach hurt every single night that I went to class that first semester.  I hated it. I had inherited a syllabus and textbooks and did not have the courage to make the class my own.  I, however, stuck with it.  I am now entering my sixth year of teaching this course and love it. I can't really imagine any other work I would be doing for a second job.  The energy that preservice teachers bring to the field rejuvenates me. The questions that my grad students who are in the field bring me, keep me on my toes.  Most of all, I leave my 2nd job at 9:30 pm with a spark that constantly kindles my teaching fire leaving me feeling a little less crispy around the edges.  So tonight, I hope they are enjoying spring break, but I miss them.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Time to Read

I didn't read fantasy as a young adult and I profess to dislike books with talking animals, but I have lately enjoyed the fantasy novel as an escape.  One of my favorite reads this past week is an old, but new-to-me fantasy ya book that my student, Brent, shared with me, Warrier Heir by Cinda Williams Chima.  I know my students are hooked as readers when they are either surreptitiously reading in class when they are supposed to be doing other things or when they recognize a little down time in class and jump right into a book.  I think that is how many readers live their adults lives, they read when they should be doing something else or they jump right in when they recognize down time. Brent is a student who works when it is time to work, but always has a book nearby. I noticed him reading this book a few weeks ago and asked him about it.  He told me that he was rereading and I might like it. He gave it to me. I had it for a week before I started it.  He was putting pressure on me about finishing it, but I didn't have time.  Thankfully I didn't have time. When I picked it up on Sunday afternoon, I didn't put it down until 11 o'clock. Normally on Monday mornings, I am tired from staying up until 10 watching The Walking Dead, a great show, but an equally great graphic novel series.  This Monday I was tired from reading.  It was all Brent's "fault." I booktalked it to all of my classes.  He and I had a few brief minutes to talk about it and we discussed its similarities to Firestorm, the 9th grade summer reading book.  I pressed him to bring me the next one, Wizard Heir, which he did today.  Most of the time, I am pressing books into others' hands, but I love it most when a student presses one into mine. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

How Do You Survive?

What I love most about my daughter's elementary school is that they have a theme\motto each year. The entire school reflects the motto. Last year it was LG Rocks and this year, it is pirated-centered. Hope's second grade teacher gave each student a shell at the beginning of the year as a welcome piece. I love the idea of the having a theme\motto that galvanizes your staff and students.

At my school we are organized in Small Learning Communities (SLCs) to help combat the isolation that students feel in a school of 3200. Initially we received a million dollar grant for five years which helped with the implementation of the structure and the training of teachers with summer institutes as a component of professional learning for the teachers.  Now we are doing our best to put together experiences for our students without the fiscal support and time that the grant provided for us to thoughtfully collaborate.  I work in the College of Health and Public Affairs (HPA). My ninth grade students have self-selected to be in HPA where our focus is medical skills, culinary arts, personal fitness, and security\law enforcement. Our motto is to lead and serve. Other SLCs include iAM (The Institute of Arts and Media), and I-STEM (The Institute of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) as well as the IB Magnet. The arrangement of SLCs is supposed to galvanize not only our staff, but also our students by having a career focus.

Staff Members of HPA on the Ropes Course

I have arranged my instruction around the topic of Survival. I often think about decorating my room with a little survival gear, a little camouflage. My grand scheme would be to take my students camping. What I love most is that the topic of survival has centered my instruction around the essential question, "How do you survive?" This question is easily one that we can attempt to answer every day and it makes sense to attach the importance of reading and writing as essential survival skills. We can also examine issues such as surviving real disasters and imagined, perhaps zombies as my students pointed out. There is also so much literature, both classic and young adult that I can connect to our topic. The whole class novels that we are reading include Speak, Anthem, Lay That Trumpet in Our Hands, and The Odyssey.  This year we have loved reading many YA survival novels, mostly science fiction.  Our favorite read so far has been Divergent by Veronica Roth.  We are awaiting the sequel in May.  The other event we are waiting for is an actual "disaster" on campus.

We are in the midst of planning our Full Scale Emergency Exercise. It takes place on the teacher work day toward the end of this month. I can't tell you specifically more about it, but it grew out of our mock disaster last year in which we created a career focus day for our students and a disgruntled employee situation. I have worked with the English teachers in my college to create a differentiated reading lesson about disasters for all of our HPA students to encourage interest in our Full Scale Exercise.  I have also take 4 FEMA courses with 2 more to take so that we can officially host this event.  This year emergency management for our county is orchestrating the event and they will bring heavy equipment, special effects and actual emergency workers including firefighters, the hazmad team, police officers, and paramedics.  Students will get an opportunity to watch the scenario unfold and them go on the floor with the team.  They will participate in a hot wash as well to debrief the scenario.  I am excited and hoping to get my students excited enough to give up their first day of spring break to participate.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Time for Music

I can't wait to go to school tomorrow.  My 1st period English I class has crafted a playlist.  We've decided to always rev up our mornings together.  Normally on Fridays, they come to class early and enjoy some pick-up music that I like to play. My tastes vary.  I love Madonna and have every one of her songs (the part of me that is still stuck in eighth grade), but I also like the Black-Eyes Peas. Selena Gomez, Cold Play and other upbeat dancy pop music as well as music that surprises my students, Led Zeppelin and Nine Inch Nails. I will admit that I have also purchased Miley Cyrus (I accidentally typed Cylie Myrus, which tells you how much I am actually paying attention to these singers) single and it wasn't because I have an 8 year old daughter.

After reading the article Happy Birthday I-Pod  featured in the New York Times with my class, I asked them what they thought about creating a class playlist.  They were excited and I was surprised with their choices including Peter who loves Selena Gomez and any or her songs will do, Andrew who wants a Spice Girls song, G who prefers Coldplay and my girls who requested Tyga.  Students introduced me to new groups and singers carefully making sure that I find clean version. This creation allowed some additional insight into their lives.

This week I'm also going to try out a new idea that I have been thinking about with my second period class.  They struggle with getting prepared and ready to go.  I am going to craft a playlist with them and I will play it during passing time and 1 minute into our class period to allow them time to get their material together.  I am hoping this will encourage them to get to their seats and get their materials faster. 

When I was a intern at a school in Hawthorne, Florida, the eighth grade teacher has an amazing collection of classical records which he used to start class and inspire writing.  His kids responded well.   I used to integrate music more frequently and it's a practice that I have lost and hope to regain this week.  In the world of I-Pods, students walk alone shutting out the world.  Our shared listening experience in the morning is one way to foster community and enjoy our time.

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