Monday, December 31, 2007

the ice bowl cometh

Tune in 1pm New Year's Day on NBC for the Winter Classic - locally known as the Ice Bowl - NHL outdoor game at Buffalo Bills football stadium in Orchard Park, NY between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Here's a link to the time-lapse video of transforming the football stadium to an ice hockey rink. AND LOOK FOR ME at the game!!!  (I'll be the grey dot, due to my long grey hooded down coat...)


Telling stories with my mother the past 2 days was the perfect way to wrap-up 2007. Mom arrived Friday night on the train from NYC. We ate and shopped all day Saturday, just the two of us and also with other family. Sunday we drove to Toronto to see her college classmates and listened to stories of their staying up late in the residence halls, chatting, partying, etc. (Below are pics of us in Toronto's historic St. Lawrence Market.) When my mom and I were alone, we swapped stories about our daily lives, past and present experiences with family, friends, coworkers, strangers, etc.

The best new story was mom's train ride from the
provincial capital city of Wuhan (in Hubei province) during her China trip last fall. The train had sleeper cars that slept/occupied 4 people per compartment. When she entered her compartment, the three others were there - a young couple and an older woman. The woman looked at my mom and said, "Oh, she's an old person." My 63 year old mom was taken aback by this blunt comment, but realized quickly that these 3 had been discussing sleeping arrangements (just prior to her arrival) and who should take the upper and lower bunks, despite the ticket seat/bunk assignment that designated mom to a lower bunk. Mom said she would have been fine on the upper bunk and may have even offered the switch if the other woman (who looked the same age as mom) had not been so rude and forward.

Mom also retold the story of her almost not going to college. She grew up in Taiwan, and her family (parents and 5 kids) was poor. There was not a book (other than school texts) or radio, much less TV, in the house.  Mom's father had been a soldier in the Nationalist Party army in China, and her mother (my waipo) had never attended school and never learned to read or write.  Grandfather wanted mom to get married after high school, but she wanted to go to college. She gained admission into a political/military academy that provided full scholarship, but her father refused to let her attend days before school started. She argued with him for a long time, and during one heated argument at lunch, he flipped over the table and crashed all the dishes on the floor in anger. Finally, she said HE would have to inform the school advisor about her withdrawal. So together they walked to the school, and she waited outside the office for a long time while her father met with the advisor. When her father came outside, he had changed his mind to let her attend.

We shared many more stories with each other, and even though I was sad when she left on the train this morning, I'm refreshed to greet the new year's adventures and challenges.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas morning literacy

#1 - reading gift tags - that's critical literacy!

#2 - Santa wrote a note ("Dear G, you're a sweet and kind girl... merry Christmas...") on the back of her Christmas list (this year, G insisted that the list need not be mailed or even brought to mall Santa, but just left next to the milk and cookies on Christmas Eve - that's a lot of faith in Santa's last-minute gifting abilities!), and also left some cookies and crumbs behind...


True classroom story...  last Thursday, I asked students to "slog" (journal) the topic "New Year's Resolutions".  Tricia's anti-goals post on the Coffee and Critique blog inspired this idea.  Of course, we start by defining and giving examples (about 25% of 7th graders can either define or give examples of this term, according to my unscientific survey).

Next, I gave a personal example of my last year's resolution - I had resolved to NOT stress about cooking dinner.  I used to feel so much anxiety and anger about this on the drive home from work and picking up my daughter from after-school care.  Inevitably, my husband would call me on that drive home and ask the dreaded question.  Most days, I fervently wished for take-out food to magically appear.  On bad days, I would utter some choice expletives to express my feelings.

So the resolution was to NOT stress, but instead be matter-of-fact, calm, and face the task like laundry - no big deal, perfectly manageable.  Even if the outcome was the same, I wanted a new mental state and attitude.  And ... the outcome exceeded my expectations!  I distinctly recall some months of feeling peace and calm entering my kitchen, opening the 'frige and contemplating options, and even rational conversations with husband about what to cook or order.

I didn't expect to become family cook extraordinaire in my in-laws' house, but I did that, too! Before we moved to live with the in-laws in August, I told husband HE would be in charge of family meals.  But in reality, August was still vacation time for me, so of course I cooked.  After school/work started, I was home by 4 and couldn't just sit around waiting with in-laws till 5:30 for husband to arrive home. I cooked dinners based on 'frige contents and/or shopped accordingly on weekends, and I whipped up easy meals that impressed everyone (they are easy to impress - even a simple green bean casserole with cream of mushroom soup elicited "delicious!" comments).

The highlight of this cooking adventure - 2 days ago, I made chicken and vegetable soup from scratch for father-in-law!  Eating has been a problem for him - he's not interested in eating (hospital food especially), so someone has to closely monitor meals and literally feed him as many spoonfuls as he's willing to take.  My soup was super yummy, and he really liked it.

So all this hits me as I explain last year's resolution.  I state a few new 2008 resolutions - exercise more (start running), shop less (reduce credit card debt - but I didn't say that to students - too much info).  Important - clarify the difference between a resolution (as a goal) and a wish.  Student slog responses focused on sports and academics.

Moral of the story - set your intentions!  Powerful stuff.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

recent reads - young adult novels

Sometimes I avoid reading young adult novels on my "own" time just so I won't forget I'm an adult, but recently I've enjoyed a few YA titles.  I highly recommend all of the following:

Sahara Special and Vive la Paris, companion novels by Esme Raji Codell, the lovely librarian in Chicago whom I met at a local conference in November.  Both protagonists are African American girls in Miss Pointy's fifth grade class in an inner city Chicago school.  Miss Pointy (short for Poitier) is a fantastic teacher who believes in her students and never reads their FILES.  The girls' voices are so engaging, earnest, and fierce - I did not want either book to end.

Sahara has always been labeled "special ed." and yet she is a super talented reader and writer.  Her mother refused "special services" and said to the school, "If Sahara's not doing the work, don't label her, fail her!"  So that's why Sahara is in Miss Pointy's class.  I wish more parents had that level of insight and guts.

Paris' piano teacher is a Holocaust survivor and their friendship teaches Paris what she needs to do to fight the bullies in her own life.  Paris reminds me of the super organized, focused, and multitasking female student who is mature but still a kid.

American Born Chinese by Gene Yang and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi are both graphic books.

I read American Born Chinese in about a day - I laughed through 95% of it.  In this young adult graphic novel, three narratives intertwine and ultimately merge in a way that surprised me, but I'm easily surprised.  I really REALLY want someone who does not share so much personal history with the book (as I do) to read the book and discuss the book with me!  So, if you are not Asian American and do not know much about the Chinese legend of the Monkey King, then PLEASE read it ...

I still haven't finished Persepolis - I have so little background knowledge about Iran, and it's taking me a long time to absorb the personal and historical information in this brilliant graphic memoir-turned-animated movie.  I don't place it in the young adult category - it's a challenging read.  I LOVE LOVE LOVE the drawings - bold and simple lines.  I was captivated by Satrapi's portrayal of her preteen self during the Iranian revolution, her extraordinary (preteen) political passion and intellect mixed with "normal" growing pains, especially in the 1980's (we're about the same age).

Now go read something good!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

quote of the day

"So which one of my presents are you jealous about?" said my 6 year old daughter to her BFF on Christmas day.

Beware - tone shift...

Generally, today has been depressing since my father-in-law is still in the hospital, recovering from brain surgery and cancer radiation treatment.  My mother-in-law has Alzheimer's and keeps asking why her husband still isn't home.  But when we visited him in the hospital this evening, he ate a decent dinner!  Problems with eating has been one of the serious complications over the past few weeks (in addition to a staph infection, low platelets, pneumonia - yeah, we're living that movie "Sicko").  We left the hospital feeling hopeful, and that was the best Christmas present.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

winter vacation, day 1

I think I could create a photo book of just this birch tree in front of our home. The tree itself, the sunset view from the house, the view from the street looking at the tree and the house, fall, winter, and eventually spring and summer.

So day 1 of winter vacation is great. I've been home all day with my daughter who claimed to feel sick during the last day of school (yesterday) and was picked up early from school, causing us to roll our eyes and snicker, and who then developed a fever in the afternoon and evening, joke's on us.

I'm glad to avoid the holiday shopping traffic and chaos today. We'll do some low-key, hopefully low-stress Target shopping later tonight to catch up on gifts.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


Just because I promised snow pics to those of you dreaming of the white stuff...

#1 - street view of our home

#2 - back yard shed and bird feeders

#3 - my snow angel

Sunday, December 16, 2007


Here's our view from the third row, stage left (does that mean actor's left?), of "Indian Blood" at Studio Arena Theatre in downtown Buffalo last night. The huge lit wreath on the back wall and snowflakes on the side walls were added AFTER the show, just so you know, I guess for a seasonal touch. I love this simple stage - the window scenery of the wintry outdoors changed throughout the play - gorgeous and effective. The actors moved chairs around - no other props! The setting of the play, written by local playwright A. R. Gurney, is 1946 Buffalo. (It didn't even occur to me to take pictures, until I heard the pre-show announcement - "photographs and video are strictly prohibited during the show". So I waited until afterwards!)

In my next career life, I would study stage and set design.

In the past, I've coordinated two stage program field trips - one play ("The Giver", based on the novel, taking 220 students with us) and one ballet ("Baba Yaga", 470 students). I love providing these experiences to students, but I was just thinking last Friday that I HATE their negative comments. Friday, the music teachers took their chorus students (about 25 from our team) to see "The Nutcracker" ballet. I heard a few student complaints and that instantly killed my interest in taking my team to the "Cinderella" ballet in March. Coordinating a field trip is so much extra work - so if the majority of students don't love it, it feels like a waste of time and effort. I suppose taking 25 students would be easier than 100+.

I'll tell you what's easier - nature walks on school grounds. Last Thursday, as snow fell throughout the day, students suggested nature walks! I just might...

More snow pictures here soon...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

words and snow

Students have been writing essays - answering the essential question "how does one's actions affect others" and analyzing characterization using the novel Hoot. To teach the use of literary techniques (such as alliteration and figurative language) in writing prose (in addition to poetry), students paired up to create phrases and sentences using literary techniques and Hoot content, then posted these words on paper/wall. So when they write/revise essays and try to incorporate literary techniques, they read this wall (ok, closet doors) for inspiration.

The snow photo features my car when I left school on Thursday afternoon. Steady snow since 8am yielded about 6 inches... The forecast is 7 to 12 inches starting tonight and into Sunday!

Monday, December 10, 2007

institution rant #2, and students save the day

The festive lights are down. On order of the facilities director.

o you see the replacement, student decorated, color paper light bulbs? Oh yeah.

The second picture is how my homeroom door decorating crew
(5 students - in past years, I would ask for volunteers then choose by lottery, but this year I hand-picked the group - it's a good thing) wrapped the door for the annual Student Council door decorating contest. Our homeroom delegate did her homework and brought information about the designated country - that was a nice touch. The paper has been held in place by masking tape since last Thursday, and its life span is dwindling as I type...

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

earned boredom

My lesson today was part test review, part introduction to essay assignment, part read-aloud. During the last 2 (out of 5) classes of the day, students were not responsive to my questions, partly because they had not read the novel and couldn't answer, and partly because they were too lazy to find the answers in their books/notes.

I did that teacher pausing thing - you wait, and wait, and wait them out. Then I said, students who just sit there and wait to be spoon-fed deserve to be bored. They earned the boredom. Next, I told them I was bored, waiting for them while they waited for me, so I was moving on to the next task. And I did.

Today was a better day for me than yesterday. So here's the sunset view from our house at about 4:45pm today.

Monday, December 3, 2007

blue Monday

It was the most rotten Monday I've had in a long time. Granted, Mondays are never good, but I could barely make chit chat with coworkers today or even smile. I just feel tired and weary. Even the good things - friends, festive twinkle lights, books - seem not real. It feels like the only reality is our family health crisis. Teaching was hard. I read aloud from Sing a song of tuna fish by Esme Raji Codell, and students journaled their own "let me tell you something about ..." stories. It worked.

I took the above pics on my way home - the traffic one on the iPhone while driving, the other one in front of our house.

Last night, I made more cards.

Sunday, December 2, 2007


First, we've had a snowy weekend. Then, two views from the hospital where my father-in-law has been staying for three weeks, recovering.

I spent this afternoon creating a multiple choice test and an essay/writing workshop packet to wrap-up Hoot unit. I had a quiet afternoon to do school work because three family members went to visit at the hospital. My daughter watched a "Beethoven" movie on the Disney channel, then played with her BFF who lives next door. My husband's aunt came up from Florida to visit and help us out, and she made a scrumptious meatloaf dinner - it was the first time in the 4 months we've lived here that someone else cooked dinner for us in this house. (We've had plenty of take-out meals, and a friend delivered some casseroles.) I made Christmas cards before and after dinner. (Sorry about the fuzziness and glitter glare.)

Saturday, December 1, 2007

happy december

They're baaaaaaack..... (please see "institution rant #1" post for string light reference) in colors this time. You won't tell on me, right?

I attended a cookie exchange party today at the home of friend/teacher/colleague LK. I had declined LK's cookie party invitations for years because I just don't want that many cookies (12 dozen), much less make that many. Finally I explained my reason, and LK told me to just come party anyway. So I brought a snack to share and snapped some pics that I'll use to festiv-ize this blog in the coming posts.

Friday, November 30, 2007

hasta luego, nanowrimo

I'll try the novel again.  Someday.  I'll keep writing - isn't it exhilarating?!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


... is Esme Raji Codell, author and certified readiologist - trust me, I wouldn't reveal my previously carefully hidden identity for anyone less than truly inspirational. This picture shows us at her conference today. I sat in the audience, completely awestruck, with these thoughts:

1. I love being a teacher! Esme was a classroom teacher in Chicago and is still a school librarian there, in addition to her titles above. Her stories about the chapters of her reading life were funny and reminded me why I want to be a teacher.

2. I have so much to do still! First of all, I have to read aloud to my students MUCH more than before. Read Esme's blog page for more information about good read aloud books. Second, there are so many excellent children and young adult literature that I've yet to read! Again, check her blog page for titles.

3. There's hope for me and you! Esme wrote books, starting with her journals (which became published book - Educating Esme: Diary of a First Year Teacher), then a professional book (How to Get Your Child to Love Reading), then children/young adult literature (such as Sahara Special and Vive La Paris). So there's hope for me, you, all of us that call ourselves WRITERS.

PS - who needs to stand in line for an autograph in her book (yeah, she gave us all copies of Sahara Special, a la Oprah - how cool is that?!) when I can ask her to take a picture with me on my camera phone?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

hard work

Today my students took a quiz, read their novel silently and took notes, and browsed books and stationary at our school book fair during the 41 minute period.  Tomorrow I will attend a local reading conference, and the guidance counselor will lead an activity in my classes.  I think about the rest of the week - graphic novel lesson (continued from 2 weeks ago) Thursday, then nonfiction SSR (sustained silent reading) Friday - and the week's done.

I feel twinges of guilt that I'm not working harder this week.  Then I think, why should I work harder?  I'm not the one trying to pass 7th grade.  You teachers know what I'm talking about - something's WRONG when the teacher works harder than the student.

Teaching my curriculum is not hard work.  It's engaging, creative, challenging, trying, rewarding, worrisome, etc.  But it's not hard work.  Helping kids make friends is hard work.  That's been gnawing away at the back of my mind ever since last week's parent conferences.  We all know what to say and do when students have academic struggles - organize, work harder, study, encourage, reward, consequence, blah blah blah.  But what do we adults do when students have trouble making friends?  And I don't mean "the right crowd" - I mean FRIENDS.

There are over 1300 students in my school - grades 6, 7, and 8.  I think a quarter of them pass through my hallway each day.  I teach 97 students (added a new student today!) each day, for 41 minutes each, in groups of about 20.  The average 7th grader attends 6 or 7 different classes each day.

The New York State Learning Standards for English Language Arts includes "reading, writing, listening, and speaking for social interaction".  That's why my subject is crazy and wonderful at the same time.  I should and I can and I do create opportunities for students to make friends, but so far, it's the hardest part of my job.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

a thanksgiving exchange

As part of staff development day, we 7th and 8th grade English teachers met with district high school English teachers for an hour this morning. (Please comment: have you experienced similar conversations with colleagues who teach at higher or lower grade levels?)

The main topic, overt or not, was "what DO you teach at the middle school?" since many HS teachers hear "no, we didn't learn THAT" from their students. Isn't that a lovely way to start a 7:25am meeting on the day before Thanksgiving?

Regardless, we made the best of the situation, explained what we teach without being too defensive (IMHO) and provided sample lessons/worksheets/assignments/assessments.

I shared these thoughts out loud to my colleagues:
a) Students don't know what knowledge they have, even if they have it. Metacognition is hard for adolescents.
b) Students use ignorance as self-preservation strategy.
c) Re-teaching, aka judicious review, is good.

Then, to make the meeting SEEM more like an exchange of information and less an interrogation, HS colleagues showed us example year-end portfolios, upon our request. We're piloting a portfolio system this year (7th grade) that will replace the final exam.

There was one "old friend" HS colleague with whom we reconnected, and we made one "new friend" HS colleague who just wrote and published a novel.

Oops, I said novel. I confess, I've NOT been working on my novel. Can you tell?

The beautiful irises in the picture were sent to us by my husband's aunt/uncle/cousins who live in Fort Myers, Florida. The odd-shaped paper on the table next to the vase is a "pilgrim turkey" that my daughter made. Gobble, gobble, everyone!

Monday, November 19, 2007

thank you!

The surgery went very well, according to the neurosurgeon! My father-in-law was in surgery for about 2 hours midday today. By 4pm, the family had visited with him briefly. Thank you all for your kind thoughts and regards!

I can now breathe easier and tell you that his neurosurgeon was McDreamy! Well, not the Seattle Grace one, but with even longer curls peeking out from his surgical cap. OK, I'm only relaying this description second hand.

At school, I attended a presentation on using graphic novels in middle/high school curriculum. Our local/regional public library system received a grant from the NYS Education Department to develop and promote curriculum using graphic novels. I've been a proponent of using GN's in ELA curriculum for the past few years and encourage students to try them for independent reading, but I've yet to truly incorporate into my curriculum. So stay tuned as we (my department chair and I ) hope to purchase some new classroom books, such as Maus I & II for the 8th grade Holocaust unit. I'm fairly passionate on this topic, as I've discussed this with teachers who ask if GN's "dumb down" ELA curriculum. But I'll save it for another post (or comment if you have questions/comments).

One gem I learned today: graphic novels constitute a MEDIUM, not a literary GENRE. In other words, film and illustrations and photography and graphic novels are all media, but fantasy and science fiction are genres.

Parent conferences after the graphic novel presentation. They were okay.


Please send positive thoughts and intentions here. It's the view outside the window of the visitor waiting room on the hospital floor where my father-in-law has been staying the past week. He has brain tumor surgery sometime Monday in this hospital.

Many thanks for your kind words and thoughts.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

greeting the season

I wrote a little poem for me, my family, and friends, but I offer these words to you, too, regardless of whether you're ready to greet the "holiday season", or whether cold winter weather concerns you in the least, because we're human, we have problems, and life really is good. (That's a peppermint mocha, in case you're interested.)

"mind over matter"

fill warmth into empty coldness

pour sugar over bitterness
paint colors through the gray landscape
sprinkle love to infect the heart, mind, and soul

Friday, November 16, 2007

current reads #3

Confession - I gave up The Book Thief at page 130. I've learned to swear in German.

New read - Story Time by Edward Bloor (who wrote Tangerine, both young adult novels). I like the "mother/daughter conflict" better than the "mystery magnet school satire of standardized/high stakes testing". The characters are interesting - precocious 13 year old Kate who's smart and smart-mouthed, Kate's timid mother, Kate's 11 year old freaky genius uncle George, Kate's clogging grandparents who live next door in a side-by-side double (yes, I said clogging). Kate and George are both accepted into a special magnet school recognized for superior standardized test scores. Already the subject of testing wears me out, even though it drew me to the book in the first place, even in a purported satire.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


This is the birch tree in front of our home. We now live with my husband's parents who are elderly and have been in poor health.

I'm exhausted. 2 days before a week long break from teaching. This year, the first in anyone's memory, the 3 days before Thanksgiving are staff development and parent conference days. Seriously. My principal told my teaching partner (who told me) that our interim superintendent (just prior to current superintendent) came from a district where hunting was so popular that this was their traditional schedule. Okey doke.

My father-in-law was admitted in the hospital Monday, after a weekend of feeling very ill, and then diagnosed with 2 brain tumors. The family has a meeting scheduled tomorrow with "the team" of doctors to hear their prognosis, treatment plan, etc. So that's really why I'm exhausted. My mother-in-law has mid-stage Alzheimer's. I don't think she's had much sleep the last 2 nights. She keeps asking, at night and early morning, despite having spent days visiting at the hospital, "Where's Dad?" Basically, everything is crappy right now.

I took yesterday off work to be at the hospital. I'm trying to save my sick days (family and personal) for when I'm really needed in the upcoming days/weeks/months, so I won't attend tomorrow's meeting, even though I want to be there.

As for NaNoWriMo, what can I say? I won't stop writing, but I have no idea where the novel is going.

Small moments move me along, like my friend's poem, the classical music radio station, my daughter's comment that she likes that music because it's "romantic" (I ask her, what does romantic mean? She replies, I mean beautiful), and mostly, mostly, right now, human kindness.

Monday, November 12, 2007

long weekend

Day 12 - word count 3354. I'm slow, but I'm not giving up.

I watched "The Darjeeling Limited" Saturday night - loved it. Awesome soundtrack. Tiny spoiler alert - there's a writer in the story who protested too much "the characters are fictional".

I offer a poem on loan from my friend.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

reading and writing, again

Day 7 - nada.
Day 8 - word count 3012. Not much, but it's there.

I attended the conference "Facing the Challenge of Reading Problems: Focus for Educators", sponsored by the Western New York chapter of the International Dyslexia Association. It was spectacular - super inspiring. Their "keynote" speaker was Rob "Sparktop" Langston, motivational speaker from Atlanta, Georgia who claimed to be "learning disabled" but prevailed through elementary, middle, high school and college, through hard work and the advocacy of his mother, himself, and his teachers. His talk truly affirmed the importance of acknowledging and building upon the student's existing strengths, and the ultimate goal of helping students become productive members of society. He pointed out that reading and writing and math are man-made tools needed to succeed in our society, and we teachers are the gatekeepers. He compared reading and writing skills to surgery - what do you say to the child who isn't born with those skills? You say, you can learn, you're smart, work hard, and be a productive member of society. He started the talk with a story about speaking to juveniles who were serving hard prison time due to the severity of the crimes, and given the high percentage (he claimed 80) of prisoners who had learning disabilities, he challenged educators to keep these kids in school and out of the penal system.

I'm tired. I'll continue this discussion another time.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

First snowfall

I didn't take any snow pics yet - just this fall foliage pic of pre-snowfall right outside our home. It snowed all day outside my classroom window, with occasional lightning and thunder. Little accumulation on the ground - mostly slush. Slow commute home on the highway.

Snow during the school day is an interesting creature. I'm glad to be warm and dry inside the building, but I worry about my commute home. Snow is a good blog topic, though. Stay tuned.

Day 6 word count - 2749.

Monday, November 5, 2007

close call, and the substitute teacher question

I was a tiny bit inclined to just ... not write the novel because ... it's hard when I'm not writing to stop doing anything else. Then when I'm writing, it's fun and rewarding and yadda yadda good stuff. The truth - I didn't want to tell any of you that I wasn't writing the novel, and I'm not giving up blogging, so...

Day 4 - I didn't write. Nope.

Day 5 - I recovered! Word count: 2267.

Part of me doesn't want to blog about anything except the novel. The other part says, I'm going to a conference this Thursday on the topic of helping students with reading problems, sponsored by the local chapter of the International Dyslexia Association. You know what that means - preparing lessons and materials and students for a substitute teacher! I'm completely, unapologetically neurotic about my lessons for a substitute and my students' behavior in my absence. I absolutely positively HATE reading a note the next day saying students were poorly behaved. Is this normal? Is this justified? Should I just get a grip?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

nanowrimo update #1

Word count: 1853

Everyone's first question is: what are you writing about? I decided to not tell anyone. I'm not even telling them why I'm not telling them, but I'll tell you why - I'm not sure what I'm writing about. I'm writing, for sure. I'm enjoying writing, and I'm proud of that word count, behind as I am. I've been writing every day, and I'm no longer insisting that I'm writing 50,000 words by November 30, but I plan to keep writing. I don't know what the writing will turn out to be, what it's really about, so I just don't want to answer that question.

This is really fun. Writing is what I love to do, what I'm meant to do, what I've always wanted to do. So I'm doing it. I'm thankful to Tricia for giving me the NaNoWriMo info, to NaNoWriMo people for this brilliant challenge, and to anyone and anything that's ever inspired me to write.

Day 1 - I wrote at home, 45 minutes, after I got home from being a "guest speaker" at my friend's Differentiated Instruction college course and before I went to bed, instead of watching recorded "Grey's Anatomy".

Day 2 - I wrote in my classroom, with that "diarrhea of the mouth" class, during SSR (Silent Sustained Reading) time, for 20 minutes. I set up my MacBook on a desk right in front of them, said "no, I'm not telling you what it's about", and showed them (well, mainly the kid sitting right in front of me) the word count feature on Word.

Day 3 - I wrote in a coffee shop near home, sitting on a comfy armchair with the computer on my lap (had to place carrying case between my lap and the computer because, as Apple store Genius told me, it's NOT called a laptop because it gets too hot from the processor to be placed directly on a lap), sipping pumpkin spice latte and dipping chocolate covered biscotti, for an hour.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

nanowrimo, baby!

That sounds like a variation of "nanu nanu" a la Mork, or perhaps "hasta la vista" a la Terminator.

I'm fully aware that it's November 1 and I'm supposed to be writing an average of 1,666.7 (rounded, thanks) words per DAY for my novel. (NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month) Yep. I had fun explaining this to one class - well, I told them I'm supposed to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November, and they screamed, WHAT?! They were quite concerned about my ability to accomplish this, and they said I should get started right away. They helped me do the math (average words per day, average pages per day, etc.), and - here's the cutest and funniest part and why I love 7th graders - one girl asked "Do you have a study hall?" because a study hall helps them complete homework so it could help me, too. This is my worst-behaved class, the class that has, as I told them, diarrhea of the mouth. They loved the discussion because they once again distracted me from "making them work".

I'm inspired by Carl Hiassen's novel Hoot - I want to write something with fast-paced action, about a young person who is a lot smarter than (he? she?) appears, who tackles a tough problem the best (he/she) knows how, without expecting adults to hand (him/her) the solution.

Gotta go.

Update at 10:58 pm - I wrote 458 words. Hasta manana, amigos.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I did it!

Poetry Cafe today - it was great! I'm soooooo relieved. Noteworthy:

1. Students were great. One class (inclusion) surpassed our expectations. We had a few tricks up our sleeves, of course. Another class annoyed the heck out of me, right in front of their own parents.

2. Administrators who said they'd attend - did so. They gave very positive feedback and support.

3. Fellow teachers - I love them! My teaching partner (special ed. teacher) was fabulous. Other teachers came in to visit and support.

4. Parents were great - super good turn out in 2 classes (out of 5).

5. Food was fantastic. Some students (and their parents) really came through. Most popular: taco dip, apple pie, apple cider, Halloween cookies, chocolate-dipped strawberries.

6. I admit - it was fun to be the center of a whirlwind activity in the school.

7. Last night and early this morning, to calm my nerves, I thought, "All that's left for me to do is show up at school today. Just get to school."

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

current reads #2

Hoot by Carl Hiaasen- I've been re-reading this at school and have about 10 pages left. I start teaching it next week. The protagonist Roy is what I hope my students are or about to become, a young teen who is more caring, more smart, and more brave than he shows to adults on a daily basis. The save-our-environment message of the novel is terrific, and I hope to tag on a community service project for students when we finish reading the novel. But the bullying story hits home - there is truly no easy solution to bullying. There never has. Now that bullying victims grab headlines by committing the ultimate act of bullying - homicide - society scrambles to solve this problem, as if bullying is a new phenomenon. (My teaching partner just read Jodi Picoult's Nineteen Minutes, the fictional story of a school shooting, victims, perpetrators, etc.) I want my students to think for themselves, to know who they are and who they want to be, and to know their own values. Bullying seems to me like most of life's problems - it's not solved by one act, in one day, by one person; it's a day-to-day struggle that has ups and downs; it involves people seeing the big picture, and being brave, kind, and smart.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - I just started reading it. A Holocaust novel that opens with Death as narrator of the story of a German girl who is the book thief. It's a beautiful, haunting opening "prologue".

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Halloween cards

This is what I love to do on a lazy Sunday afternoon, nowadays. I love the graphic images, playing with textures, colors, and patterns of paper, ribbon, with a little stamping mixed in. One of my few cheap hobbies - most of the materials and tools are gifts or borrowed from my sister-in-law who shops sales and belongs to a stamping club. Halloween cards have been great fun to make! My favorite - popping the dark neutrals with red ribbon.

Monday, October 22, 2007

great expectations

Poetry Cafe this Friday. My students will read their poetry, serve and enjoy refreshments with parents who attend. I invited my building principal a few weeks ago, and he suggested that I invite the district superintendent, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, and the curriculum coordinator. So I did, and the first 2 of those 3 said they plan to attend. So yikes. Then today I invited the district PR administrator to attend and bring her camera, just in case she wants to snap some pics for the district newsletter.

This week, students compile their poetry into booklets, complete with colorful cover page and letter of introduction. I instruct "how to read poetry with expression" - using the Favorite Poem Project poetry readings. Students will practice with partners, then use a microphone and podium during the event - my new brainstorm this year!

So I'm anxious, excited, hope I don't forget anything important. The students usually are on their best behavior. I'm the nervous wreck!

Friday, October 12, 2007

latest greatest

... book - Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult. Positively can't-put-down (except for the next item). Picoult truly has a knack for creating characters that I love and stories that I don't want to love but I can't stop reading. For instance, as mom of 6 year old, I don't want to hear stories about 4 year old kidnapped girls. This story starts from the adult life of this woman who was kidnapped at age 4, and the mysteries of how and why and now what draw me in.

... cyber-obsession - Facebook. I know, it's true.

... song - "The Story" by Brandi Carlile - I've been listening to it over and over again on my work commute all week. After the first few days, I printed the lyrics and read/sang-along (while driving 70 mph - how's that compared to talking on mobile phone?) till I know it by heart now. Since I'm in the middle of teaching a poetry unit, I keep thinking, "GREAT examples of alliteration! simile! metaphor!" ("I crossed all the lines and broke all the rules / Baby I broke them all for you / And even when I was flat broke / You made me feel like a million bucks") I love this central idea: "All of these lines across my face / Tell you the story of who I am / So many stories of where I've been / And how I got to where I am." Sorry - words alone aren't enough - you have to listen to the song. And maybe watch Season 3 of Grey's Anatomy, or at least the music video for this song.

... poetry lesson - this week, write a poem describing an emotion, using similes and the five senses. Example (adapted from a student's poem):

Fear looks like a pitch black graveyard
It sounds like children screaming and crying
It tastes like bad candy from trick or treating
It smells like smoke from a haunted house
Fear feels like a hairy spider crawling down your back.


Monday, October 8, 2007

birthday indulgence

Snapshots of my 38th birthday festivities over the holiday weekend. I call this indulgence because I won't make any overt connections to teaching. (The teacher in me blurts, figure out the connections yourself!)

#1 - Buffalo Sabres home opener against NY Islanders Friday night - it was fun to start the year in the arena with other fans, even if we lost the first (and second) games of the season.

#2 Blackman Homestead Farm in Lockport, NY - a little maze action for daughter before picking apples and pumpkins.

#3 - The Great Pumpkin Farm in Clarence, NY. Daughter and her BFF are at the base of the pumpkin pyramid. And meet the Flintstones (husband and me).

Thursday, October 4, 2007

nature and poetry

I'm having a great time with a poetry unit right now. After reading Love That Dog (which was great introduction to poetry elements like onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, line break, white space, simile, metaphor), this week I started their poetry writing with a "list" poem to teach voice - they list the "don'ts" issued by their parents and respond in their own voice to the rules.

Second, we went on nature walks on school property - across the practice field and near the trees at the edge of school grounds - and wrote prose observations of nature (sky, grass, trees, flowers, etc.), then used line breaks, white space, and (drumroll, please) economy to transform prose to free verse poem. I have been happily surprised by some lovely writings! (I've also been highly annoyed by the need to snap at 7th graders who interpret "nature walk" as run away from teacher and kick a friend who's in the middle of a run.) We befriended a green inchworm (too small for my camera lens to focus, I learned) and many spiders, and we pondered the mysteries of rabbit holes with only apples in sight. We used our slogs (composition notebooks) to write both prose observations and poetry rough drafts during these outings.

Here are some pictures I took of the sky, which was my prose-to-poetry subject. (I confess the first pic was taken during my drive to work, on the expressway, of sunrise.) (Tricia's photo essay post was a primary inspiration.)

I never enjoyed poetry until I started teaching this unit, and I know it's because no one taught poetry to me this way. I know I promised to cite the book where I found these great poetry lesson - I really will, soon!

Sunday, September 30, 2007

ebook - egad!

I had heard of ebooks before I entered the digital age, so none of it piqued my interest much. Then reading Coffee and Critique Friday night ignited tiny explosions in my head. (Thanks, Tricia!) I wanted so much to read ebooks on my iPhone, but after a few hours of investigation, I made it as far as reading a few chapters of How Starbucks Saved My Life (by Michael Gates Gill) on Adobe Digital Editions on my MacBook. (I read the first 2 chapters and the last chapter - I've known for a while that Starbucks is regarded as a good employer, but now I don't think I have the skills to work at the expresso bar.)

What else I learned:

1. I registered with and purchased the ebook from, and I signed up with Readdle so I could access certain types of document files on Safari/web browser on the iPhone, but the ebook file type was not compatible with Readdle. Bummer. I tried to convert the ebook to pdf, txt, and doc, respectively, then load to Readdle, but to no avail.

2. Booksoniphone is easy to use - but their book collection is super limited, in my humble opinion. I tried to read Thoreau's Walden, but only 4 or 5 lines fit on the screen at a time.

3. iphonenova promises to provide unlimited access to wide variety of books, music, movies, TV shows, and games for a one-time fee of $49.95. I'm just not ready to commit.

4. There are TONS of blogs out there discussing this topic. I think I prefer an application that's NOT browser-dependent. I found at least one "unauthorized" application, but I'm too chicken to try it.

5. Reading an ebook on Adobe Digital Editions was interesting. Instant gratification (buy it online, read it right away) is nice, and manipulating the chapters and pages was cool. Saving paper is groovy. Cons - can't hold book up in front of students for a "book talk" (but I can tell them about ebooks - wonder how many know?) or pass book along to a friend (can I electronically pass ebook along to someone else?).

Does anyone have suggestions for my ebook to iphone quest?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Parent Information Night"

aka Open House, is just a whirlwind! I enjoy the social aspect - little chats here and there with parents, especially the ones I already know, mixed together with the group presentations - information overload all around, for parents and teachers alike. I like processing all this information - what the parents are like, which parents are social with each other, tidbits of parent concerns about their children...

SLOG! I gave the students slogs to their parents to read and write comments! I think that went over very well. Thanks to my teaching partner for the idea. I was hesitant at first when she suggested it, worried about the state of their journal writing. But the parents seemed to enjoy reading and commenting.

Other highlights - catching up with a dad who was my law professor, um, 14 years ago; catching up with a mom whose older child I taught 4 years ago, whose younger child is an angel in comparison and we all know it, who remarried 2 years ago and I was glad to tell her in all honesty she looked wonderful.

No low's - oh wait, during the in-between time (after school but before open house, I didn't go home because the commute is too long, so I shopped), I went to the mall near the school (where I almost never go) and felt ROYALLY insulted by Gap store employees who barely looked at me but greeted 4 other customers with cheery "can I help ?" I fumed all the way out the mall, thinking about the email I would send the company, how dare they after all the money I've spent in their stores *seethe, seethe*

One more high - I learned to DVR "Grey's Anatomy" because I arrived home halfway into the season premiere. All's good.

Sunday, September 23, 2007


Onomatopoeia - best literary device of the English language, in my opinion. (I like it better than irony, whose definition I believed I had mastered, as in "saying the opposite of what you mean" or "the opposite of what is expected", until I saw movie "Becoming Jane", which provides the lovelier explanation of "the bringing together of contradictions in pursuit of a deeper truth, all to the accompaniment of a smile". Which definition should I teach to 7th graders? Both? This all points to the fact that I am well suited to the level that I teach, thanks much.)

My nose is an open faucet. That's NOT figurative, but literal. I am contemplating calling in sick Monday, but only faintly so. The second Monday of the school year seems a bit ... early? for a sick day, especially when I didn't leave school Friday with visible symptoms. Monday is library day, book talks by librarian, hurray. Tuesday would be better as a sick day; I would have exhibited sufficient sickliness to elicit compassionate comments from colleagues (Go Home!). Tuesday would be our 2nd day at the library, starting Favorite Poem assignment - so not the best sick day, but not too bad, either.

I already tried going to sleep an hour ago. That yielded powerful sinus congestion and ear pain. I don't feel sleepy or even tired. I THOUGHT I swallowed the antihistamine/decongestant pill - maybe I imagined it and didn't really do it?!

Drippy nose not accompanied by tiredness or other ill feelings wouldn't be so bad ... except, bloody nose lurks behind every blow. That's just too icky.

If this post has been too much information for you, you're in luck, because bloody nose says I'm done.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Back to school short stories

1. I have had THE most quiet homeroom on the (middle school) planet. (I say "had" because today they finally figured out when they're allowed to talk, not by trial-and-error, but by asking me.) Maybe they're not even FROM this planet. Most notably, there's only 18 of them. For the past 4 years, I had packed homerooms, inclusion, average size 27.

2. My first memorable parent phone call of the year - about 15 students (out of 96) didn't hand in summer reading assignment. So fine, I'm savvy enough by now to know it pays to make those calls. I reach one father on the phone, who informs me that his son "does not do well with negative reinforcement. He just shuts down. He's much better with positive reinforcement."

3. Last week we worked on reading and writing territories, and they loved "marathon writing" - give them topic and time them for 2 minutes of nonstop journaling. Note to self - broad topics (such as "favorite food") elicit longer responses than direct questions (such as "what was your favorite part of the summer and why").

4. This week we read LOVE THAT DOG. It's my 3rd time teaching it, and I finally feel like I did it well. I tied it to our unit theme (read and write what you love), poetry elements (sound and appearance, plus figurative language). It was fun.

5. Now I'm ready for 3 days in the library next week - 1 day of book talks by librarian, 2 days of "Favorite Poem" project, to be followed by classroom test on poetry elements. This is part 2 of introduction to poetry. Then we do poetry booklet. I'll cite in another post the name of lesson book I use for the booklet. It has ready-made lessons, and students write really interesting poems.

6. Most dreaded parent phone call for no good reason - In response to my calls and messages home last Friday, a mom left message for me Friday late afternoon, which I discovered late Monday afternoon, right before I went to faculty meeting. I planned to leave building right after meeting, so I did, knowing I put off the return call to mom till Tuesday morning. I worried about the call Monday night, wondering if the mom will question the summer reading assignment, as a few students have claimed they received some erroneous directions last June. Tuesday morning, I called mom, and she was perfectly nice, just wanted to tell me the assignment had been done and was left at home, but she knew it was her daughter's fault, etc.

7. I have a good team, I think. I don't think many of them are strong in reading and writing, but right now I care more about their attitude and manners - do they greet me (back) when they enter my classroom or, gasp, when they are walking down the hall? Mostly, they do! That makes me super happy, and I can handle the rest.

8. I attended my daughter's 1st grade open house tonight. Seriously, I wish I was a first grader in her class - that's how much I love her teacher. Anyway, the teacher talked for about 30 minutes, and what I liked the best was this: every child can learn, and everyone will learn at their own good pace, in their own good time. I'm so sick of the NCLB driven reading/math mania, and I hope those words mean her teacher understands that there's more to first grade than reading and math. Now I have to figure out how to say that to the parents of my 7th graders, even though my state education department demands high levels of performance on high stakes assessments. The honest to goodness truth is, in my classroom, every kid can learn from whatever point they start, that's my stinkin' teaching philosophy.

9. Small world story -
you won't believe this - one student's father was my former law school professor who taught the clinic class in which my husband D and I met and were paired as partners on a project, that led to "study dates" and the rest is history. Also, for the first time, I have FIVE students who are siblings of former students.

10. Meeting tally - after 12 days of school, I've attended 1 team (teacher/guidance) meeting, 1 parent (inclusion) conference, 1 occupational therapy consultation, 1 faculty meeting, 1 "book group" meeting (for our summer reading) led by building principal, 6 meetings with my grade level/subject team (fortunately we really like each other). Hurray!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Madeleine L'Engle

"Our truest responsibility to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find the truth."

"You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children."
~Madeleine L'Engle (1918-2007), American writer, author of A Wrinkle In Time.

I was a serious fan of Ms. L'Engle, from A Wrinkle in Time and sequels and offshoots (one of which landed me in trouble with my mom who saw the book cover art of a girl and boy swimming with dolphin - I mean, Seriously! - and she assumed wrongly racy content) to A Severed Wasp, the first adult L'Engle novel I read that knocked my socks off (because the protagonist criss-crossed many times over the lines between love and loyalty and betrayal, in my young mind).

I remember the strong sense of good vs. evil I learned from A Wrinkle in Time stories. Meg, the twins, what was the boy's name, Calvin? I had better re-read it soon because I'm teaching it (we bought a team set, hurray!) this year. The main characters were so Smart, it seemed to me, and I loved their transformation of Smart to Wise through their adventures.

I felt a special connection with Ms. L'Engle because she associated with the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in my old stomping grounds of Morningside Heights on the upper west side of Manhattan.

Newspaper article about her death and life quoted her opinion of Harry Potter as "a nice story but it has nothing underneath it" - did she really say that?! If so, I hope she had only read The Sorcerer's Stone, perhaps. Maybe now she can catch up...

I'm going to miss her. Good time to revisit those young adult classics.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Current reads...

The Memory Keeper's Daughter, by Kim Edwards - My new teaching partner/inclusion teacher DR passed this on to me, and I started reading during am homeroom/DEAR time. That's only about 5 minutes each day, nowhere near enough, so I brought it home and read some more yesterday. I'm on page 94, learning about Caroline's new life with Phoebe in Pittsburgh. The language is beautiful, and the character depictions truly draw me into their minds and hearts.

The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman - I listened to part of Weisman's interview on Science Friday/NPR, and I couldn't wait to read the book. I read a
few chapters yesterday, and I enjoy the "what if" - science fiction, so to speak - aspect of the book - What happens to all our human Stuff after we're gone? I'm on page 32. So far, the most interesting parts are what would happen to the typical suburban house and what would happen in New York City "without us". (Check out the "Feature Multimedia" on the book web page - an animated "slideshow" tour of Manhattan over 15,000 years "without us" and an animated 500 years of "Your House Without You".)

Happy reading!

Friday, September 7, 2007

Institution rant #1

Your first and last views of the Festive Lights in my room, right before I removed these "fire hazards".

I'm almost at a loss for words. I have been so proud of the comfortable, inviting atmosphere created by lighting in my room. I never use the fluorescent lights overhead, only a floor lamp (NOT halogen), desk lamps, and string lights, until this afternoon.

What is there to say to the powers that be? That institutionalized settings work fine unless you want every child to succeed in school? That teachers who use their own resources to personalize the classroom are morons?

No matter what, I'm grateful that, when I re-wrapped up the lights and felt like (but didn't) flinging them in the trash can, I knew exactly where to take this rant (here). Thank YOU all for understanding.

Simpsonized family

Meet husband D. and daughter G.

Today's lesson was "reading territories". One of my reading territories is BLOGS! So I shared Tricia's post (thanks, Tricia!) and my simpsonized pics. It was a big hit.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Simpsonize me!

That's me, at school and up-close-and-personal.
Go get simpsonized.

Many thanks to Tricia's post at Coffee and Critique!