Monday, November 24, 2008


Early wishes for a peaceful, joyful Thanksgiving to you all.  This was the scene near my home last week.  We're driving to New York City Wednesday after work and will be back Sunday evening.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

National Day of Listening

Remember my post about participating in StoryCorps last August?  Check out the first annual National Day of Listening on November 28, 2008!  (Thanks for reminding me and for visiting this blog, Kathleen McCarthy from StoryCorps :)

The power of oral history is immense.  Try it with your family members!

I'm planning to participate by talking and listening to my mother who lives in Queens, NY.  We'll drive to New York City the day before Thanksgiving, visit with our friend Angela who lives in Manhattan, maybe find the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade action, and visit with my mom in Queens.  I'll probably use my small microphone recorder device that plugs into the iPod to create a podcast.

Built into my Family History project for students is interviewing and listening to a family member tell a story about an important event or person.

Monday, November 17, 2008

the arrival

I started teaching The Arrival today, and true to the nature of a wordless novel, I lack the works to fully describe how satisfying it is to offer students such a work of art and beauty and meaning. Please visit artist and author Shaun Tan's web site.

How to teach a wordless graphic novel...  I did NOT use the animated movie "An American Tail" as I had originally planned, a decision made after previewing the movie.  (Note: once upon a time, a wise teacher told me to ALWAYS preview video before using in class.  I learned the hard way, of course.)  (The movie story was just not on point.)  Instead, I gave them a "slog" (journal) writing topic, "Moving Away", as an anticipation guide.  That prompted some good discussions on reasons for moving, feelings associated with moving, challenges, etc.  This topic is the closest most of my students have experienced with moving.  (Amazingly, 2 of my students are immigrants from Bosnia!  And a handful of students have lived in the same home their entire lives.)

Chapter 1 is short and fairly straightforward in narrative, so my 8th graders read the chapter silently, and the 6th and 7th graders read it with partners.  Then, we discussed plot, potential (created) dialogue, setting, and mood.  Since 6th and 8th grade classes are small, I led a whole group discussion in those classes.  In the 7th grade classes, I gave each pair of students an index card with a unique literary element (plot, setting, etc.) and instructed them to identify the element in chapter 1 after reading, then the pairs presented their "elements".

Well, I hope that sort of made sense!  The art of storytelling through pictures and no written words is ... masterful!  Some pages contain a collage of drawings; some collages are pieces of a snapshot, while other collages depict sequence of action.  Other pages are panoramic views.  I can't explain it any more - you have to find a copy somewhere and READ IT!!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

I say I wanna a revolution

This book is revolutionizing me!  An art teacher at my school (with whom I've been working on the graphic novel unit) suggested and let me borrow it.  I speed-read through the book earlier this week, and now I'm slowly re-reading and annotating my own copy.  Here's my one sentence summary:

We are leaving the Information Age and entering the Conceptual Age, when knowledge workers must make way for the creators and empathizers.

That may sound cryptic, but please read the book!

I most certainly see myself as a teacher who both creates and empathizes.  I won't just follow a script, and I won't just skill and drill.  I want students to understand the meaning and beauty of language in their lives, and I teach based on our individual and collective past and current and new experiences.

We have finished reading Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and will read the wordless graphic novel The Arrival next week.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

The idea of voting before school occurred to me around 6am.  Conditions were ideal - I was driving myself, not carpooling, and I had about a 15 minute window of opportunity to wait in line. I admit that showing off a "I Voted" sticker all day at school was a great incentive!  When I arrived at the polling place, the sky was brightening (thanks to daylight savings), the parking lot was filling up, and there was a nice community feeling in line since my brother-in-law and 2 next door neighbors kept me company for the ten minutes that I waited.  I was disappointed to find NO sticker, so the pic above shows my homemade version.

At school, many students saw my sticker and asked, "Who'd you vote for?"  I didn't plan on this - DUH me - so the best idea I could muster in a few seconds was to deliver a mini-lecture about respect and civility and tolerance to the student and then answer directly.  It's consistent with my philosophy of teaching middle school students - provide authentic learning experiences and offer examples, including my own.

Several colleagues have told me in the past and today that they keep their voting decisions private, and I fully respect their choice.  One Social Studies teacher told me today that to express his own political views outright to students would invite parents to complain that his teachings were politically biased.  I most certainly do not want that problem.

After school, I picked up a free tall brew (decaf) from the Starbucks drive-thru, on my drive home.