Thursday, December 31, 2009


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Out with the old... except these are some of what I will keep from 2009:
  • every laugh and smile from my 8 year old daughter and my students
  • every learning moment for me, my daughter, and my students
  • my little unfinished 6000 word novel for NaNoWriMo
  • every moment of our family vacations - Toronto weekend for Chinese New Year, Taiwan extravaganza in July (including our 10 year wedding anniversary)
 May you dream big, and may your dreams come true!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

yes I really read a book during vacation

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This doesn't happen often, being so productive during a short vacation, but I'm on a mission to save money to buy something ridiculously expensive, so reading, cooking, and compulsively calculating how much I've not spent and how much I've actually saved (two distinct ideas but very blurry in reality) help me reach this goal.

I read Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson who has written and published many young adult novels.  This book has been on my "probably interesting to my students due to mature content" radar for some time, and I really enjoyed her historical fiction Fever 1793 (much to my own surprise because I'm a history dunce), so I finally borrowed a copy from my public library on Monday.  Yes, I actually went to the library instead of straight to the mall on my first "real" vacation day of this winter break.  See very long sentence in paragraph above for explanation.

The story in Speak is very engaging though sad to follow.  I think I would introduce this book to 8th grade students as an independent reading choice, and just let them decide if they want to read it.  Have you seen the movie based on the novel?  I don't want to see it, but Kristen Stewart of Twilight movie fame played the main character Melinda, so I'm curious if the movie was good.

Anderson's writing was truly engaging, and perhaps that partly explains why I enjoyed reading her historical fiction.  I want to read another book of hers, maybe Catalyst.  She is really talented in capturing the voices of teenagers!

In the cooking department, I tried a new recipe today - potato leek soup.  Leeks are foreign to me.  I never heard of them until my mid-20s when a friend Liz raved about the spinach and leek wrap sandwiches at a local eatery called Natalie's in Amherst, NY.  I liked them, too, but Liz maintained her devotion to these sandwiches for the next 15 years and requested that I bring one to her when I visited her and her newborn son in the hospital 16 months ago.  Of course I complied and the nice folks who work there were happy to hear about my mission.

ANYWAY.  Leeks are fascinating because they are so foreign to me and yet seem so ordinary to other people.  When I saw Giada make potato leek soup on the Food Network a few weeks ago, I felt ready to try my own modified version of her recipe (that is actually creamy artichoke soup, creamy referring to some cheese that starts with the letters "m" and spoken in Giada's Italian accent, like how she says mozzarella, except that's not the m-cheese in her recipe).  The endeavor involved my trying one new ingredient PLUS one new cooking technique - using a hand-held blender.  In the cooking department, I like adding new elements one (or 2) at a time, once in a while, for fun.  I borrowed the blender from my sister-in-law a few weeks ago, bought the ingredients yesterday, and today used Emeril's recipe on the Food Network web site for potato leek soup that I could mostly duplicate using the ingredients I had.  The photos above indicate my efforts, and the soup was really yummy!

Saturday, December 26, 2009


I'm glad I had some peace and relaxation Christmas Eve, because Christmas was full of stress.  Family.  My mother-in-law's Alzheimer's completely wipes us out.  On the flip side, today was more peace and less stress.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

more books

Just chillaxin'....... ahhhhh......

I finished Brisingr a few weeks ago (that's why I start 19 Schuyler) - sooooo good - waiting for the fourth and final book in series.  I should try to re-read the first 3 again.  Seriously!

I can't WAIT for the Percy Jackson movie - here's an awesome trailer!  Gotta re-read THAT series before the movie hits theaters on President's Day!

Another recent favorite book The Sartorialist by Scott Schuman, full of pictures from his blog of the same name.  Both book and blog contain some of the best fashion and style eye candy!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

let the festivities begin!

Here's a local Western New York landmark, the Roycroft Inn in East Aurora, NY where I met two lovely English teacher friends for lunch last Saturday.  The history of the inn includes the Roycroft Arts and Crafts Community founded in East Aurora by Elbert Hubbard in 1895.

Yes, I started winter break at about 3:15 pm today.  Monday and Tuesday this week weren't really difficult for me - my classes were running smoothly, students were OK in class.  Today was just zany.  But that's how it goes!

Hm... what should I say to sum up the last... 3 weeks?  NaNoWriMo wrapped up nicely, thanks much!  I will definitely repeat that writing unit next year and bump up my word count total expectations for students.  (Maybe 5000?)  I read The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E. L. Konigsburg and it was OK, not stellar.  My main struggle with that book is ... who's the audience?  I can't think of any student (that I know) who would be interested in the story or themes or setting or characters...  It's a grown-up book with young characters that incorporates a decent history of urban decline and gentrification from post-World War II era to the present time (approximately).  My second struggle with this book is the pace - my students (and I) like action, and this one is slow.  It's a perfectly good book, but I don't think 7th or 8th graders will GET it.

I started teaching nonfiction/informational texts and writing.  My 7th graders have been reading and writing about online news articles.  After winter break, they start a nutrition research project that incorporates action research (whereby they make an action plan to implement over a period of one month) and surveys.

Right now, REST!!!!!!  Until tomorrow, when my daughter and I have to procure carrots for the reindeer and cookies for Santa.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

happy december!

So I'm a bit late in the wishing and blogging, but isn't that a sweet picture from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade?! We were in NYC during that holiday weekend, and that was our 2nd time watching the parade in person. (Last year was the first.) I highly recommend it for anyone! That picture was taken from across Columbus Circle, facing the southwest end of Central Park, just as the parade turned east from Central Park West.

We had the most fabulous NYC visit, mainly due to staying at our friend A's mid-town apartment. We walked a LOT and rode the subway everywhere! Highlights: Macy's parade, ice skating at The Pond at Bryant Park (not me, but my husband and daughter), Friday morning Today Show (watched Lester and Natalie et al in person, but did not get on TV), Metropolitan Museum of Art, South Street Seaport tree lighting, plus awesome EATS!!! (East Japanese Restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner, 2nd Ave Deli, Alice's Tea Cup, Max Brenner chocolate restaurant, Chinatown Ice Cream Factory)

NaNoWriMo wrapped up - yay! We've moved on to the next (but related) writing project, what I call the Select Scene. Students choose a favorite scene (about 3 pages long) from their novel to perfect (character and imagery descriptions, grammar, spelling, usage) for a test grade. We finish that this coming week, and Friday will be our official Wrap-up Party!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

New Moon movie - ACK!

*Movie spoilers in this post*

  • wolf pack
  • phasing
  • Kristin Stewart as Bella
  • Taylor Lautner as Jacob
  • Bella and Jacob
  • lame acting/directing of any and all vampires in this movie, except for Victoria (who is played by different actress in Eclipse movie). I don't know what or whom to blame. Utterly aghast.
Especially hated
  • plot changes, such as Voltorri fight scene, Bella riding on strange guy's motorcycle (all unnecessary and ridiculous)
  • Alice's supposed "vision" of Bella and Edward (EW!!!!!!!!!)
  • Any and all of Bella and Edward's love/kissing scenes - contrived, overacted, made me gag
Bottom line - I was on Team Edward through both readings of all 4 books. And now I am on Team Jacob.

Monday, November 16, 2009

back on track

As of this morning, I was about 1000 words behind on my novel. Now I'm caught up! I used some class time to write, and my students were very cooperative by working on their own novels. I also showed them clips of Stephenie Meyer's Oprah interviews about her writing process and, of course, the Twilight series. Yes, I admit I was feeding the anticipation of the movie release of "New Moon" but also sharing writing inspiration from another writer. (OK, she's a very famous writer, and we're not famous, but we're still writers.)

I haven't mentioned lately my "academic push-in" to an 8th grade inclusion ELA class. My role is essentially in "instructional support" capacity, and the class already has two other teachers - the ELA teacher and the inclusion teacher. We've become quite the co-teaching team! I've been able to provide some direct instruction and materials for a classroom novel unit (The Giver) and the corresponding writing prompt (personal narrative). I firmly believe the key to our collaboration is absolute trust among the 3 of us - of course trust that we have the students' best interests in mind, but ALSO trust that we have each other's best interests in mind.

I'm still reading Brisingr, no lie. More than halfway through, but not by much.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

1784 words

... written! I'm on track, 200 words per day, to reach 6000 by November 30 for NaNoWriMo. Yay! My students are having fun writing their novels. Almost all of them are reaching daily word count goals. Some are surpassing their goals, which leads me to think I should set the standard higher next time. (Definitely higher next year when they're in 8th grade.)

The only downer has been one student (yeah, there's gotta be one) who's testing the outer limits of what's appropriate for school. The bright side of that problem is another student giving me the solution - give a movie rating! So I'm going to tell my classes tomorrow - keep it PG.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

happy nanowrimo 2009

NaNoWriMo is ON! I know my word count goal is small (6000 or twice the highest student word count, whichever is higher), but I made my daily goal today YAY ME! (291 written)

The non-writing news is that I borrowed from the public library seasons 1 and some of 2 DVDs of "Gossip Girl" (TV show, based on novels) and have thoroughly overloaded my brain by watching them. I think I'm done obsessing, and now will just follow the current season 3 in a normal, weekly manner.

Last but not least, I borrowed Brisingr (book 3 of Eragon series) again. I really hope to push through and finish it this time.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Almost ready for NaNoWriMo

One week left to prepare with students - the Young Writers Program web site is very helpful, especially the middle school "young novelist workbook" that has many terrific brainstorming activities (to develop characters, conflict, plot, setting, etc.). Example: Some students have expressed bewilderment, concern, despair, outrage, etc. at my pronouncements about NaNoWriMo, but they diligently filled out the character questionnaires in the workbook, and a few looked up from their workbooks to whisper, "this is fun!" I've found the workbook useful for ME and have recommended it to at least two adults who plan to participate in the full NaNoWriMo program (50,000 words oh yeah!!!). Did I mention already that I've assigned 3000 as the word count goal for my students, and my own goal is TWICE the highest word count achieved by any student? Yep.

Another fun feature that has piqued student interest and, dare I say, excitement, about writing is the "Dare Machine" on the Young Writers Program web site homepage. Each click on the "DARE ME" button generates a new writing challenge. Examples: "We dare you to have some of your characters stage a jewel heist." "We dare you to include a reference to the Periodical Table of Elements in each of your chapters."
"We dare you to include a bucket of raw fish, an ice cream maker, and a creepy basement in the next page of your novel."

Happy writing to you all!

PS - I just read good middle school novel by Western New York writer Mick Cochrane, The Girl Who Threw Butterflies. I met Professor Cochrane at local bookstore book signing last June - super nice guy, just as he was described by my friend H who was his student at Canisius College.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

suzanne collins please finish the third book!!!

I'm absolutely obsessed with The Hunger Games and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, can you tell? I screamed at the end of Catching Fire - how could she leave me hanging like that?!?!?!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

young writers

Regardless of the craziness at work, the switching of teaching assignments, the really random bizarre bits of life and personality, I'm excited to write with my students for the Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo! I'm going to wrap up poetry unit in the next 2 weeks and give some brainstorming/prewriting (for NaNoWriMo) homework (from the very extensive and excellent workbook from the web site). Before November starts, we'll be familiar with basic character and plot development, conflict, and setting, all story elements that are part of the 7th grade ELA curriculum.

One happy surprise is that even though I didn't plan to include my 8th grade remedial students (small group, only 9 students total, 2 sections) in the writing project, some of them really wanted to do it when they learned about it (and a few were horrified at the idea). So I am including everyone! As a challenge to all of us, I plan to set my word count at twice the highest student word count. (Their minimum is 3000.)

So if this is truly my rollercoaster year of crazy, then I might as well have fun!

Saturday, October 3, 2009

A whole month, really?

So yeah, a whole month without a post. It was busy! And mostly great and some really excellent, until yesterday when I had the rug pulled out from under me. I spent the first 4 weeks of school learning to juggle different teaching assignments and really enjoying them all. Some of my assignments are being changed, and that's really all I have to say about it.

Highlights of the past month:

  • teaching one class of ELA 7, writing poetry now, and Young Writers Program of NaNoWriMo in November!
  • Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale, absolutely wonderful story and teenage female protagonist, expanded retelling of a Grimm's fairy tale, set in ancient Mongolia - you MUST read it!

Sunday, September 6, 2009


I'm standing in front of my classroom door on the second floor, facing the staircase that hundreds of young teenage kids climb up. I take a deep breath, smile, and the bus drivers open their doors at 8:00. I hear the clamor, the exclamations, the footsteps, and the sneaker squeaks on the polished floor before I can see them, and then I do see them.

Shining faces, smiles, bright eyes, braces, glasses, tans, t-shirts, jeans, sneakers, dresses, backpacks, totes, buzz cuts, shaggy curls, pressed straight, brown, blonde, black, purple, orange, red, yellow, pink, white, grey.

That's my moment. The first moment of the school year happens this Wednesday.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

playing tourist

My friend A who lives in NYC visited us the past 3 days - we toured locally famous sights and eats! Niagara Falls (both Canadian and US sides, Maid of the Mist boat tour pic above), Botanical Gardens (that's me staring up Palm Dome of greenhouse gardens), The Original Pancake House (baked apple pancakes), The Melting Pot (fondue), some shopping ... I felt like I was on vacation!

Back to reality - I hope to check in at school day after tomorrow to set up the room. My goal is clean and simple this year. I'm only going to use the small classroom that is my "home" to teach about 20 students who need extra help with reading/writing; I'll be using other classrooms for other classes.

Did I mention that I re-read Deathly Hallows after watching Half-Blood Prince movie last Friday? Then I re-read Chamber of Secrets, even though I wanted to start with Sorcerer's Stone, but my husband is actually reading SS for the very first time. I started to re-read Prisoner of Azkaban, but my friend's visit put that on hold. Guess what I'm gonna do now? Happy summer reading and any other last minute summer indulgences to you all!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

2 weeks left and more metaphors from Harry Potter

That's me at the Erie County Fair yesterday. I was pack mule mom, hanging out in this pic with a bloomin' onion while my daughter and her friend rode rides and more rides.

Last night I took husband to see Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince movie in IMAX theater (the first, like, 13 minutes were in 3D!) - sooooooo awesome!!! I started re-reading Deathly Hallows last night and finished this afternoon. I had forgotten so much from that book and the previous books - I truly enjoyed this re-read and think I need to restart the series from book 1.

HP metaphors ... endless, right? My favorite is still the impossible task that you undertake and persevere to accomplish, drawing from love, loyalty, friendship, whatever you have to keep you going.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

3 weeks left

Just a quick check-in to say HI FOLKS! Starting the school year after a very late Labor Day this year makes up for working until June 30 this past school year.

Insomnia struck last Thursday night, so I wrote unit/lesson plans :) Who knows? Maybe subconsciously anxiety about (not) being prepared for school kept me awake.

I need to catch up on my summer reading, and I don't mean fashion magazines. I started Inkheart today - very interesting! But it seemed so... long. And I'm no shirker about long books, but long books HAVE to grab me. Otherwise I just want the story to move along and wrap already. Another book that I started (back in... June?) The Mysterious Benedict Society - also doesn't seem interesting enough to justify so many pages.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

punch in the gut

I read the first few chapters of Holocaust historical fiction novel The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne a few days ago, then finished the rest yesterday morning. I can't and/or won't tell you the ending, but my strong shocked reaction by the end of the story surprised me because I considered myself somewhat familiar with Holocaust history. However, the rest of my day went on... I was given a parking violations ticket for expired (5 days) inspection sticker... I spoke to a friend who's recovering in the hospital from a bad car accident 2 weeks ago... I picked up daughter from art lesson... and so on... and I pretty much didn't think about the novel anymore, until that night.

I was lying in bed, feeling rather content and thankful for life in general, when BAM! I remembered the story from this novel and felt paralyzed by a nameless fear, not just general anxiety about the future of humanity, but a gut fear of danger... and when I tried to name the fear, all I could think of was ... I was afraid of the Holocaust.

I've read biographical and autobiographical Holocaust literature and taught literature and shown videos etc to my students, such as Maus, Anne Frank, Gerda Klein, but I've never experienced this personal fear of the Holocaust before. I don't know if I would ever choose to teach this particular novel, though I most certainly will continue to teach other literary and historical fiction and nonfiction about the Holocaust. I was told the movie adaption of this novel is very good, but I have no desire to watch it.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

reading homework

Yep, I have reading homework :p and I completely commiserate with my students. The good news is that No Place But Here: a Teacher's Vocation in a Rural Community written and published by Garrett Keizer about 20 years ago offers plenty of teaching wisdom. It's not, however, a fast-paced read like my science fiction/fantasy novels. Hey, speaking of fantasy, I need to finish reading Brisingr.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

think higher, feel deeper

Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winner, author of Night, Holocaust survivor, and teacher, was the main speaker at the Chautauqua Institution yesterday. I was fortunate to attend the lecture as part of a writing workshop led by three fantastic faculty members of the English Department at SUNY Fredonia. His lecture topic was morality - what is moral? My deepest impressions were:
- how kind, gentle, humorous, and young he seemed through his words and speaking manner
- the elliptical storytelling style of his lecture
- the affirmation of education as hope for humanity despite many failures (his famous caveat... "and yet...")
- the title phrase of this post, "think higher, feel deeper" was his response to an audience question (from a teacher) about a key theme for students

In other personal news, despite our successful trip to Taiwan and the leisure nature of our summer vacation since we returned home, pain and suffering seem to swirl around us over the past week in the form of accidents, illness, and death suffered by close friends. Besides the constant urge to weep and say "I hate (hospitals, cell phones, etc.)", I have the prevailing feeling and thought that there is no difference, no separation between people who are having a good time and people who are not.

Friday, July 24, 2009

July 2009 reading update

Typically I have grand plans for summer reading. So far, I've read about 7 fashion/beauty magazines (including one purchased in Taiwan, published in Japan, I think, since prices are in yen, but text in Chinese), a few chapters of The Mysterious Benedict Society (for Battle of the Books in my school this coming year), and Night (in preparation for attending Elie Wiesel lecture at the Chautauqua Institution on Monday).

Um, that's not terrible, is it???

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hey I went on a real vacation!

National Palace Museum, Taipei, Taiwan, 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Literally we were baking on this terrace.

I attended middle school here (in Taichung area) when my family moved back to Taiwan. I had to relearn Chinese from scratch (and was left back one grade as a result), but in a few year's time, Chinese literature was my best subject. (In picture, the sign shows that the school is now a middle and high school.)

Sun Moon Lake in central Taiwan

You know, the kind of vacation for which you...

- compulsively pack and repack, make endless trips to buy souvenirs and every possible toiletry item you might need but packed in different ways to satisfy the air travel safety police,

- show up and relatives chauffeur you around nonstop to beautiful natural sights via death-defying taxi rides through packed city streets and narrow mountain roads and feed you heavenly food (for free, unless you count the price of your life at stake on aforementioned taxi rides),

- visit places where you lived and played as a child that bear some or no resemblance to your memories, and

- reunite with family members, somehow manage to speak the native language of your childhood (Mandarin Chinese) with enough fluency to impress the natives, meet new relatives (result of marriage and childbirth), and

- suffer Post-Travel Depression upon your return.

So I'm very sorry for going on a blogging vacation without notice in addition to the "real vacation" described above! I'm adding a few pics just to share a taste of the sights and sounds and emotions during this 10 day trip. I could write a book about everything that happened, so for now I just want to apologize for disappearing with no notice and say "happy summer vacation" to everyone!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Taste my own medicine, part 2

Scrabble game picture above is my game with a sixth grade student who had no worthy opponent among his peers during a class last week, and I told him I wasn't sure I could beat him, so we played this game that took us 2 class periods to complete.  (We started the game during his last class with me, then he came back the next day during a study hall to finish!)  We ended finally with just those 3 letters left, on the left.  When I posted this pic on my Facebook profile, a friend said we missed making "ut".  So for those of you who specialize in words you only learned for this game, save your breath.

The title of this post refers to the fact that today we teachers were given our teaching assignments for next year.  I had not expected any changes, but SURPRISE!  In addition to teaching remedial reading and writing like I did this year, I'm going to teach one "regular" English class with students who DID achieve proficiency score on the state assessment.  The reason is that another English teacher (Teacher A) proposed to teach a double-period class of students who did NOT achieve proficiency.  I would teach the "extra" class of students from her team so that she would only have the contractual five teaching periods per day.  It's even possible that my one class of "at or above proficiency" students are also the accelerated 7th grade math group, hence, probably high achieving and motivated students.

Some of Teacher A's reasons for the double-period of "below proficiency"-only class is the extra period would make student think that the "extra" period is an extension of their regular English class, thus motivating them to work harder and work for grades, not just blowing off the usual pass-fail remedial course.  Also Teacher A said these students do need extra time to practice skills.  I support those two claims based on my own experience, and I am glad for the opportunity to instruct students with different levels of proficiency.

We are going to ask our principal if it's possible for me to "push-in" and perhaps co-teach the "extra" period of her "below proficiency" class.  I may end up with a sixth teaching period each day, but we'll see.

So I say this is a taste of my own medicine because just last week I stated to colleagues that, given the inevitability of change, we could choose to be agents or victims of change.  Touche!!! Thus... I choose to be an agent and not a victim.  Even though I did not choose this assignment, the details of which are not yet clear, I look forward to the chance to try new instructional methods and work with different colleagues.

One other aspect of "change" in this new assignment is that I will be part of a "team" again.  In our building, the 5 "core" subject teachers (ELA, math, science, social studies, Spanish or French) all teach the same group of about 120 students and conference often to help students and sometimes parents.  Another aspect is giving graded assignments, though grading English assignments for 25 students is not the same as 120!  I certainly would appreciate both those changes!

I'll have the opportunity to try out many methods I learned from Donalyn Miller the Book Whisperer in both "regular" and "remedial" instructional settings!  I have ideas cooking already...

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Taste my own medicine

At one point this evening, I felt bored and whiney. I felt stuck with some stupid task. Then I thought, I'm just as whiney as my students.

So, I tried my own medicine and read a few chapters of Eldest. I was so engrossed that I missed most of So You Think You Can Dance even when I was in a room with family watching the show!

Bored no more, but now I'm anxious about the situation that developed in the book! (spoiler alert) What will Roran do about Katrina being taken????? I even tried to cheat by flipping pages ahead.

This medicine is bittersweet.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Day 1

Yesterday I decided to move the Book Swap selection to my classroom and not use the small gym, considering the "modest" (i.e. small) volume of books and swappers.  This is part of the set up in my room - it worked really well today, day 1 of selection!  My students took their "jobs" very seriously, and when "business" was slow, we did Mad Libs for fun.  Tomorrow is the second and last day of Book Swap.  YAY!

My friend (who's also our school library media specialist) shared this link to an article "How Reader Girl Got Her Groove Back - one woman's heroic quest to overcome the classics" by Shannon Hale who published several popular young adult novels.  It expresses my sentiments exactly, and it also supports Book Whisperer extraordinaire Donalyn Miller's disdain for classroom novel units - I hate "required" classroom reading that kills reading joy.  When browsing Hale's web site, I found some neat articles she wrote for young writers on the writing process and also publishing.

Also, on a personal note, it's day 1 of my 8 year old daughter wearing glasses!  She chose these funky plastic magenta frames and loves them!  I have some angst as I think I gave her poor vision genes and remember hating my first pair at age 13.... but I'm not telling her (yet).  I just don't want her to be like many middle school girls who pretend to not have or need glasses but clearly do.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

wrap it up!

Isn't that the best sign of what's coming soon???  It's a student drawing posted on a classroom door.

So I'm forcing myself to write this post - I just want to write a really quick update even though I REALLY want to write about the great books I've read recently and my current independent reading unit.  Here's the short version... *deep breath*

After reading the practices of the Book Whisperer a few months ago, I embarked on a "get ready for summer reading" independent reading unit sometime in May.  I loaded up my classroom with as many trade paperbacks, fiction, nonfiction, various genres, magazines, newspapers, etc., as possible, and expected my students and me to read about 15 minutes every class.  We were supposed to choose/bring our own reading, and if someone didn't, then they had to choose something in my classroom.

It's been a great journey!  I've witnessed a LOT of reading among students and most certainly for ME - yay!  I've seen student growth in their choices, their actual reading, their enjoyment of reading... I could go on and on, but this is supposed to be short!  My own reading journey included The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Eragon by Christopher Paolini (yes, I finished it!  I thought I would never finish!  But I did!), The Last Olympian (book 5 of the Percy Jackson series) by Rick Riordan.  I started Eldest (sequel to Eragon) 2 days ago, and even though I was filled with the enthusiasm of finishing Eragon just days prior (I read The Last Olympian in 2 days), the same dragging pace and the feeling of reading as LABOR returned (gee, helps me relate to students), so I didn't bother bringing it home this weekend.  But I shall resume tomorrow!  Really!

Last but not least, I am in the middle of coordinating our school BOOK SWAP!  I did this about 2 years ago, and I just didn't have the energy last year (note to self - must involve a partner so program continues despite my personal concerns!).  But this time, I involved my students to make flyers and post around the school, AND they will be WORKING the Book Swap during my class time during the book selection phase of the program, i.e. I gave them JOBS!

So the first phase of the Book Swap was book collection.  Last week, any student in the school who wanted to participate in the swap dropped off books in my classroom.  I recorded their names and how many books they brought in.  Second phase is this coming Tuesday and Wednesday, when all the books collected will be displayed in the small gym on tables, and students come during study hall periods to choose books they want.  During this second "selection" phase, my students will be working (during my regular class time) check-in (issuing tickets with name and how many books), table manager, book talker, and check-out.

I'm a little nervous right now.  Participation is somewhat low - only about 40 students have brought in books so far (out of 1300+ students in my building).  Also I have to make sure tables are set up and books moved from my room to small gym, etc.  But I'm glad we're doing it!  I think it's a GREAT way to involve my students in an authentic LITERARY activity!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

spelling bee!

Go Spellers!  (Tune in tonight, 8:00 Eastern Time, ABC)  I now realize why some of these champion spellers behave oddly..... THEY ARE MIDDLE SCHOOLERS!  Yes, it only took me 6 years of teaching middle school students to make the connection :p

As I continue to watch this, I can't help point out details to support the claim above:

* Put several 13 year old in the same room, some look like "teenagers", and some clearly have not hit puberty
* Social skills are ... QUIRKY at best, WEIRD is the most neutral and common term that comes to my mind, and use your imagination for all the terrible words 13 year olds use to describe each other
* Despite the range of social skills I've seen displayed, the spellers have highly developed verbal skills. DUH, I know!  But I have to state the obvious because I teach students on the other end of the spectrum.
* When you realize the tricky developmental hurdles over which they are navigating and consider all the 13 year olds you've ever known including yourself, don't you just want to give them high 5's and wish them the very very very best?!?!?!?!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day 2009

Our Memorial Day started with cemetery visit to place freshly potted geraniums at my father-in-law's grave.  (He was a Korean War veteran.)  Then we scored prime seats to view and cheer on our local town parade.  I'm really glad we're enjoying this "small town" environment, where we greeted many friends among parade folks and spectators.  Even though I'm proud of growing up tough in NYC where I remember pushing and shoving our way through spectating crowds and trying not to be pickpocketed or abducted, I'm happy that my daughter has THIS scene to remember...  She can choose a tough city to grow and test her street smarts when she's older!

I hope you all enjoyed the holiday :)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

reading frenzy

I think I tend to start "summer reading" when summer vacation is soooo close that my mind is already there, even if my body is still working the school year.  This was the "summer reading" post I wrote May 31, 2008, in anticipation of summer vacation.  I then blogged about my Twilight reading marathon in subsequent weeks while I taught the year-end portfolio project.  But I read very little during that ACTUAL summer vacation.

So I have started "summer reading" frenzy - Percy Jackson and the Olympians series a few weeks ago, then read and wrote review for The Picnic Basket about The Baseball Card Kid (my review is in the comment section) last week, and (drumroll please) my latest obsession, Nancy Farmer's The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm.  It's awesome young adult science fiction, reading and content level probably grade 9 and above, in my opinion.  (I can see more mature 8th graders reading and enjoying it.  More on appropriateness later in this post.)  Farmer's web site has interesting autobiographical information related to the author's background and writing career.  I'm going to try to read more of her books, like The House of the Scorpion.

Literally, for 2 days, I could not stop talking about The Eye, the Ear, and the Arm to anyone who paused to listen.  Past few years, I've know about the book, but I had a hard time saying the title all in one breath and in the right order.  Apparently, when I think about something for 48 hours, I say it pretty well!  The story is set 200 years in the future, in Zimbabwe, when robots serve those who have money.  The title characters suffered mutations from plutonium waste near a nuclear facility, and they use their "special" skills to form a detective agency.  They are good-hearted and intelligent people but professional inept detectives who consistently fall steps behind 3 kidnapped children.  Farmer's focus on children (and adults) who persevere through hard times shines through the 3 children's ingenuity, resourcefulness, and devotion to each other.

My school librarian friend (also my carpool buddy - aren't I lucky?!) and I have discussed whether to include this or other Farmer titles in next year's Battle of the Books at our school (grades 6, 7 & 8).  Eye, Ear, Arm incorporates traditional Zimbabwe history and cultural (fascinating) and explores good vs. evil themes (with kidnapping, implied animal/human sacrifice, spiritual possession, etc. that may be more appropriate for more mature young adult readers).  Librarian friend and I concluded that we're not interested in including Ear in the Battle.  This book reminded me of how I gorged science fiction and fantasy novels as a teenager, some of which were probably over and above my "maturity" level (i.e. Dune series, Isaac Asimov, Robert A. Heinlein, Piers Anthony), haha.  (I'm a classic example of the "underground reader" as per The Book Whisper Donalyn Miller's classification.)

I might as well read as much as I can while I'm living the "summer reading" dream!  The good news is I'll never run out of material :)  I wish y'all happy reading anytime!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Bittersweet Monday - I learned the hard way today that a journal writing topic of "Mother's Day" is loaded.

Fun Monday - I received my first free "reviewer's copy" of a book The Baseball Card Kid today, thanks to terrific blog The Picnic Basket.  Just request a free reviewer's copy and then read and write a review on the blog within 2 weeks!

Also Fun Monday - I just started book 4 of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, The Battle of the Labyrinth.  Book 5 is the final one in the series and just hit the stores last week - can't wait!!!  It's super addicting...  Ok, I promise not to neglect my Picnic Basket duty as indicated above :)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Happy Mom's Day

May our best and brightest dreams for children come true!

Friday, May 1, 2009

free comic book day

Saturday, May 2, 2009 - check out the web site to find a participating store near you!  Happy reading :)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

lightning read

Friday was the consummate Awesome Day for the English Teacher.  Students started writing their memoirs on notebook computers, and after the prerequisite review of basic word processing rules ("I know some of you are very familiar with keyboarding due to extensive IM'ing and/or texting, but word processing is not the same") and completed graphic organizer notes ("this organizer is not how you tell a story, it's just a reference when you run out of things to write, so you can check whether you included enough descriptive details"), they worked on the computers in a focused manner, either absorbed by font style decisions or actual writing.

During this Golden Silence, I read in a feverish manner The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan. Of course, I told students what I was reading and why I was so absorbed in the excellent story, clever incorporation of Greek mythology, and gratifying character development.  A few students responded with "Oh I read that book", but most barely looked at me and resumed to their laser-like focus on the computers.  I also told them that I may be "lost" in my reading so they should make some polite noise to attract my attention if their raised hands failed to bring me back.  And don't you know occasionally I'd glance up and see a lone student with his/her hand raised, silently staring at me.

Hall passing time provided opportunities to share my responses ("I think I know who's going to betray him!") to whatever I was reading with the random passerby.  Fortunately for me, the student whose locker is next to my classroom and the teacher across the hall both loved the book and indulged my utterances with misleading commentaries ("Oh too bad his friends died").

It was an excellent Friday.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy Earth Day!

Here's the cute and cheesy movie version of Dr. Seuss' The Lorax - "I speak for the trees!"

Monday, April 20, 2009

top thrills in NYC

I started a self-imposed 10pm internet curfew... so very quickly, here are my top 2 NYC thrills during our trip over Easter break.

#1 - Passing by the new CitiField on the 7 train as we traveled from Flushing, Queens into and later out of Manhattan on the day of Mets home opener in the new stadium.

#2 - During a guided tour of Ellis Island, excellent tour guide Dennis demonstrated 10% (representing how many immigrant hopefuls at Ellis Island were labeled "sick") by choosing some people in the crowd, including my daughter who was sitting on my husband's shoulders. Dennis just pointed out specific individuals and told them to raise their hands.  See my girl raising her hand?  Later Dennis hinted that his 10% criteria was wearing sunglasses on top of the head, ha!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

more vacation reading

I admit I brought along to NYC but did not read either book mentioned in previous post.  We returned home yesterday, and I have now picked up and started yet another book, The World is Flat by Thomas L. Friedman.  I've read a few chapters and feel bogged down by a lot of tech history, but generally I love the idea of individuals reaching across the globe to other people. Of course blogging is one major example of our flat world :)  The author noted early in the book that we Americans need to be creative, empathetic problem-solvers.  In essence, this validates the point of A Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink!

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

vacation reading

I promise to blog properly soon about The Book Whisperer and how it addresses my frustrations and ideas about reading instruction.  I'm already on chapter 3 - it's a pretty easy read and has many great resources throughout.  If you google the title, you'll find the author's blog etc.

The Lightning Thief has been on my to-read list for some time.  I read a few pages and, instantly, the main character grabbed my interest!

Spring break started this afternoon :)  We're going to New York City for a few days, and I promise to post pics!

Friday, April 3, 2009


This is the backdrop of my daughter's second grade music class performance today of "Horton Hears a Who", a Seussical! Jr. production.

Monday, March 30, 2009

slogs galore

We're in the "write a lot" stage of preparing to write memoirs.  Each lesson focuses on a particular literary element, such as the social environment of a story.  The lesson begins with...

1. a short journal "slog" writing prompt (i.e. at least five sentences; for previous slogs, I've given the option of making lists, but now I want sentences), about 5 minutes
2. pair share after the writing, about 5 minutes
3. voluntary class share, about 5 minutes
4. mini-lesson about the literary element, including a short reading passage to demonstrate the literary element, about 10 minutes
5. a second slog writing prompt and sharing, about 10 minutes.  Both writing prompts relate to the mini-lesson/literary element.

Originally I planned to read aloud from Jerry Spinelli's memoir, Knots in my Yo-yo String, and I've read a few chapters so far.  I've also found good passages from Dropping in with Andy Mac - the life of a pro skateboarder.  A colleague gifted me the Andy Mac book last year when we were both packing up to move our classrooms.

Despite initial moans and groans about "so much writing" each lesson, students are writing more readily!  We're going to enjoy a Dr. Seuss interlude the few lessons before Easter break (The Lorax to celebrate Earth Day), then we'll start drafting the actual memoirs after break (late April).

Monday, March 23, 2009

sun and ice, kinda nice

Still waiting for the real spring to arrive :p  We're given teasers, such as a week ago Sunday, pictured above, sooooo nice and sunny!  We were in the village of East Aurora, southern suburb of Buffalo, NY where this ice rink from the NHL Winter Classic 2008 lives "temporarily".  I'm not a skater, but my husband and daughter enjoyed a nice little skate before the ice turned mushy.

In the meantime, I concluded our Diary of a Wimpy Kid writing project and started a memoir project. We're just brainstorming and writing journals while reading excerpts from Knots in My Yo-yo String by Jerry Spinelli.  We'll also read from Sing a Song of Tuna Fish by Esme Raji Codell.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


I've been slacking on this blog, and I blame it on a late-winter slump.

My students finished the nature watching and writing part of the unit, and I changed the culminating assignment from poetry to... a choice of writing and submitting a Diary of a Wimpy Kid style diary entry to our local newspaper or writing and submitting (where?  still working on it) a poem.  In either case, they must use poetry elements or literary techniques, such as alliteration, simile, metaphor, onomatopoeia, etc.

Students are typing their work on notebook computers in our classroom.  Word processing is always an adventure with 6th and 7th graders!  Despite their claims of being familiar with computers (i.e. IM or games), they need a lot of word processing practice.

I admit that writing with these students who already "struggle" with reading and writing is like pulling teeth.  And I really don't want to be a dentist, but I feel compelled by their reluctance to MAKE THEM write MORE, not less.  I want them to stop using AVOIDANCE to cope with their insecurity or lack of knowledge or lack of skill or whatever, and just PRACTICE.  QUANTITY OVER QUALITY, because quality eventually shows up after MUCH quantity.  So our next unit is the memoir.  We'll read some together, such as Jerry Spinelli's Knots in my Yo-yo String, Walter Dean Myers' Bad Boy, and Esme Raji Codell's Sing a Song of Tuna Fish.

Yes, those readings will lead to student memoir writing, but I need a stronger hook.  They've already done illustrated writings, so I need something else... not sure what...

Saturday, February 28, 2009


I love this animated short film "Oktapodi" - nominated for 2009 Academy Award.  Just too cute!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

mid-winter recess

After the plane crash in my town over a week ago, I was on an emotional roller coaster for a few days.  But by Sunday, the bright sunshine felt so promising!  The others pics show a fancy restaurant where I met friends for dinner and the ice cream eating contest (note Perry's Ice Cream mascot) at our local mall (in which we did NOT participate, thanks for asking).

My main stay-cation activity NOT depicted above is organizing my closet of clothes, shoes, and bags.  I intended to take pics of the consignment shop where some of my stuff now reside and the Goodwill donation truck where some other stuff of mine went on permanent vacation... but there was a snowstorm yesterday when I planned to take pics.  The snow was sooooo demoralizing... Anyway, I learned a lot about my Stuff and its resell value (for example, shoes and bags bring in more $$$ than clothes).

Many of you will read this and think, "THAT's a vacation?  Work would've been more interesting." But it was a restful week, and I'm thankful!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

a few miles, a few seconds

... that's the difference between our house and the house obliterated by Continental Flight 3407 on Thursday, February 12 at about 10:20pm.  We also live on "the flight path", which just means we're very used to the sounds and sights of planes flying low overhead on their way to the Buffalo airport.

I was the only one awake in our house at that time, watching "Grey's Anatomy" and texting commentaries with a friend.  We were both irritated that our show was interrupted by a local "breaking news" announcement, until I realized the news anchor said the name of my town.  Then I looked on-line everywhere to find out exactly WHERE, to no avail, till 11:00.  I woke up my husband, called my mom, and updated my status on Facebook, while we watched the news.  We couldn't see any smoke near us and only heard a few sirens.  I may have fallen asleep at about 1am, and woke up 1:15am when a text message came through from a worried friend, then woke up periodically through the night.

My main concern initially was how to explain this to my almost-8 year old daughter.  School was cancelled Friday, but I had to work (in another district), so she spent the day at her best friend's house, and they did watch a bit of news coverage and talked about it with her friend's mom.  She has been very matter-of-fact and not emotional about the whole event, and that does reflect her temperament to some degree.  I guess my worries were unnecessary, but we'll see.

Remember my previous post about reading The Shack?  I read that book on Wednesday the 11th.  The next day, the day of the plane crash, my school district (where I work) cancelled school due to bad weather, so I had all day to think about the book, run errands, and visit my father-in-law's grave (it was the one year anniversary of his death).  In the afternoon, I stole some "chill out" moments at the Clarence Center coffee shop and wrote in my journal.  One of my resolutions of the day was to "cover the basics" with my daughter - have a simple yet overdue conversation about God.  And we did, that evening on our drive to her piano lesson.  That night, the plane crashed 2 miles from our house and 2 blocks from that coffee shop.

As for me, I don't know what to say, except "up and down".  Sometimes I feel very thankful, sometimes I'm very depressed.  I'm very relieved to have this coming week off, our "mid-winter break".

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

love story

Lately, I have often felt overwhelmed and confused by the magnitude and weight of human suffering, either through first-hand experience or empathy.  I don't think it's a coincidence that, also lately, several people have recommended this book, The Shack by William Paul Young, to me.

There are many ways to describe this book and the fictional story and essential truths contained within, but I'll only make one connection to the upcoming Valentine's Day.  The core of our human existence, including joy and suffering, is a love story between the Creator (God) and the creation (us).  I finished reading the book today, and the thoughts and feelings are swirling and churning inside.  I just hope that, if your state of mind is similar to mine, you would give this book a try.

Monday, February 9, 2009

poetry lessons

This is my favorite source for poetry lessons for 7th and 8th graders - Writing Process Activities Kit by Mary Lou Brandvik.  I realize there are writing lessons of various sorts in the book, but I have borrowed this book countless times from colleagues during the past six years for the exclusive purpose of teaching my favorite unit ever - poetry.

I never read much poetry until I was student teaching at a local high school and the cooperating teacher asked me, "Do you like poetry?  Who's your favorite poet?"  Ummm........

During my first year of teaching, a colleague/friend recommended the poetry unit in this book. Teaching poetry means writing poetry, and I enjoy writing poetry much more than reading poetry. Here's one previous post about this poetry unit and how (last year) I incorporated "nature walks" (on school property) into the unit.  Honest to goodness, when your students follow the prescribed poetry lesson forms, someone who does not know your lesson will read those poems and be flabbergasted at the depth of feeling and strength of voice.  They can't tell that your students were simply following your directions!!!

For example, the first poem in the unit is the "List Poem".  Students write a personal list of "don'ts" from their parents.  They LOVE writing this poem!!!  Another is the family metaphor poem, and students compare their family and individual members with some object or concept, such as "My family is a medicine cabinet/Mom is the band-aid/Dad is the glue/I am the shelves holding everyone up".  (I am paraphrasing the sample poem in the lesson.)

The best return for this unit is holding a Poetry Cafe event - invite parents, faculty, administrators, etc. to attend, provide snacks, and each student reads one poem.  All the adults will be overwhelmed and some will cry.  Promise.

I do NOT teach this unit in my current remedial course just because... some of my students have English teachers who teach this unit in their regular English class.  Oh well!  I pass along this absolute resource GEM to you!!!

Saturday, February 7, 2009


That's me, delinquent, not my students.  Delinquent blogger above, attending University at Buffalo men's basketball game today.  This team has a smokin' HOT 16-5 record right now!

Most noteworthy recent teaching events...

#1 - Guided Study Class - going very well!  These 4 sections of 8th graders are from 2 teams, so I find out what work they have, keep them on track during class, and review for tests/quizzes. Students are very cooperative, so we'll see if there are visible improvements soon. What I didn't expect was being questioned by coworkers who are also my friends about the validity of the program and whether this is the best use of my supposed skills and expertise.  So I explain as best I can the goals and expectations of the course and try not to be defensive.

#2 - Scoring student writing on the state assessments - last Thursday and Friday and 2 more days next week!

#3 - I still teach 6 sections of ELA Lab to 6th and 7th graders, and we started a nature poetry unit!  SO FUN!  Each lesson, I focus on one poetry element (such as imagery, white space, etc.).  We read a poem, watch about 10 minutes from the Planet Earth series (our school library owns the DVD collection, but anyone can watch episodes on the web site free!), and then students write about what they saw using the poetry element of that lesson.  We'll use this format to study poetry elements for about 2 weeks, then students will write nature poems using elements that we studied.  I'm working on this culminating activity - each student creates a web page with his/her own poem and graphics, and the web pages will be posted on my teacher (school) web site!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

happy new year

(Pics - Toronto Chinatown, Spadina Avenue, for the good eats; frozen fountain structure on Cumberland, just north of Bloor Street, for the good shopping)

New (lunar) year, new (academic) quarter, and a new course!  I'm starting a new course called Guided Study Class with another English teacher colleague.  We each will have 4 new sections of students who are struggling in some academic area, and we are going to use their study hall class time to make sure they get their work done.  We keep in touch with their teachers to find out what assignments and study work need to be done.  We'll assist them as much as we can, and they have to use our class time to work!  The premise is that students do NOT have the option of giving up.

I will continue to teach the remedial English Language Arts course to 6th and 7th graders.  The new "Guided Study Class" is possible because 8th graders "graduated" from the remedial course after the state assessment.  Speaking of that lovely thing, well, it's done!  Scoring to be done in early February.

Happy Year of the Ox, everyone!  We spent 2 days in Toronto (2 hour drive away, if no traffic) for the sake of "celebrating" new year, which meant eating and shopping :D  It was Freezing Cold, especially since it's a walking around kind of city.  In warm weather, the walking around would be so enjoyable because there's so much to see and do and eat!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day

For the past week, I've been wishing that I was attending the inauguration in person.  (And yet ... every teacher I know is bound by an employment contract that prohibits taking personal days before or after a holiday or vacation... so were there any teachers in attendance?!)

Last week, our school district office warned us against online viewing of live coverage using school computers due to concern about network overload etc.  There were 2 cable TV set-ups in my building today, and I scurried in and out of the library during planning periods in the morning to watch live coverage.  At noon, I scooted into the library (now full of students and teachers) with my lunch just in time to watch the President take the oath of office, and I realized I was in perfectly good company.

(Above - a celebratory Starbucks decaf skinny vanilla latte)

Monday, January 19, 2009

living outside the box

This is the varsity hockey team from my school district (where I work) hosting the team from the town where I live.  We wanted something fun to do outside the house today, so this morning we drove 30 miles to watch the game.  The hockey itself is entertaining enough (yeah, we're hockey crazy), but watching former students play hockey was super entertaining!  (I taught 7 out of 19 players on the roster - wow!)

This "blast from the past" mixed in with today's MLK holiday and pre-inauguration thoughts was a strange combination, but there was meaning in it for me.  Teaching expands my comfort zones and opens my eyes, ears, mind, and heart to people so very different from me.  I'm honored to be part of this profession, and I'm honored to be an American like Dr. King and our new president.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I hit the wall

In the middle of the day, in the middle of last week, I hit the wall of state exam prep and could not make myself or anyone else do any more prep work.  So we played Scrabble!  The one main deviation from normal Scrabble rules is that I encourage any and all dictionary use with NO penalty whatsoever.

The exams are next Wednesday through Friday.  In class, we'll be playing more Scrabble and Mad Libs.