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!