Sunday, March 9, 2014

Getting Back to Writing

Today I was able, or rather, I made time to do some writing. March 9 and a New Year's Resolution was still in play. I reread a piece from many years ago, and did some revising. Here is what I have so far.

      We were about one third of the way through the school year. Sixty days so far with A. Only 120 more to go! No, A had certainly not been the “easiest” student I had ever had. She was loud and brash and entered the room every morning with all the grace of a blonde, gawky hippopotamus.
            “Good morning, Giffin,” she would shout across the room.
            With that greeting I knew that today would be a good one. At least, we were off to a good start. If there were no greeting, no eye contact her PCA and I would brace ourselves for the inevitable onslaught of “No’s.” A wasn’t proficient in any of the twenty odd standards for language Arts and Math. But when she was in the “mood”, she was advanced in “No’s”.
            “Good morning A. Would you please give me your book” I would ask ever so gingerly, able to predict what would come next.
            “No.” A would shake her head slightly and look at me with all the patience of an exasperated teenager. Ms. S would try, “A grab your bag and it is time to head upstairs.”
            Once again, look, head shake, gosh-you’re-so-dumb smile and, “No!”
            And so our days would go. Some days were good, some days were dreadful, and most were in-between. A, Ms. S, and I had settled into a routine – sometimes comfortable but more often than not, not. It was late December. The air had grown cold. The leaves had fallen and the trees were now bare. What precious little time there was of daylight was often gray. The scenery outside belied the chaos going on inside the school. Students and teachers were eagerly awaiting the winter vacation. Nerves were stretched to just about the breaking point. Snippets of conversation floated around the building giving hope to those who were barely hanging on.
            “Only three more days.”
            “I am going to sleep until noon.”
            “Yeah! No homework for a whole week!”
            Yes, we were all a bit frazzled and tense, but we were hanging on. Today was the day of the winter concert assembly. Grade level by grade level we were called down to the gym. The students were excited at the change in routine, excited to be seeing siblings playing an instrument or singing in the chorus, excited to be out of the classroom. In short, they were EXCITED!! I however was thinking of the 25 narratives that still needed to be scored, the holiday cards that needed to be written, the gifts to be wrapped, and a hundred other items to be crossed off a list.
            We filed into the gym and quickly took our places. We sat in front of the older grades so we could see, and behind the younger grades so they could see. Never mind that half the children were of extremely different heights and the other half would sit on their knees. As usual, I sat on a bench and positioned A on the floor right next to me.
            “Yes A, I see your sister” I whispered as the older students began to file in.
            “No A you can’t go see your sister now.”
            “A, please sit on your bottom like the other students.”
Would this assembly never end? A was wound as tightly as a clock and we had two and a half more days to go. I just knew that I would never make it. First came the strings. Screech, scritch, scratch. Clap, clap. What a lovely rendition of Silent Night. Excuse me? Oh, it was Frosty the Snowman. So far so good with A but one could never tell. She tried over and over again to get her sister’s attention, waving frantically. A few more reminders, “, please sit down, the people behind you cannot see. Watch your hands, you hit So-and-So.”
            Next was the orchestra. Could A make it to the end? Could I?
            Finally, it was time for the chorus. A’s sister was in the chorus so I prepared for more waving, loud calling of her name, even standing up. A did not disappoint me and managed to stand up, call her sister’s name, and wave all in one motion.
            “A you need to sit down so everyone can see and hear your sister sing.”
            I don’t recall the first two or three songs. A though greeted each song with enthusiastic applause. The end of the concert had arrived. One more song, dismissal, and then quiet. The final song was immediately recognizable to all in the audience. Jingle Bells! A was no longer able to contain herself. But this time her outburst, instead of being negative, was pure joy. Her eight year old face lit up with the joy of a toddler seeing Christmas lights for the first time, or a young child hearing the familiar tinkle of the ice cream truck on the first warm spring evening. A was excited, smiling, unable to stay in her own skin.
             Suddenly, I didn’t feel so stressed and tired. I found myself smiling at A. Such pure and innocent joy. It was at that moment that A gave me the first of many gifts. I was able to see, through her eyes, the eyes of a child, joy and hope. Joy and hope at the sight of a loved one, joy and hope at the familiar, much-loved song, joy and hope at life’s little pleasures. A. taught me much that year. The thing I remember most is her face when she heard “Jingle Bells.”

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Organizational Tip

         How do you keep track of what your students are reading, especially at home. I used to have my students log in their nightly reading in their homework book. Of course sometimes they would forget.Or I wouldn't be able to check. They always had their assignment books so I couldn't even collect them and take them home. This year I changed the way they keep track of their reading which has mad a huge difference. Each week the students begin a new reading log. Most days I give it a quick check to see that it has been collected. Then, once a week, students write me a quick note on what they are reading. This way I can collect 28 logs and easily review them during lunch, assemblies, or at home. Students then file the completed pages in a binder which we keep in the classroom. Students, parents, and I have quick and easy access to what the student has been reading at home to date.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Snowy Evening

Today's weather perfectly matches my favorite book. When looking at Kelly Hines' 20 day blogging challenge, Day one's assignment is to talk about a favorite book. The back corner of my mind spent the better part of 24 hours considering one book after another. I thought of Little Women - my first favorite book. The quintessential tale of a strong woman, my first experience real or otherwise with someone who shared my name, and the first book I stayed up all night to read (in third grade.) My first favorite series was Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew. I thought of my favorite read alouds On My Honor and House on Hackman's Hill. But nothing seemed to fit. Nothing that is until tonight.

After a long day starting with a 5:45 am spin class I returned home at 9:00pm.It had started snowing about 6:00 and a few inches at least had already fallen. My husband had swept the driveway a couple times but, it was now time for shoveling.  I had a quick snack and then set about clearing the driveway and the deck. It was so peaceful. There were no cars, no people, just the occasional sound of the shovel scraping asphalt. The snow fell silently glistening with the twinkle of Christmas lights buried under snow.

Then I had it, my favorite book to share and/or teach. Okay, technically it is a poem, but a dear friend had given me the book one year as a special gift. The absolute perfect book is Robert Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. Long a favorite of mine Frost captures for me so eloquently the beauty of a snowfall - a big snowfall. The kind of snowfall we are getting tonight.

So at 11:30 pm, after shoveling twice, I messaged a friend to join me for a walk on a snowy evening. Save for a few shovelers and snowplows, we saw no one else. Yet the Christmas lights still up kept us company. Our boots crunched on the snow unable to tell if we were on sidewalks or grassy lawns. After a few miles, I dropped her off at her house and continued home. My footsteps from when I started out nearly covered up as the last line of Frost's poem whispered in my ears...And miles to go before I sleep.

In school I read this to the students (ideally on a snowy day.) There are also some good videos with wonderful pictures on YouTube. Or, you could scan your students' art and create your own video. Afterwards the students draw pictures with white pencils on black paper of a snowy evening. They then write their own poems of a snowy day or evening.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year - 2014!

Another new year has arrived. And with it comes my resolutions. This year is no different. I have the usual - lose weight, get more fit, get more organized, declutter etc. Part of my resolutions (aka goals) are to specifically blog/write more often, track my workouts and nutrition, and return to my photo a day challenge. Of course, I also want to spend more time knitting, reading, and start a new garden. Does anyone know where I can get some more time?

Part of my blogging/writing goal has been spurred by Kelly Hines. Kelly is an amazing educator I met through Discovery Education. I sure do miss being part of the DEN. She has started a 20 day Blogging Challenge. So, I plan to use at least some of her challenges in my blog this month.

My very dear friend Susan Holden gave me a wonderful gift - a calendar. Now of course I already
have a school calendar, a bulletin board at home calendar, a desk calendar, and my Google calendar. But this calendar is different. It is to track my fitness goals and accomplishments. The year already has its first entry.My Winter Series Cham-Pain run. I feel so fortunate to have such good running/fitness friends. Often I get discouraged and feel too slow and not enough to really participate. But these friends, and Dan my husband as well, are always supportive and encouraging. Thanks guys!!

If you like to run, or you hate to run, but you want to get better, consider joining the Bucks County Roadrunners Winter Series. It is a series of Sunday morning runs in Tyler Park at 9:30 in the morning. Yes, it is usually cold ( And sometime wet, snowy, or flooded!!) And yes, it is early on a Sunday morning. But, the camaraderie and fellowship is well worth it. can always join us afterwards at Jake's for pancakes!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

With a late Thanksgiving this year - Christmas holiday preparation must be done rapidly. This is NOT something I do well. I like to put the decorations up bit by bit. Also, I am finding that weekends are crammed with festivities and parties. Again, something I prefer to spread out over the course of several weeks.

Something I am enjoying (other than the beautiful snow today
is the new group on Facebook - Techformers. It is a group of educators who see the benefits of using technology to help our students become thinkers, reflectors, and creators.

Today's challenge was to use a word cloud generator to create a picture using the words to a favorite Christmas song. I usually use Wordle - it is quick and easy. The down side for me, as a 4th grade teacher, is that some of the wordles in the gallery are not school appropriate. So, I do not let my students use it independently. But today, while exploring some new word cloud generators, I discovered ABCya. It is also quick and easy to use, and it seems to be younger student friendly.

Here is the word cloud I made from one of my favorite Christmas songs.

Tomorrow during computer lab I will have the students select their favorite holiday song. I show them how to copy and paste into a word document and then upload to Then they will work on MS Paint to illustrate the song. 

Happy Holidays!!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Let the Children Play

Today I took a walk with my dog Ahna. We lost her older sister last week, so we have been trying to give her a little more attention. What a glorious fall afternoon it was. It was warm, but not too hot. There was a very gentle breeze. The sun was shining through the autumn leaves and a few clouds in the sky hinted at the dreary days to come. I expected to see much activity. And, we did. Two men were cutting there grass. One an older man pushed the mower back and forth in even strips. the other, a much younger man, rode his mower while listening to something from his ear buds, seemingly oblivious to the world around him. Another man was trimming shrubs and cutting them up for garbage bags, while a fourth man determinedly push a spreader across his lawn, eager for spring to bring bright green grass. We smiled and waved as we passed our neighbors, but something was amiss.

We rounded the corner and kept going. Here a woman was taking advantage of the beautiful day to paint some furniture in her driveway. This was probably the last really nice weekend of fall we agreed. Further on a man was repairing his driveway. Heading for home we heard the sounds of a table saw intermingle with the lawn mowers and leaf vacuums. A neighbor was cutting wood for a home improvement project on his to do list.

We did see a lot of people and heard many sounds. However, I didn't hear or see any signs of children. There were no screams, shots, or laughter. No children playing tag or riding bicycles. No children at all.

Now my little town is a quaint, historic suburb that prides itself on being a great "family" town. We are not an active adult community. I know children live here. I saw them on Halloween, and I see them every morning waiting for the school bus. Drive by a soccer field and they are packed full with children.

Why were all the driveway basketball hoops silent with no balls, no foul shots, no accusations of fouls made or shots missed? Why did all the swings sit still except for a gentle push by a random breeze? Why were the elaborate backyard play structures empty, dead with no children's imagination to breathe life into them as castles, forts, and rocket ships? Where were all the children?

Were they all indoors with electronics? Were they at adult organized activities like soccer, scouts, or ta-kwan-do?

Our society grows and thrives based on the imaginations and dreams of its children. Children need free, unstructured time to discover their world, their NATURAL world, outside. They need to be told to go outside and play. Let them wonder at the leaves changing color. Let them skin their knees and realize how cool a scab is. Let them get in fights with each other and learn how to resolve petty arguments.

Parents, adults, please let our children play. For our future is the future they are imagining now.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Sleep, Perchance to Dream

A week or so ago while in the car listening to the radio I heard an interesting question. "What is your favorite or best Christmas memory," the DJ's asked. People called in relating tales of puppies, bikes, and Santa sightings. I immediately thought of Christmases when my sons were young. The BB gun Christmas, hanging stockings, reading the Autobiography of Santa, and tree topping, just to name a few. But when I tried to remember something, anything specific from my own childhood I drew a blank. Where did we hang stockings? Did we hang stockings? Where was Christmas dinner? Did we sit on Santa's lap.

Certainly, I remembered things about Christmas. I knew we had one of those shiny aluminum trees with the rotating color wheels down the basement. I remembered photographs with piles and piles of presents. I know we baked cookies, or at least I think we did. But a specific, solid memory? Nothing! All those hours I am sure my parents spent shopping, wrapping, planning, and preparing. And what did I remember? Nothing!

Thinking it was strange that I couldn't think of one memory I started asking others to share one of their Christmas memories. A friend shared a memory of getting a puppy. One Christmas her father brought home a crazy little puppy. I asked my two sons and their girlfriends. One son remembered they year they got a pinball machine. The first "big" down-the-basement surprise present. The other son remembered putting the star/angel on top of the tree.
I didn't feel any better. Other people remembered Christmas stories. Why didn't I? Well, apparently I do have at least one memory. I woke up this morning thinking of a dream I had last night about getting my first pair of earrings. Only it wasn't a dream; it was a memory. In my sleep, while I dreamed, a memory I swore did not exist came to me.

It was 6th grade. We live in a big old house in Lansdowne. I loved that house and my room. My room had the world's best ever closet. Not only was it a walk-in it also had a light and a bench. It was the perfect place to hide  from four younger siblings and a dysfunctional family. I was 12 years old with responsibilities way beyond my years. I wanted to escape, to an aunt living in London, really, to anywhere. That closet was my escape portal in so many ways.

Anyway, see what happens when memories appear? That Christmas I received this pair of 14K gold stud earrings. They had to be 14K gold as a first  pair of earrings. When I opened this box I suddenly felt grown up. I was finally allowed to get my ears pierced. And before high school! A big deal for me back in the day.

Do you have any particular Christmas memories? So sleep, perchance to dream ....