Thursday, April 30, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - WAIT

     I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!

This week's theme topic is WAIT.

And while staying[a] with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with[b] the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” - Acts 1:4-5
Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you. For the Lord is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him. - Isaiah 30:18
But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. - Isaiah 40:31

I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living! Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord! - Psalm 27:13-14

     On Sunday, our pastor gave a sermon called, "Waiting for the Gift" and told a story about his father, who had anchored his boat on an island shore so he could enjoy some swimming.  However, a storm came and unmoored his boat. He began  swimming out into the ocean to rescue it, but the storm increased in fury, and he lost sight of the shore.  He grew desperate, swimming furiously to save himself.  As he was growing more and more exhausted, he heard a voice from God.  God asked him, "Can you tread water?"  Treading water had never occurred to him, but he realized that he could stop swimming and tread water for a long time.  His frantic efforts to save himself were going to be futile.  Only by stopping and waiting would he be rescued, and indeed, he was, about an hour later.

     Waiting and being still is so anti-cultural in America.  In our country, hard work, busyness, and reaching goals are all valued.   These are all good things since we want to be productive and successful.  However, sometimes, we can become so busy and frantic, we stop receiving God's gifts and power.  We are many times short-sighted and can only see a few inches in front of us, thinking we are in control; we will accomplish our tasks on our own time table and by our own efforts.  We want to fix things, plan things, make things happen.  Now.  God, though, tells us to wait.  As Peter says in his sermon, this seems too passive.  Shouldn't we be DOING something?!  But if we're constantly doing something, we'll miss the promises of God.  In the case of the apostles in the book of Acts, it was the Holy Spirit.  In stillness and patience, we can truly hear what God is saying and receive His instructions, gifts, and power.

     I think about waiting when I observe the students in our intermediate grade building.  They are taking the PARCC test this week, a mere couple months after the last round of testing.   The demands on their young lives are great.  Many of them are expected to learn curriculum they are not ready for, some are busy from the moment they wake up until the moment they crash into bed later than they should, and many are being entertained by a constant bombardment of activities, sports, video games, consumerism, and information.  We don't seem to be waiting for when kids are ready, for their brains and bodies to be ready - for whatever we want them to be ready for.  The idea of play, imagination, daydreaming, and free time seems to be antiquated.  I'm sure this generation of kids will be way more prepared for the work force than ever before.  They know way more information at their young ages than we did at their age.  And if they don't know it, they can find it out from the Internet in a matter of seconds.  I hope, though, that they haven't lost their ability to just BE, to enjoy the outdoors, to sit with their families and talk, to learn at a reasonable pace, to imagine. 

     This spring, there are so many things to plan, to attend, to do.  My mind is in constant planning mode, it seems.  I need to stop furiously swimming and tread water once in a while.  To receive the strength of the Lord and His gifts.  I know He has already planned everything for me.  I just need to wait to be rescued.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Nonfiction Wednesday - Trying Out Haiku Again

I'm excited that Alyson Beecher, at Kid Lit Frenzy, is continuing her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the fourth year in a row.

Thank you Margaret Simon for encouraging us to link up poetry this month using the hashtag #digipoetry.  Also, thank you Leigh Anne Eck for creating a button for us to use.
I wrote reviews several weeks ago for Nonfiction Wednesday in haiku to stay in the spirit of National Poetry Month.  This week, I write both my traditional review and then try out the haiku again.

Up in the Garden and Down in the Dirt
I enjoyed this lovely book, written in the same vein as Over and Under the Snow, by Kate Messner, and wonderfully illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal. Kids will once again be captivated by what is busily thriving under the ground while we enjoy what's growing on top of it! I also love the relationship between grandmother and granddaughter, the legacy of respecting nature being passed on, and the circle of life shown by the passing of seasons.
Nana and I dream
and plan, a garden awaits
with a world below.
Winnie: The True Story of the Bear Who Inspired Winnie-the-Pooh
I never knew the real story behind what I thought was a fictional Winnie-the-Pooh. I'm happy to know there was an adorable baby orphan bear who was the real Winnie and was taken care of and loved by a veterinarian soldier in WWI. When the soldier, Harry Colebourn, realized Winnie could be hurt on the battlefield, he took her to the London Zoo where she stayed and met Christopher Robin. The affection they had for each other inspired the boy's father, A.A. Milne to write the beloved Pooh books. Delightful illustrations accompany the story, and wonderful photographs adorn the end pages. Kids will be excited to learn the real story of Winnie-the-Pooh!
An orphan bear is
rescued by a kind soldier,
Milne's stories are born.


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Slice of Life - Memoir Poem


I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.
Thank you Margaret Simon for encouraging us to link up poetry this month using the hashtag #digipoetry.  Also, thank you Leigh Anne Eck for creating a button for us to use.
     I said earlier this month that I was going to try out writing some memoir verse around photos or memorabilia since my class is immersed in a FAMILY/HOME unit right now and reading/writing memoirs in various formats (narrative, verse, graphic memoir).  This poem is inspired by a letter that my mom wrote on December 22nd, 1966, four days before I was born (I was due on Christmas day, but appeared a day late).   This letter was the only that I have (she recently gave me a bundle of letters she wrote to my grandparents during my first year) that she wrote before I was born.
Mom about 5 months pregnant with me in 1966
It was only days
until December 25th, 1966,
the day
I was supposed to be born.
Festive lights twinkled                                       
on Baker Avenue,
festooning apartments
in Cincinnati.
I was waited for,
dreamt about.
The nursery
was decorated
with a clown lamp,
and my mother imagined
2:00 am feedings with
its 25 watt bulb,
dim and peaceful.
A scotch pine stood watch                                           
in the balcony window,
and unfallen snow
weighed heavy in the
steel gray clouds,
for a white Christmas
and a baby
to arrive.

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

These are memes started by Teach Mentor Texts and Book Journey, and I'm excited to participate, along with many other bloggers, in reviewing books I read the previous week.  I'll be reviewing picture books through adult books.

Almost two months have passed since I posted a #IMWAYR!!  Yikes.  I need to get back in the habit.  Here are some recent reads that I enjoyed:


Blue Birds

I enjoyed this multiple first person narrative, told in verse. Rose's May B. was a favorite of mine, so I had been looking forward to this one. Like May B., Alis, an English girl newly arrived in Roanoke, and Kimi, a native Roanoke girl, are strong and brave. They become friends, communicating secretly, and find companionship in each other, even when the adults around them start to hate each other. Their friendship could be deadly for their families, but they can't bring themselves to end their friendship. Birds throughout the story symbolize the hope and peace they find in their friendship, and one of them is faced with a choice that could change her life forever. Great Author's Note at the end. I'd pair this one up with Susan Cooper's Ghost Hawk.  

Hidden: A Child's Story of the Holocaust

Hidden by Loic Dauvillier

Since my students love graphic novels so much, this is a great way to introduce them to the Holocaust or contribute to their knowledge of it.  Pair it with Number the Stars or Boy on the Wooden Box. It  addresses a common issue with people who have endured war or tragedy - they are reluctant to talk about it. However, it is important to share the story. The grandmother who finally describes her experiences as a young Jewish girl during WWII to her granddaughter has ensured that it will never be forgotten.  This novel is perfect for intermediate grades.  One page deals with circumcision, so that may need to be explained.


I loved Endangered when it came out, so I was excited to read this one.  It's very different from Endangered, but just as amazing.  I was pulled into the "Inside" jungle of Gabon with Luc, an orphan rescued from terrible Monsieur Tatagani, who was holding the boy in awful conditions in order to pay off debts incurred by the death of his mother, by a professor who claims to be studying chimpanzees for National Geographic.  My heart went out to Luc, the little adorable vervet, and the chimps Luc befriended.  I loved it so much I chose it for my 6th graders' last read aloud of the year.  Can't wait for Schrefer's next one!  I'm a fan.

Paper Towns

Paper Towns by John Green

Since the brilliant John Green's novel, Paper Towns,  is the next to become a major blockbuster, I thought it was time for me to read it.  Once again, Green's hilarious, poignant, and smart storytelling grabbed me from the beginning and swept me along on a fabulous ride.   Q's epic and desperate journey with his quirky friends to find Margo will make an awesome movie.

Read Between the Lines

Read Between the Lines by Jo Knowles
My first thought when I finished this book was that it was depressing. I had a hard time with all the negative views of parents, families, the teen condition, and the world in general. After processing it for a couple days, though, I saw that each story ended with hope, however small.  I love that the whole idea for the story came from Knowles being flipped off. 

    The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics    

This is an incredible result of what must have been extensive research - a story of the University of Washington's rowing team's quest for gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Brown gives us an idea of the grit and resolve it takes to be a rower with the story of Joe Rantz's heartbreaking childhood. Abandoned by his father and stepmother, he was left to survive on his own at a very young age, never being allowed to be a part of the family. True to a classic quest story, Joe's journey to find where he belonged ends with his transformation after being a part of the amazing U. of Washington team. I loved the fact that Seabiscuit and Louis Zamperini, subjects of my favorite narrative nonfiction author, Laura Hillenbrand's, books, wove their way through the story. The Great Depression and Hitler's rise to power also come into play as the backdrop of this amazing narrative. I listened to it on audio and loved the narrator. Highly recommended!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

DigiLit Sunday - Trying Out Apps and a Tanka

      I love that Margaret Simon has started a Sunday Link Up for posts about digital literacy at her blog to challenge us to share our technology journeys.
Thank you Margaret Simon for encouraging us to link up poetry this month using the hashtag #digipoetry.  Also, thank you Leigh Anne Eck for creating a button for us to use.
     Michelle Haseltine has been posting pictures using the app, Waterlogue, and I've wanted to try it.  I'm also reading The Crossover aloud to my fifth graders, continuing to marvel at the amazing poems throughout the story.  I came to a Tanka yesterday, and wanted to try writing one.  I put the two together using another app I found, After Photo.
Tanka from The Crossover:
Tanka for Language Arts Class
This Christmas was not
Merry, and I have not found
joy in the new year
with Dad in the hospital
for nineteen days and counting.
Mine (I think its a little hard to read - wish I could get the text in black, but I couldn't figure that out.):

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Spiritual Journey Thursday - FAMILY

     I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly theme topic.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!

 Image found on this website

This week's theme topic is FAMILY.
    "But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children-- "   - Psalm 103:17     
     "Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it."  - Proverbs 22:6
     The theme topic family came to me this week because I attended a bridal shower for Libby hosted by her fiancĂ©'s mother and sister.   As I walked in and saw them busily putting finishing touches on the  beautiful room - the sunflower-adorned "Mint To Be" favors, the game instructions, a vase of red roses with attached love notes from Jamie, a tower of chocolate strawberries, champagne punch, sunflower and "S" shaped cookies, etc., all lovingly arranged and planned, I was overwhelmed.  Here was another family about to love and welcome Libby into their fold, full of joy and acceptance. 
     They are a large family - 10 kids!  We've gotten together with them several times, and each time I've thanked God that this is the family I will share Libby with - the Christmases, the Thanksgivings, the birthdays, the Easters, the vacations, the ordinary moments, and even future grandchildren.  We are truly blessed that God chose this family for her.  She's not just getting Jamie, she's getting the whole gang, and they are amazing.  This is a family who loves Jesus, who cares for orphans in Guatemala, who likes to laugh and play games, who supports each other's endeavors, who are kind and gentle, who pursues learning and service, and who cares about each other and the world deeply.  
     Marriage can be hard in this current cultural climate.  Not everyone believes in it or supports it.  Not everyone applauds 22-year-olds making this lifelong decision.  However, this is a couple whose families are behind them 100 percent, who have enjoyed their own marriages (started young) and parenting (they did it us times 5. ;-)) , and who know that God chose them for each other and will not forsake them.  Family is such a strong force and bond, and she's so blessed that she has two of them who are watching out for her.  I hope Jamie knows we are watching out for him, too, and feel incredibly blessed that she chose him.  We know he is going to be a great husband and trust him whole-heartedly.
     Ed and I enjoyed the same acceptance and support from our own families.  We are each blessed with parents who have enjoyed long marriages and are continuing to enjoy life together and who were (and are) happy we chose each other.  They provide us with examples of faith, commitment, and joie de vive every day.  It is a legacy that blessed us, and we know it will bless Libby and Jamie.
                          Libby on spring break vacation with her new family.  She's in red.  I think she fits in! ;-)
 Libby (in blue) at the bridal shower with her sister, Katie (right) and
new sisters front and left (one not pictured because she is in Guatemala).


Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Slice of Life - Classroom Challenge Celebrations and Reflections

I love participating in Slice of Life, started by Two Writing Teachers and writing a story, reflection, or musing at least once a week.

Last week I held celebration parties for the kids who participated in the Slice of Life Classroom Challenge.  At the end of February, I presented various levels of prizes for participation.  Nothing was required or graded except for the very minimum completion - to publish a 250 word slice and comment on three other slices once a week (this is a requirement in my classroom all year).  Beyond the once a week, I created levels of participation and rewards.

Level 5 was the top prize.  These are pictures of my four classes and the Level 5 participants.  These kids published a slice every day in March, 250 words each, and wrote three daily comments on other slices, all 31 days - even during our spring break!  They got a slice of pizza and cake, a cup of soda, a cookie, and a piece of candy or gum.  Bravo!!

The kids in Level 4, the next level down, wrote 26-30 250 word slices, 3 comments each time.  I was very proud of them, too!  We had many Level 4 participants!

After the challenge, I asked the kids to fill out a reflection sheet and parents to e-mail me feedback.  Here are some snippets:


What did you learn about yourself as a writer?

- I am a better writer than I thought.
- I am good at adding adjectives to my writing.
- People enjoyed my way of looking at things.
- If I put my mind to it, I can do anything.
- I am creative and have good story-telling skills.
- People enjoy reading my slices of life.
- I can write about relatable topics.
- I learned that my perspective on things is very unique.  I can be entertaining or serious.
- I look at things at a new angle.
- People like when I write about my family.
- If I go deeper into a topic, people enjoy reading about it.
- I learned that I like to write short stories.
- People seem to enjoy my writing, and if I continue to develop it, I could become a very good writer.
- My writing is interesting and descriptive.
- I have pretty good writing ideas, and I write great slices.
- I am good at writing humorous slices.
- Comments boosted my confidence in writing.
- People actually want to read what I write.
- I can teach people things.
- I have good details and descriptions.
- I learned people enjoy my writing, and that I am not just doing it for a grade.
- I can create "whoa" moments.
- I learned that random, funny, every day things make really good slices.
- I learned that people actually looked forward to my posts, and that was incredible for me.  That encouraged me to write longer and better posts.
- If I put my personality into my writing, then it makes it more fun.
- I can make a small event into a massive piece of writing.
- I learned that even great authors get writer's block.
- Constructive criticism can be your best friend.
- My writing makes people happy and laugh.
- People are interested in my memories.
- My readers like it when I made allusions, alliteration, metaphors, and similes.
- I learned that it is very hard for a writer to come up with ideas.
- I learned that I like to write.
- I leaned that I'm funny.
- I always speak my mind and stand by what I think is right.
- I have an imagination like no one else's.
- I should believe in myself and keep writing.
- I could share something about my life.
- It gets easier to think of ideas the more you write.

Parent Feedback

- I was impressed with his posts.
- Writing has always been a struggle for him, and I was happy to see him tackle the challenge.
- It was nice to see how they supported each other and left positive feedback.
- It was a wonderful way for her to express herself.
- It was fantastic to see how many of the kids really opened up about their life and feelings.
- This was a great assignment because it really helped her practice her writing skills (and typing).
- When she made it all the way, she was really proud of herself!
- I liked watching her process of trying to figure out what to write about.
- I learned that _________ is very expressive and writes well.
- I liked reading other students' entries and comments and really liked to see how they supported each other through this.
- I love that it fostered encouragement and a spirit of cooperation and support among the students who took on the challenge.
- I did not realize her humor had the level of sophistication that was conveyed in several of her posts.
- I never had to remind _______to write.  It was her decision.  I'm proud of her.
- Slices of Life are real and aren't always pretty.
- I think she's improved as a writer, learning how to take ideas and make them more detailed.  A woman who can write can change the world.  I can't wait to see what she does with her talents!
- Writing has always been a challenge for him, so this is a good exercise to encourage creativity and and put thoughts on paper.
- The kids did a nice job reflecting on each other's slices.
- Her interest drove her to take initiative without me needing to ask.
- I noticed that writing comes a great deal more freely to _________now.
- The writing is really impressive for this age group.
- I was surprised when _______decided to go for the top goal and made it.
- She is doing a lot of writing at home on the blog.
- I loved watching/reading ___________participation in the SOL Challenge.
- This was a great opportunity for the kids.
- It really got kids to set goals and express their thoughts more than they normally would.
- The comments are very mature and positive.
- This enabled her to reflect on some wonderful times of her life.
- Knowing that other people will be reading the slices helps the writer do their best.

99% of parent feedback was positive, but there were a few negative, so to be true to reality, I'm going to include them.

- She learned a difficult lesson when she only completed Level 2
- I must admit I was not at all pleased with the rewards to the challenge (food).  These kids do not need this junk.
- After a week, he got burned out and took the night off.  One night turned into two, into three, etc.

A few negatives from the kids, too:

- The biggest obstacle in this challenge was finding the time to write.
- I wish it hadn't taken me as long to write them.
- Sometimes I didn't manage my time well, and I was literally writing until the last possible minute.
- It was hard to come up with ideas.

What did I do well?

- Creating a Google Doc of mentor slices.
- Discussing digital footprints and responsibilities.
- Expecting comments to be at least 2-3 sentences, specific, and encouraging/positive.
- Requiring 250 word minimum.
- Allowing students to choose their level of participation.
- Motivating students with prize levels.
- Celebrating.

What could I do better?

- Providing more support for writing ideas.  We created a Padlet for writing ideas, but I should have had the kids keep adding to it and going back to it.
- Commenting on more slices.  It was hard to keep up with reading and responding with my own challenge going on.
- Reading and commenting on outside schools' slices who were participating and encouraging my students to do the same.
- Establishing rules and expectations ahead of time for what happens if illness and technology glitches interfere with posting on time.
- Copying and pasting my own Slices of Life from my Blogger site to Kidblog so the kids could read each one.  When they weren't necessarily good for 5th and 6th graders, I could have written another one.
- Still thinking about the one parent's feedback about junk food.  Should I provide different/better prizes next year that don't involve food
- Designed more mini-lessons around what I saw in the slices. 
- Conferred more with writers.

Thank you, again, to the wonderful ladies at Two Writing Teachers.  The Slice of Life challenges are truly changing our writing lives!