Thursday, February 25, 2016

Spiritual Journey Thursday - MINDFULNESS

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly basis.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
For the next couple of months, we are writing about each other's One Little Words.  Please join us!  If you have a One Little Word this year and would like to explore the spiritual aspect of it, let me know, and I will add you to the schedule!  Today's OLW is Violet Nesdoly word, MINDFULNESS. 
     This quote made me chuckle because of the parenthetical phrases.  Aren't they wonderful?!  I also love the first definition - that mindfulness is "being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different."  How often am I in that perfect state of mind?  Because that's perfect, isn't it?  Even when it's not perfect.  To be able to accept everything as is.  Right now.  And not wishing it were different.
     This is minor and maybe a little crazy, but that first definition makes me think of this particular habit I have - it used to be worse when I was younger.  I would be watching tv, having a conversation, or reading, etc., and I would notice things around the room that should be moved this way or that.  Maybe a wall-hanging was slightly crooked, or something looked out of place, a dirty glass needed to be put in the sink, or something should be moved over or rearranged, and I would have to get up and take care of it, or it would bother me.  That restlessness or obsessive tendency is petty and ridiculous.  It can  lead to bigger things - dissatisfaction, disappointment,  a critical spirit.  What if I looked at the world in a mindful way?  Being aware of what is happening right now without wishing it were different.  Leaving things as they are and being satisfied.
     The other important piece of that definition is the awareness.  How often am I aware of what is happening at any moment with full attention?  I can be a technology junkie.  My phone is always with me, and I check it frequently.  If the battery dies, or I leave it at home by accident, I'm anxious.  Being connected with social media, email, blogging, and texting can be dizzying.  I love that it can help me connect with family, friends, and colleagues, but it can definitely challenge mindfulness.  How can I be aware of what is happening right now when a hundred things might be happening right now?  I need to unplug more often in order to be more mindful of others, my surroundings, and my circumstances.  That is so challenging in this era of information overload!
    Of course, this brings me to the spiritual aspect of mindfulness.  Of being mindful of God.  What am I doing to keep my awareness of Him?  The things of this world are constantly pulling my mind away from God.  Then there's this...God is mindful of US.  Isn't that amazing?!

Psalm 8: 1-4

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?
Our God is mindful of US.  Is it possible that he is not only aware of us, but he loves us as we are?  Not wishing we were different?  If He can know us completely and still be satisfied with us, then we can be aware and satisfied with ourselves and others.  Of course, that doesn't mean we can't grow and learn, but we don't need to obsess over the little things.  The petty things.  God, who made the heavens, moon, and stars, made us.  And He is mindful of us. 
January 14: Carol Varsalona - BELIEVE
January 21:  Margaret Simon - PRESENT
January 28:  Michelle Haseltine - SELAH
February 4:  Justin Stygles - (Blind) FAITH
February 11: Leigh Ann Eck - INTENT
February 18:  Irene Latham - DELIGHT
February 25:  Violet Nesdoly - MINDFULNESS
March 3:  Julieanne Harmatz - ADMIRE
March 10:  Holly Mueller - WAIT
March 17:  Linda Kulp - SIMPLIFY
March 24: Doraine Bennett - SHINE
March 31: Donna Smith - BOLD

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Nonfiction Wednesday

I'm excited that Alyson Beecher, at Kid Lit Frenzy, is continuing her Nonfiction Picture Book Challenge for the fifth year in a row.
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Phillip Hoose
I listened to this 2016 Sibert Honor Award winner, and wow!  What a fantastic book!  I was swept away by the story of a few courageous Danish boys who stood up to the Nazi regime during WWII. Bicycles and a frustration with the adults of Denmark fueled their protests.  I enjoyed listening to Phillip Hoose narrate parts of his book and talk about how his work with Knud Pedersen evolved. I will definitely purchase a copy of the print book for my classroom.  My 6th graders would love it.  It would go perfectly with our Social Responsibility and Leaving a Legacy unit.  We read a similar story about young German resistors in Scope Magazine a while back, which makes a good companion text.  We also read the picture book, The Yellow Star: The Legend of King Christian X of Denmark, which gives the reader a much different view of King Christian than Knud Pedersen and Phillip Hoose does.  It would be good for kids to research King Christian X and Denmark's WWII history to find out more.  I remember visiting the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and being fascinated by the wall of names and stories about Nazi resistors, helping to save Jews at the obvious risk of their own lives.  Books like The Boys Who Challenged Hitler challenge us, too - who would you be during time of war?


Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Slice of Life - Book Clubs Can Prolong Your Life

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

     On Facebook, Cincinnati Public Library posted a link to a study recently that showed that belonging to social groups like book clubs is better for your health than exercise and can result in a longer, healthier life.  Well, that's good news!  I should live forever!  I have been a book club fanatic for a long time.

     It wasn't until my 30s, however, that I joined a real life book club.  Before that, I enjoyed Oprah's Book Club, started in September of 1996.  Books on that list that made an impression upon me included Midwives, The Deep End of the Ocean, Where the Heart Is, The Pilot's Wife, Gap Creek, Daughter of Fortune, Back Roads, While I Was Gone, The Poisonwood Bible, Fall On Your Knees, Icy Sparks, Stones from the River, Open HouseDrowning Ruth, and I Know This Much is True.  Some of these remain on my all-time favorite list.  I remember loving her book club shows in which she would gather a group of readers together with the author.  At the end of the show, she'd announce the next pick.  When she moved to her online 2.0 book club recently, I read a few of those. My favorites were Wild and The Invention of Wings.

     When my family moved to Pittsburgh in 1999 when I was in my 30s, after living our whole lives in Ohio, I joined a real life book club through the Newcomers Group in order to get to know people.  It was a fantastic book club.  We met in each other's homes, and again, I read some of my all-time favorite books in that club:  Traveling Mercies, Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, The Kite Runner, Year of Wonders, The Red Tent, Their Eyes Were Watching God (which I also read in college), The Joy Luck Club, The Lovely BonesThe Secret Life of Bees, Bel Canto, Life of Pi, Shutter Island, The Dive From Clausen's Pier,  along with many more.  We had great discussions and food, and I did, indeed, get to know people, including my next door neighbor who became one of my best friends there. She and I tried to get a neighborhood book club together, and our first book for that was The Five People You Meet in Heaven.  This club did not thrive, but we read a few good books anyway:  The Time Traveler's Wife and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, and My Sister's Keeper
     In 2004, we moved back to Ohio, and I attempted to keep the book club spirit alive by organizing my good friends together.  That was probably the most dysfunctional book club ever created - we all say so!  We have vastly different tastes in books and just couldn't bring ourselves to read each other's picks.   Even though this little book club disbanded (only the book club - we're still fast friends), we managed to make some memories that make us reminisce and laugh.  The picture at the top of the post was taken very soon after we had moved back to our hometown area and into our new house; our first book was Mercy by Jodi Picoult.  I also remember rereading Outlander for this club, and watching two movie versions of Pride and Prejudice for another meeting.  The funniest book read during this book club era was Lisa's pick, Lamb, by Christopher Moore.  

     After this club disbanded, I went looking for another.  One soon formed with some colleagues from school and a few of their friends.  Again, we met in each other's homes.  We read some good titles in this club, too: The Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons (much more literary than the title suggests), and The Snow Child were several.  I think we also read The Help during that time. That group has evolved over the years, but is still a current book club of mine.  One of the ways it's evolved is that we stopped meeting in each other's homes and started going out to dinner.  We were so happy not to have to clean our houses and make food!  Going to restaurants is much more relaxing at this stage in our lives.  Some recently read favorite titles include A Man Called Ove, The Nightingale, The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Whistling Past the Graveyard, The Little Princes, and The Secret Keeper.
When I became a member of Lebanon Presbyterian Church when we moved back and wanted to become involved, one thing I did was co-lead a book club (of course).  Despite it being a church book club, we read a variety of genres and topics - not all spiritual.  However, one of our first picks was The Shack.  It was actually quite controversial, but I liked it.  I especially liked the portrayal of the Holy Spirt and her messy garden, which was seen as a perfect fractal from above.  I loved that metaphor.  I get that it was fictional and didn't necessarily represent scripture accurately, but it was an interesting way to look at the Trinity.  We read other titles like Same Kind of Different As Me,  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society.  This group is still meeting, but I've bowed out due to other commitments.
One year I took an Ohio Writing Project class called Teacher of Readers, and we read contemporary books, discussed them, wrote about them, and met the authors.  I was especially excited to meet Anne Lamott and Jodi Picoult - two book club favorite authors!

For school, I've led a variety of book clubs.  There have been Mock Newbery Clubs, Family Book Clubs, and small group book clubs for various unit theme topics.  Lots of pictures marking these books:

Most recent: Family Book Club Night discussing Out of My Mind

Family Book Club Night several years ago, featuring Wonder

Also several years ago; family book club day at Cincinnati Zoo, featuring The One and Only Ivan

Various Mock Newbery Book Clubs, meeting at school and at the library over the summer, and small book group clubs:



Because I love book clubs, I've started two new ones.  One is a girls' book club with my former students.  I taught them for three years and had a hard time saying goodbye, so I started a new one with them, now current 7th graders.  You can read about this book club here.

AND, I've started one with my ELA 5th and 6th grade colleagues, reading current middle grade books.  Our first one is PAX by Sara Pennypacker.  Stay tuned for a blog post on that one!

This turned out WAY longer and more involved than I planned.  As you can see, I'm planning a long and healthy life!

Also, I'm so excited about the Slice of Life March and Classroom Challenge, starting next Tuesday!!

Sunday, February 21, 2016

DigiLit Sunday - Process vs. Product

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.
     Margaret's topic this week is PROCESS vs. PRODUCT. In our current test-driven culture, process is taking a beating.  Product is everything.  We recently talked about this at a literacy meeting.  We were discussing writing and what we think are essential practices in teaching writing.  One of the things mentioned was that kids should be writing more than we can grade.  Hallelujah!  That is process-based.  However, we need to be striving for excellence, too.  Future colleges and employers aren't going to care quite as much about process (although, they will still value collaboration, critical thinking, and problem-solving) as product, so kids will need to be prepared to deliver top-notch results.  We educators need to care about both.  I loved Margaret's post on this.  She wasn't satisfied with student products, so instead of criticizing the kids' efforts (we tend to do this, don't we?), she realized she needed to go back and model the process in a more effective way.  The products turned out much better!  The process was hard work.  When the process is honed, so is the product.  We have to explicitly teach process - it doesn't come naturally.  Sometimes I think we assume it does.
     This leads to another important aspect of process...its difficulty.  Margaret's students exclaimed how hard the process was.  Yes!  When we're product-centered, we forget how cumbersome the process is in order to get there.  It's hard.  It's frustrating.  It's time-consuming.  It's tempting to give up on or circumnavigate.  Kids (and who are we kidding...adults) don't like the work it takes.  I loved Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's blog response to one of my students who asked if she revised The War That Saved My Life in a Skype visit.  You can read it here.  (By the way, if you have time, her blog is wonderful to read!)  She revised the whole novel seven times!  That's hard work.  That's what our students need to learn.  And we need to figure out how to teach it to them.
     We also need to differentiate between when it's worth doing the work of process for a product, and when it's okay to just produce any kind of product.  The product doesn't always have to be perfect.  It can be, in the words of Kimberly, crap.  Sometimes the product can stay crap, and sometimes you might come back to it and realize it has potential to be more.  THEN you can go through the process of making it better.  But sometimes it's just crap.  And you might have learned something anyway.  That's what writers' notebooks are for, right?  I think of all the artists and creators out there - I'm sure their studios, workshops, and offices contain some crap.  Those pieces are part of it all. 
     In my classroom, I'm still learning about process and how to teach it.  I remember in the 90s when I first started teaching, I taught the writing process one way.  Prewrite, draft, confer, revise, draft, confer, revise, self-edit, teacher-edit, publish.  I taught each process in order and had posters around the room defining each.  I even graded the process.  In order.  Wow.  I look back at that and realize how artificial that was.  It didn't leave room for individual process work.  There were good things that came out of it, though.  We did value the process, and back when I had more time and a purer workshop-style classroom, the students' products were excellent.  But I could've done better.
     This post turned out much more rambling than I expected.  I started the post thinking I would highlight a certain process or product we've done lately.  It turned out, though, more process than product, didn't it?! 
Students in process:


Saturday, February 20, 2016

Celebration Saturday - Salva Dut Visit!

I love linking up to a wonderful celebratory community, inspired by Ruth Ayres, every Saturday!

     You might know, if you follow my blog or follow me on social media, that I was so inspired by Linda Sue Park's A Long Walk to Water when I read it in the summer of 2013, that I collaborated with blogging friend, David Etkin, and a colleague at school, Tracy Kleis, and we started #ReadWalkWater - a social action plan with our 6th graders to help bring clean water to South Sudan.  David and I blogged about it on the Nerdy Book Club blog.  His school started working with the Ugandan Water Project, and Columbia Intermediate teamed up with Water for South Sudan, Inc.  This past fall was our third annual #ReadWalkWater event.  Together with the kids, the community, the staff, and Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson (a parent approached Tracy with a grant opportunity with Ethicon), we've raised over $35,000.
    Last week, we learned some amazing news!  Columbia Intermediate is the first school in the world to win the Iron Giraffe Super Challenge (raising over $25,000 in the 2014-2105 and 2105-2016 school years).  The grand prize is a visit from Salva Dut in March!!  On March 29th, he will visit the 6th graders at our school.  He will also present at the junior high, since the current 7th and 8th graders were involved in our first two walks.  We are also planning a Rotary breakfast, a luncheon, and an evening community event.  We are so honored to be blessed with a visit from such an inspirational man.  It's so exciting to know that Kings Local Schools students have made an amazing positive impact on the world, and they will get to meet real-life A Long Walk to Walk character and founder of Water for South Sudan, Salva Dut!


It's so exciting to see photos of Columbia Intermediate 6th graders in Linda Sue's TEDxBeaconStreet video below:

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Spiritual Journey Thursday - DELIGHT

 I look forward to Thursdays when I can publish thoughts on my spiritual journey and hear the thoughts of others on a weekly basis.  It has become a space for an encouraging and fortifying community to come together.  We welcome anyone who would like to join us!
For the next couple of months, we are writing about each other's One Little Words.  Please join us!  If you have a One Little Word this year and would like to explore the spiritual aspect of it, let me know, and I will add you to the schedule!  Today's OLW is Irene Latham's word, DELIGHT. 
Every time I look and read Irene's word, I smile.  What a wonderful word...DELIGHT!  It just makes my heart glad.  When I think of delight, I think back on when my daughters were toddlers.  When something delighted them, their faces lit up.  Their eyes sparkled and danced; their smiles widened and showed little white teeth (what there was of them); they gestured enthusiastically at whatever caused the delight.  Katie would exclaim, "Butterfwy!  Butterfwy!"  Libby would pick up little rocks or buckeyes and examine them carefully and delightfully before stuffing them lovingly in her pockets.  Their delight came from simple, ordinary things.  Things that we somehow forget to notice when we're older.  Where does that delight go?
I do not want to lose delight.  God has created such a heart-stopping world...brilliant sunsets, inspiring sunrises, squishy babies, stunning rainbows, flashy birds, breathtaking oceans, peaceful lakes, funny friends, loving families, majestic mountains, spring breezes, hopeful flowers, and on and on.   Such a creation. 
Last week I gazed out at the snowfall outside my sunroom windows, mesmerized.  God created that.  That magical white mystery - covering branches and rooftops, providing a beautiful backdrop for ruby red cardinals.  Delightful.  I got to watch it fall with my Spaniel's warm and cozy body pressed up against my folded and blanketed leg, chin propped up on my knee, eyes squeezed shut, completely trusting and sleepy.  I had a good book propped open, waiting for me to return.  Delightful.
Look at the scripture in the graphic above.  God wants to give us the desires of our hearts.  He gives them freely.  Such creativity in the world!  He wants us to delight in that creation, and in Him.  In HIM.  He is all around us.  Little children know that delight.  They pay attention to the little things.  They see Him everywhere.  They are impressed by the ordinary things all around them and are joyful.  We need to recapture that if we've lost it.
Thank you for your word, Irene.  It is a happy word.  It makes me smile.  I hope my eyes still sparkle and dance.  I hope I still gesture enthusiastically at something that crosses my path.  I hope I still feel like collecting treasures and exclaiming over butterflies.  Delightful.
“Nothing in the world is permanent, and we’re foolish when we ask anything to last, but surely we’re still more foolish not to take delight in it while we have it.”
W. Somerset Maugham
“When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”
Kahlil Gibran
"You will find truth more quickly through delight than gravity. Let out a little more string on your kite."

January 14: Carol Varsalona - BELIEVE
January 21:  Margaret Simon - PRESENT
January 28:  Michelle Haseltine - SELAH
February 4:  Justin Stygles - (Blind) FAITH
February 11: Leigh Ann Eck - INTENT
February 18:  Irene Latham - DELIGHT
February 25:  Violet Nesdoly - MINDFULNESS
March 3:  Julieanne Harmatz - ADMIRE
March 10:  Holly Mueller - WAIT
March 17:  Linda Kulp - SIMPLIFY
March 24: Doraine Bennett - SHINE
March 31: Donna Smith - BOLD

Monday, February 15, 2016

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.
The Book Itch: Freedom, Truth, & Harlem's Greatest Bookstore


A winner of the 2016 Coretta Scott King Illustrator Honor Award, The Book Itch is an account based on the true story of Lewis Michaux Sr.'s National Memorial African Bookstore in Harlem. He opened it in the 1930s and had to battle the notion that "Black people don't read." Told in his son's (Lewis Michaux Jr.) point of view, his dad proved everyone wrong by making it a place for prominent people such as Malcolm X (who was friends with Lews Michaux Sr.), Muhammed Ali, Eartha Kitt, and Langston Hughes to exchange ideas and buy books.  Malcolm X gave interviews and speeches at the bookstore.  "The House of Common Sense and the Home of Proper Propaganda", just down the street from the Apollo Theater, was forced to close its doors in 1975, but the legacy lives on in words, ideas, and social change.

What’s the Opposite? (The Hueys)

The Hueys: What's the Opposite? by Oliver Jeffers

The Hueys are back - this time teaching kids about opposites. The most humorous pages are the deserted island and the words "Unlucky..." (boat capsized and one oar out to sea), "lucky..." (a boxed fan bobbing in the water, headed to the island), and "unlucky again" as he realizes there is no place to plug it in. Cute twist to end the story.
Tucky Jo and Little Heart
One of my 5th graders recommended this book to me, and I'm so glad she did! Patricia Polacco tells Johnnie Wallen's true story of a friendship between a soldier and a little girl in his own words. Wallen transcends the horrors of war with kindness. The ending will bring tears to your eyes!
The Testing (The Testing, #1)

A couple of my sixth grade girls read this title for our dystopian unit and highly recommended it - they're both on to the third book in the series. Then my 7th grade girls' book club chose it for their March book club book. I loved it - Cia is a likable and strong character - a contestant in the post-war society for The Testing, a high-stakes competition set up to see who will pass in order to attend the University and become vital for the survival of the United Commonwealth. Her father, though, warns her to trust no one. She is taken from her family and everything she loves in order to be a part of the prestigious (and deadly) tests. Tomas, a childhood friend, becomes her ally and romantic interest, but can she even trust him? Sinister, suspenseful, and a must-read!  
Pax Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop
The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club