Monday, February 29, 2016

2016 Slice of Life Challenge: Day 1- I'm Doing It!

The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by the inspirational writers of Two Writing Teachers. Each March, they invite people to join them in a commitment to write every day. Here's to another year of daily slicing!

I've been struggling with the commitment of thirty-one days of writing, combined with thirty-one days of commenting. At the eleventh hour, I am taking the March challenge for the fourth consecutive year. Here are some of my reasons:

  • I have met incredible people through this experience, and pleas note that met is not in quotation marks. I have met them at conventions, at coffee shops, at workshops, and for walks. They have been instant friends because of the connections we have made reading about each other's lives for a month. 
  • I believe in writing. I am a better person when I write because I notice, interact, process, and reflect more when I am in a writing state of mind. I am a better listener, observer, and even participant in life. 
  • I am a better writing teacher when I write. We ask our students to write every day. To think of new topics and develop them. To reveal and share their process and product to classmates and anyone else who is in the classroom that day. When I am engaging in a similar process, I have better insight, empathy, and advice for when students are stuck.
  • I know that I can forgive myself if I don't write every single day or if I don't comment on as many blogs as I mean to. The prizes are awesome, but the reasons to do the Challenge are so much greater than the prizes. At the end of the month, I know that I will have new stories I have not thought of yet, new friends to look for at shared learning opportunities, and new insights about writing and its importance in my life. 

My word that has been guiding me through 2016 is wonder, and right now I'm wondering about my sanity as I embark on this challenge. I think I'm pretty sane though. And I'm looking forward to it. If my words have convinced anyone who is reading this post, you have a couple of days to get brave and jump in. You'll be glad you did!


It's Monday! Here's What I'm Reading--

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Tara Smith put The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin on my radar a few months ago, but I didn't get around to picking it up until last week. I'm so glad I did. (Warning: you will want to have time on your hands when you start this one because it's a little addicting.) Ali Benjamin does a fascinating job of moving between the past and present, as well as intertwining an almost informational component to the story, as the main character deals with grief by immersing herself in a study of jellyfish. There are so many important conversations that could come out of this book, as it tackles bullying, stereotyping, divorce, and perhaps most importantly, grieving. This book would be wonderful read aloud because of the engaging plot, but also because of the incredibly powerful scenes contained throughout the entire book. 

Pax by Sara Pennypacker has been a title that has come up over and over from other bloggers, as well as on my Amazon If you liked this, then you'll like this list. (How does Amazon always seem to know the books I want to read?) Like The Thing About Jellyfish, there are two stories to keep track of in Pax, a writing style that fascinates me as a writer. The stories of the fox and the boy alternate, and Sara Pennypacker is masterful at leaving readers with a critical situation. What important messages about peace and war exist in this text! At first I thought the depth of the story would have to do with the relationships between the main character and his father, as well as with the fox. However, as I continued to read, I realized that there were so many messages and themes around the complexities and damaging effects of war. It's an incredible book with hard-hitting, memorable scenes and interactions. 

Happy Reading,

Monday, February 15, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate arrived at my doorstep last week, and I had uninterrupted reading time over the weekend.  It's one of those books that if you haven't read it yet, I'm a little envious of the experience that lies in front of you. Maybe because of the cover, I was anticipating an element of fantasy, but the plot line has nothing fantastical about it--it's real life poverty and homelessness in the life of an incredibly authentic fifth-grade boy. We were with friends over the weekend, and I left the book in the hands of our host, so I can't pull direct quotes from the book. However, the concepts of homelessness not happening all at once, but little by little, has stayed with me, and the importance of a little magic when we struggle resonates as well. With the short chapters, spot on dialogue, and hard hitting lines and messages, I can't imagine too many better books for read-aloud time. So, so good. 

Happy Reading,

Monday, February 8, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye and Ricki Ginsburg at Unleashing Readers cohost It's Monday! What are You Reading? weekly on their blogs.  To see what others are reading and recommending each Monday, or to participate, be sure to head over to these blogs.

We had a snow day on Friday, and I spent the first part of it reading Home of the Brave by Katherine Applegate. This one has been on my TBR list for a while, as many bloggers and other teachers have talked about it, and it was decadent to sit and read it cover to cover. If you haven't read this one yet, I highly recommend it. I started it with the idea that I'd pick up craft moves--I had a pencil in hand and a pad of sticky notes. Within about twenty pages, the plot swept me away. I'll have to go back on a rereading mission in order to mark some pages as mentor text possibilities because I was far too interested in Kek's story to want to take time writing in or about the text! While this story inspired me to learn more about Sudanese refugees since the main character is a ten year-old refugee and the story opens with him landing in Minnesota to live with relatives, it's also a universal story of friendship, making mistakes, and overcoming adversity. Told in verse, it would be a wonderful read aloud, as well as an important story for book clubs and conversations. 

Happy Reading,

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Thoughts on Global Competence

Last week, I got to go to Teachers College in New York City to hear Jerry Maraia's talk about global learning. Usually workshops at TC center more on reading and writing, focusing on new units of study or new trends within literacy. Jerry's lecture was more about how we can integrate the important elements of critical thinking, empathy, questioning, and taking informed action into the literacy instruction that already takes place within our classrooms.

I think that it's imperative that teachers in the 21st century have a solid understanding of what constitutes global competence. The Asian Society is a great resource, and the learners there have put forth four critical aspects of global competence. Put simply, learners should be able to:

  1. Investigate the world beyond their immediate environment, asking questions, framing significant problems, and conducting well-crafted and age-appropriate research
  2. Recognize perspectives, others’ and their own
  3. Communicate ideas effectively with diverse audiences- how we bring to the forefront the idea of how we change our presentation based on who we are talking to
  4. Take action

Asking questions is a skill that we frequently underestimate (and underteach!) in classrooms. Warren Berger had done amazing work around the importance of questions in today's world, and I recommend his website and his book, A More Beautiful Question. The graph below is from his website, and definitely makes the point about the increasing importance of questions in a world where information is so accessible.

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One of the activities that Jerry did during the morning presentation involved showing us a photograph. The picture he used was of African children doing their homework, but really, almost any picture could work. The process he had us go through was to first write down five questions about the picture. From there, we chose one of our questions and dug into that one question with five more questions, but these five new questions were to begin with "What if." The third step of this one exercise with this one picture involved beginning to think of possible answers to our questions.  It was amazing to see how many different questions and directions we all had! I can't wait to try this activity with students. It's an activity that could work in a morning meeting as well as during content areas. The important concept for me emerged out of the challenge to look closely at an image and really, really wonder about it. I want to remember Jerry's important statement that:

“We often fail to see all the possibilities available to us because we simply haven’t spent enough time looking.”

Toward the end of the presentation, Jerry offered a challenge to all of us in the room and that involved thinking about and reflecting on our own global mindedness. If we're not living with this sort of mindset, then how can we expect our students to be doing it. Choose one of the attributes of Internationally Minded Learners from the International Baccalaureate Program and think about how we can share how we're living it with our students. Here are the attributes:


These words inspire me and remind me of my responsibility to be a learner in this changing world we're all sharing.

Happy Super Bowl Sunday,