Monday, March 23, 2015

Spread Some Sunshine

Count That Day Lost
by George Eliot

If you sit down at set of sun

And count the acts that you have done,

And, counting, find

One self-denying deed, one word

That eased the heart of him who heard, 

One glance most kind

That fell like sunshine where it went --

Then you may count that day well spent.

But if, through all the livelong day,

You've cheered no heart, by yea or nay --

If, through it all

You've nothing done that you can trace

That brought the sunshine to one face--

No act most small

That helped some soul and nothing cost --

Then count that day as worse than lost.

I carry this poem in my mind often. Usually, it is when I am at the end of my rapidly fraying rope and I feel like I have nothing left to give. The last few days have been like that.

I carry it with me as a reminder, not that I expect to have good things done for me, but if I don’t teach the girl to do nice things for others, where will she learn it?

Sometimes, those nice things are just making sure we call grandma on the computer.
Sometimes, it is offering the older gentleman walking down the street a ride home.
Sometimes, it is just waving bye to the neighbors as they back out of the driveway.
And sometimes, it is letting the girl drink the bathtub water because she thinks it is funny.

It is hard to remember to try and brighten other people’s days. But those small acts of sunshine spread and pretty soon, everyone’s day could be a bit brighter.

Sidewalk Flowers by JonArno Lawson

One Zillion Valentines by Frank Modell

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

On My Cardboard Vision Quest

It’s a wild Friday night here at my house. It’s a big cardboard box, a glue gun, some packing tape and me. It’s not the next version of 50 shades of cardboard; it’s just me…trying to build a refrigerator out of a big cardboard box.

I have a vision – it seems simple enough. Cut a door, glue some shelves inside, spray paint the box and behold – a refrigerator for the girl. I’m imagining the look of glee and admiration she will give me when she goes downstairs to play and finds the refrigerator ready for all her play items. She’ll spend hours carefully placing her cans and boxes inside. She will make ‘meals’ for mommy and daddy. She will be immersed in spending time with the refrigerator. She will stop removing everything from my pantry.

The vision does not materialize.

Two hours later I’m standing at the back door chucking cardboard out into the dark night. Begging the roaming squirrels and raccoons to carry away the remnants of my hideous disaster. My hot-glue-gun burned and bandaged hands pleading for mercy.

I had a vision. I really wanted it. I tried. I asked for help. I tried again. But, eventually, I had to abandon.

How often does this happen with students and books? They have a vision of loving a book. They try it out. They ask a friend who has already read it what is supposed to be going on. They go back to it. But, the vision never materializes. They hate it. And eventually they abandon.

When students abandon books repeatedly, do we find out the source of the problem? Or do we just get frustrated that they are a constant abandoner? Do we eventually tell them they HAVE to finish a book? Forcing me to finish the refrigerator would certainly have done no one any good. I had a saw in my hands when I finally decided to abandon, who knows how much more damage I could have done!

When we have students who are chronic abandoners maybe we need to help them get into something they enjoy, even if it is a ‘lower’ level before pushing them on. Just like I probably needed to do some work with other smaller cardboard projects before jumping into a full refrigerator. Once we help get that momentum going and build a solid skill set base, then continuing on to harder projects will be easier.

Next week’s project is a washer and dryer.

Some easier reads that help students gain momentum:

The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo

Hachiko Waits by Leslea Newman

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Watching My Words

The girl is very empathetic for a 2-year-old. Maybe it's because she spent the first year of her life crying, but she generally seems to feel empathy for others when they are sad. She's been demonstrating this by patting me (or my husband) on the back with her little hand and saying, "It's okay Mommy, don't cry." It's actually pretty cute.

The other day, though, a new plot twist was added. 
She gave me the customary pat and said, "It's okay Mommy, don't cry. Only babies cry."
At first, it took me a minute to register what she actually said and then my husband and I gave each other that uh-oh look. 
"No, honey, that's not really right. Everyone cries. Mommy cries. Daddy cries. You cry. Everyone cries and that's okay."
I don't want to jump to too many conclusions because I don't know the context in which the statement was said. But, this reminded me how careful I need to be with my words around the girl and also with students. And not just those four-letter words (I've been working on those!) but those words that cut, bite, and sometimes do more harm than the four-letter words.

Our students look to us for affirmation and as a source of confidence. When we say things flippantly to them in moments of frustration, these words stick. We can't take them back. We can't undo the damage. We can't always fix it with a "I'm sorry." I want to remind myself that it is better to just stay silent than possibly say something that could damage a child's confidence and/or the relationship I have with him or her.

On the home front, we are still chipping away at changing the girl's new internal programming. Last night at dinner, she informed us again that only babies cry. 
This was right after she had cried for ten minutes because she didn't like the sippy cup I gave her. 
Just saying.

Mr. Peabody's Apples by Madonna

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Who Do You Call?

Do you have a go-to friend? A ‘call in the middle of a crisis’ friend? The other day I was running errands and failed to realize how low my gas tank was actually getting. I pulled into the garage, shut off the engine and decided I would get gas in the morning.
The next morning, at 6:30 a.m., with a wind chill below zero, I huddled in my car trying to estimate how much gas I needed to get to work. If I didn’t run the heater, I knew I could save gas. But, without the heater, my fingers might fall off before I made it to work. Do I take the highway or back roads? On the highway it would be a faster trip. But, on the back roads, there would be more gas stations (granted, none of them open yet, but they would be there).
As I drove down the highway (fastest route) with the heat turned to low (minimal frostbite/gas consumption) I frantically checked the dashboard, monitoring the ‘miles to go’ gauge.  As I took the exit ramp, I noticed I could go 4 more miles.
No problem, the gas station was less than two miles away. As I stood in the freezing cold, watching gas pump into my car, my mind wandered to the idea that what if this gas station had been closed? What if I had to drive to another station? I would surely have run out of gas!
With that thought I began to wonder – whom would I call? It was now 6:45 in the morning and I had limited options of who could come to my rescue.
Do I call a friend who would be on their way to work and likely pass by me? Do I call a friend who would already be at work and have them come and rescue me? Do I call someone who has to travel a far distance so that no one at work ever knows this happened? Each option had merit; each had its pitfalls.
Fortunately, I never had to figure it out. There was enough gas to get there, I filled up the tank, and off I went.
This made me think about how different books come into our lives for different purposes.
Sometimes our favorite book is one that makes us laugh.
Sometimes it is one that gives us a heartfelt reaction.
Sometimes, it is one that makes us cry.
Sometimes, it is one that we never want to admit to others that we read.

We read for so many purposes, we should allow and encourage students to explore those different purposes when reading.
Are they reading to learn?
Are they reading to cry?
Are they reading to laugh?
Are they reading to connect?

Talking with them about these different purposes and their purpose behind their choices can give us insight into their reading.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's Your Perspective?

Reading to a stubborn 2+year-old at bedtime is quite an experience. I am thankful that the girl loves books and that getting her to sit and listen to stories isn't the problem. We have pretty much graduated into real picture books. I don't think she quite realizes the collection she has downstairs or what lies in my office at school. But for now, she is content with the 20 or so titles she has in her room. 
Normally, she insists on sitting in the big chair by herself and I am relegated to the footstool Here, I must attempt to read the book, upside down, using prosody, inflection and proper phrasing. Try it. It's not easy.
One of her favorites is 'the bedtime book' known to others as Peggy Rathmann's hamster-filled 10 Minutes till Bedtime. Every time she chooses this book, I say a silent cheer. The text has basically ten words - most of which is the word 'bedtime'. The true beauty lies in the illustrations. She just hasn't figured that out yet. But, she has time. 
However, last night, for whatever reason, she decided she was going to sit in a little rocking chair and I would be allowed to sit in the BIG chair! I was no longer the peon! 
As we began the story, I immediately was lost: I couldn't find our favorite hamsters, the balloon was in the wrong place, and the hidden Easter Egg was missing. I thought I had lost my mind, until I realized everything had just moved to a different spot. I was no longer reading the book upside down! I was now seeing it as the author intended. Wow, what a difference!
There are so many things to do each day, I wonder how many of them we do on autopilot. I think in our teaching, it is easy for this to happen with things that we are comfortable doing. We have given spelling tests for so long, we just do it. We have put out a morning worksheet, we just do it. We have ran our book clubs a certain way, we just do it. 
But, what if we looked at them upside down? What if we stepped back or forward and saw these activities from a different perspective? Would we change the way we do things? Would we still have the same goals in mind? Seeing these activities from the students' perspectives might lead us to pause and reflect on our intentions. 

10 Minutes till Bedtime by Peggy Rathmann