Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Lester Laminack

On Saturday…nine teachers (including me) from my school journeyed across our state and into neighboring New Hampshire to spend the morning and afternoon with Lester Laminack. We did so because a friend from another district told me he is one of the best speakers she has ever heard (and she has heard many). When I conveyed that information to my teaching friends, we took the long drive of faith.


With no PowerPoint, handouts, or overheads; Lester captivated his audience for the two hours before lunch and the two hours after lunch. He shared his six year old impersonations, his passion for writing and reading, and his personal pilgrimage for acceptance. The audience laughed at his antics, misted over his memories, and consumed the books he read as if we were being exposed to reading for the very first time.


With a simple question, “When did hand raising begin?”, he wove his entire presentation in and out…to and fro…like tidal waters coming and going but always returning to the theme. Lester wanted us to think about why we do the things we do in our classrooms. Do we do them because we were taught that way? Do we do them because they are best educational practice? Why do we so often ask children to only speak when called upon? What is the art of conversation? How can we have conversation in a civil way without begging to be called upon? How can we better listen to the speaker and then add to that speaker’s thoughts?


Lester Laminack is a class act. I hope he continues to traverse the country and spread his words like butter on warm toast. He does so with intellect, passion, and purpose. He wants our youth to grow up rich in literature, spilling with language, and penning the thoughts that pour out of them. If you have not seen him speak, find him and go. If you have seen him speak and you are as impressed as I am, I bet you will seek him out again.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Shedding the Heavy Foods for Lighter Fare

Do you ever get stuck in eating habits? My husband and I have two eating patterns; those foods for Spring and Summer and those for Fall and Winter. You know…salads and grilled meats for the warmer seasons and roasts, casseroles, and carbs for the colder months. We seem to fall into a weekly menu rotation and eat the same foods over and over again until we cannot stand them any more.

Since it still feels like winter here in Maine, we are mired in those heavy, hot foods that are meant to comfort the soul and warm the tummy. On Sunday I decided to take on a new recipe keeping us from yet another redundant meal. With help from Rachel Ray, I shopped for adobo, chilies, peppers, onions, hot roasted diced tomatoes, chicken, and fresh corn on the cob. I picked up salsa, blue chips, and avocado as well.

My recipe: Chicken Tortilla Soup. Although I have had this soup many times when dining out, I had never made it. I spent about an hour peeling onions and carrots, scraping corn off the cob, chopping celery and peppers, sautéing the veggies in bacon drippings and olive oil, and adding in the rest of the ingredients. I let the soup bubble on the stove for a while and then added spices and green chilies. I turned off the heat and let the soup sit in the Dutch oven for the afternoon.

When it was time for dinner, my husband helped a spring green avocado escape from its tough skin and mixed it with garlic, cumin, lime, and hot sauce. I reheated the soup. We opened a fresh bag of blue corn strip chips and opened the fresh salsa I had purchased. The steaming tortilla soup was ladled into bowls. Dinner was ready. It was warm and yet light…just right to help us ease into a new season.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Staying Alert

How did the SOLC impact me?

I had to stay awake, notice what was going on around me, and take in the details. All too often it is easy to get into patterns. Get up…get ready…drive to work…engage with the kids…go to meetings…prep my room for the next day…drive home…and it starts all over again the next day. I would not have had much to write about without noticing what was happening on my way to work, looking around my room for what is new and interesting, taking a walk along the river to watch an unknown hawk dive after its prey, and listen to the poem of a budding writer who thinks she is writing hip-hop. SOLC forced me out of my winter hibernation and into a senses awakening.

This year it was much easier to write than last year. I got into a rhythm and routine that worked for me. I watched, listened, smelled, touched and tasted all the possibilities each day, came home at night and started to generate a piece, and then got up early each morning to revise and polish. I loved the writing but I equally enjoyed reading all the posts and commenting on as many as possible. The comments I received were generous, helpful, and inspiring.

I have been thinking about all of you as I have read your great works. I wish we could have some kind of SOLC reunion where we could all meet each other. It would be so much fun to see the people behind the words.

See you on Tuesdays and next March.


Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Slicing Friend, Donna

Donna and I are on the same first grade team. Last year we shared two rooms in an “open” classroom of sorts. We learned how to navigate through our shared door without interrupting each other too much. We learned how to work in our classrooms without disturbing each other too much. Most importantly, we had the opportunity to chat it up each day and really get to know each other; sharing family stories, joys, sorrows, frustrations and a lot of laughter.

I am telling you about Donna, because just before the March SOLC began, I sent out an email to all the teachers and ed-techs in our building informing them about The Two Writing Teachers blog and the Slice of Life Challenge. I invited everyone to join me and write for the month. Donna is the only person who accepted my invite.

Having a friend join the SOLC made the experience even more meaningful than last year. I continued to read all of your posts and make many comments. I continued to write my pieces and race home to find out what you all had to say. But this year, I got to talk to Donna about struggling through a piece or an inspiration for a piece or how I shared our writings with my class. I knew she really understood what I was talking about. She was experiencing it too.

Thank you Donna for making my slicing more meaningful. And thanks to all of you, Slicers, for helping me to grow as a writer, a teacher, and a person.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Little Document Camera


A couple months ago, I was thinking about how I could get my hands on a document camera.  For those of you who may not know, a document camera connects to a projector. Whatever the camera is pointed at can be projected up on a  screen. This piece of technology can be very handy in the classroom to project books for the kids to read together, or to demonstrate a science project, show a child’s math work, share a child’s piece of writing, artwork, etc. Document cameras project color unlike overhead projectors and there is no need to make transparencies as the camera just picks up the object’s image to display. Most document cameras cost between three hundred and five hundred dollars (they have more of an appearance of an overhead projector in size and shape) and then you have to buy a projector to display the image. That can cost you well over a thousand dollars for both pieces of equipment.

I decided I could make a document camera out of a cheap webcam and some type of arm that is easy to manipulate like an easy to position desk lamp. I started looking online for parts. While I was cruising the net, I stumbled upon a company called IPEVO. This company marketed a document camera for about seventy dollars. I couldn’t believe my eyes. No, it was not pretty or large or fancy with lots of buttons and switches but the company maintained it would project objects and papers.  I read the reviews. For the most part, they were positive. The company had a money back guarantee so I ordered one.

When my projector arrived, I set it up displaying a variety of images across my dining room wall. I projected money, kitchen objects, paper clips, plant leaves, and children’s books. I played with the arm, the exposure, and the zoom. I elevated the camera by putting a box under it so I could project even larger objects. With the click of a button on the camera, I could focus or I could set the camera up on autofocus. Another button allowed me to take a photo of the object being displayed. The photo was stored on my computer for future use. This handy little document camera draws power from my computer through a USB connection. There is no need to plug it in.

The only thing left to do was try it out with my classroom kids. Once we got through having to put everyone’s face up on the big screen, we got down to business. Students shared patterns, tens and ones work, books and pieces of writing. Since that first day, we have used the document camera each day for a  variety of purposes.

I love technology and its many uses within our classroom but I don’t like the high cost. It was great to run across something that is so useful for such a reasonable price.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


This morning I have my first of seventeen student-led conferences. The child’s mom is due to have a baby next week. She requested an early conference. I don’t really know what to expect. This mom lashes out at everyone. She leaves rude messages on the answering system, sends angry letters, and yells at whoever picks up the telephone. Up until three weeks ago, I had been immune to all of this, somehow ducking the inevitable.

Each year our school promotes a read-a-thon as a fund raiser. The children are encouraged to read a half hour at home,  bring in a signed slip from a parent as proof, and then the slips are fashioned into a chain attached to the head of a caterpillar and displayed outside the classroom doors. The kids get great delight watching the caterpillar grow. They are proud of their accomplishment. Parents and friends are asked to sponsor children per slip with any amount of money manageable. This goes on for two weeks. Eleven of my seventeen children brought back permission slips to participate. Six did not. I volunteered to sponsor those six children. I sent their parents a note requesting that they listen to their child read and send in the signed slips. I explained I would love to cover the cost. Four parents took my offer.  Along with the signed permissions I received a note…

It seems I made one parent angry by implying she never reads with her child. She went on to tell me that I have done this before. When she told me the math homework was too hard for her child, I wrote back and said it was meant to do with the parent and it was okay if her child was struggling…many do. The note was long and I was definitely the target of some previously unleashed anger. I could tell it would do no good for me to respond. I could not reply and tell her all I was doing was offering to pay for the read-a-thon so her child could participate.  I could not tell her all I meant was for her to feel free to help her son with his homework…it was not cheating. Her perception of the events was different from mine. She had a different experience with school as a student. I can’t tell her I am not the enemy but an ally. I can’t explain to her how much I enjoy her son. She won’t hear me.

So…when I got the request to accommodate her needs for a conference, I acquiesced. When she comes in this morning, I will greet her with a smile. While her son handles the first part of the conference on his own, I will be proud of him. As we discuss her son’s next steps as a learner, I will look her in the eye and conduct myself in the most professional manner possible. Perhaps I cannot tell her…but maybe I can show her.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Running is a More than a Challenge

Most of my life, I have run for small periods of time. It feels like something I should do. I love the challenge physically and mentally. Notice I said, “small periods of time”. I always give up. My legs hurt, I get shin splints, my lungs feel like they will burst. My back aches and the bottom of my feet hurt no matter how many times I am fit for the “just right” running shoe.

Two years ago, my husband and I purchased a Wii. We bought it specifically to exercise with through the winter and to play virtual golf. I started out with yoga and step. Gradually I moved on to running ten minutes, then twenty, then thirty. My husband purchased some pressboard flooring to go over our concrete floor in the basement so my pounding would not hurt me so much. Virtual running was easy for me. I ran in place watching beautiful scenery go by. I went up hills without getting winded, and the flat terrain I was really running on was not taxing on my body. I got results running 3-5 miles three days per week.

Our school has a spring running club for the students K-5. Last week I volunteered to help our phys-ed teacher with the club two days per week. I thought it would motivate me to graduate from my Wii to real running. So…this morning at 35 degrees with the wind blowing 20 mph I dawned my outdoor gear and started an easy 2 mile run. The wind pelted my face. The pavement was not forgiving to my feet and back. I had to move from pavement to shoulder to avoid traffic. I stopped five times just to catch my breath.

I would like to give up. It would be easy to go back to the basement and turn on the Wii. This is why I promised the phys-ed teacher. I knew I needed greater motivation than my own. This challenge is bigger than me. I need the kids to spur me on. What I am really looking forward to…is bike season.