Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Unexpected Gift

     An unexpected gift is one that holds a special power, a kind of spiritual awakening that catches us at a weak moment, both vulnerable and unprepared.  I can remember vividly the gifts that have taken me by surprise; these were not the birthday, anniversary or mother's day presents that you might expect. Many of these unexpected gifts don't even have a tangible value, and in a competitive world in which numbers and data drive our decisions and create our seemingly impenetrable perceptions of reality, it may be easy to overlook one of these unexpected gifts when it arrives like an early morning phone call on a snowy Friday morning in February.
     Yes, the snow day, although it seems like a distant dream now living in Florida for the past ten years, it is the most sacred of unexpected gifts. A day in which life was supposed to have a schedule, a plan, assignments due and lessons to be taught but seemingly somewhere high above us in the in the atmosphere the freezing temperatures collided with a small amount of moisture in the air and produced the beautiful and individually unique snowflake (actually quite a large amount of the beautiful crystals) to produce this sacred of all days, which happens to be a school day. Hanging up the phone, now fully aware that the day has completely changed direction, I don't snuggle down deep under my warm and toasty down duvet to fall back asleep unhindered by the alarm clock which has been turned off. Nope, I'm up, embracing the day, full of both energy and excitement for I have been given the gift of time, our only true commodity, and I intend to make the most of the day. First order, coffee!
     Why does the coffee taste that much better on this day? I sit in the kitchen, gazing out the frosty window, watching the snow slowly cover the remaining pieces of patio furniture and pots left out for the winter. I am completely present in the moment, tasting the warm, rich coffee and sensing the bitter cold just slightly through the glass with each gust of frigid air, sending a shiver that brings the coffee mug inadvertently closer to my face for warmth. The possibilities are endless, books to be read, soup to be made, a driveway that will eventually need to be shoveled while the quiet of the snow mutes sounds both inside and out creating a blank canvas to be filled.
     Capturing the gift of the snow day fifteen years later was not as difficult as you might imagine. I have come to realize that the unexpected gift is possible each and everyday. As a person who is rarely quiet or not in motion, I aspire to recreate the snow day in my subtropical Florida life. My children are growing up and soon my role as a mother will change forever, I want to hold onto each moment and be cognizant in order to appreciate each one and celebrate them as unique snowflakes on the landscape, which I recognize as motherhood.  Each small choice that we make within our days determines the lives that we will live. Be grateful each day, make the conscious effort to be a part of the chain of events that is not random but an ever flowing cycle of causes and effects that we call life. 
     In order to be grateful for each day a new habit must be formed, a behavior changed, and a target set. Luck favors the prepared, my favorite phrase, comprised of four small words is an inexplicable belief in the idea of luck blended with the tangible facets both worth ethic and self-regulation, a paradox, but one that I believe to be  complementary. My unexpected gift of a snow day might not have been as magical, if I had not been prepared. Believing in luck may be juvenile and misguided but regardless, I religiously completed my lesson plans, stocked the pantry shelves and hauled firewood inside the evening before the predicted storm. Life goes by incredibly fast and seemingly the older I get the faster it goes, therefore catching a moment and knowing to savor it is the art of practicing gratitude. The more I practice the more unexpected gifts I find. Teaching my children and students to be grateful and prepared so they too may find the unexpected gifts often feels as though my gentle reminders and thoughtful lessons fall upon deaf ears. I know that learning to appreciate the now is a conscious decision, a habit built from practice of choosing to be grateful. Learning to embrace the now and appreciate the good old days, while living them, may seem like an improbable task but it is the art of finding the unexpected gift that will give you a glimpse into the "good ole days" while you are still living them. 
     Attempting to throw back the covers and leave the safety of the confines of that warm, toasty duvet behind, and embrace each day as an unexpected gift is the challenge. A snow day is to be cherished and appreciated for what it is, a gift of time. It must be believed in like luck in order for the magic to unfold and carry us from one struggle to the next. As Clarrissa Pinkola Estes wrote "The only trust required is to know that when there is one ending there will be another beginning." Each day brings a new opportunity to try again, to become our best selves and to cherish the unexpected gifts in our midst. 

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Teachers as Readers 5

The Road to Character by David Brooks


In this section Brooks writes about George Catlett Marshall and there are a few points that stuck. One, he was not a stand out at a young age. He struggled to find his way both socially and in school. Marshall figured out how to work and what it meant at VMI (Virginia Military Institute). It was a place of mediocre education but hero's were revered and Marshall was taught the habits of service and institutionalization. He learned to control the smallest details of his behaviors through reflection and desire. 

I found this to be really interesting because we live in a time where service and self-control are not pervasive. In the land of Facebook and instagram I see more of friends (and strangers) than I would care to see or know. This is a quote by Marshall "The truly great leader overcomes all difficulties, and campaigns and battles are nothing but a long series of difficulties to be overcome." He embraced the daily grind as part of the responsibility of being a leader.  I have worked for many leaders and there have been few that take on the drudgery of the job without complaint.

This chapter analyzed the role of institutions and I found myself "noodling" for quite some time on this particular thought.

As the editor Tina Brown has put it, "if everybody is told to think outside the box, you've got to expect that the boxes themselves will begin to deteriorate." I kept thinking to myself how I finally feel vindicated!! I don't like to take risks and although as a teacher I solve problems on a daily basis I always felt as though I was missing something because I wasn't more radical. This thought helped me to celebrate my own steadiness and small yet consistent contributions.

Brooks continues his journey focusing on people throughout history and drawing parallels to common problems and situations. This ebb and flow allow the reader to learn more about incredible people from the past as well as, analyze the present. A good read that I will keep on my bookshelf.

How do we tie everything together? What does it mean for diverse learners?


Creating a mosaic...

Ordering, combining and recreating over and over and over again making sense of the material and becoming aware of their own ideas  and drawing conclusions.

We are accountable not to our curriculum but to our students! Teaching reading in a high stakes testing environment is challenging. We want our students to gain confidence but they are usually sent to us because they have failed a state test (not a confidence booster by any means). Purchased phonic packages and quick fix curricular measures is not the best strategy to use.

Understanding your students' strengths and weaknesses as well as listening to their feedback and studying past tests will supply a better picture and starting point. Each author from Keene & Zimmerman to Harvey & Goudvis impart the importance monitoring comprehension and creating a framework of strategies. 

Although high stakes testing is important we want to build strong test takers and confident learners. The strategies that have been reviewed in these posts target the best ways to encourage indolence, build confidence and instill a love of reading throughout various grade levels and across the curriculum.

Creating a framework for diverse learners is even more crucial. Explicitly teaching various text structures will enable these learners to gain background knowledge, build vocabulary and eventually understand the information presented. 

Build Confidence, Explicitly teach, model think aloud, model everything, monitor comprehension, discuss thoughts with students and create opportunities. Books and programs don't mean a great deal if you don't know your students. Work together with other teachers to create a consistent program and methodology when it comes to reading, especially challenging texts. Teachers have the ability to change perspectives and lives. Working with parents and community partners to build communities will create a living framework for students to build success upon. We have a responsibility to help teach our students to read and think!!

Works Cited

Dreher, M. J., & Gray, J. L. (2009). Compare, Contrast, Comprehend: Using Compare-Contrast Text Structures with ELLs in K-3 Classrooms. The Reading Teacher , 132-141.
Harvey, S., & Goudvis, A. (2007). Strategies that Work. Portland, MA: Stenhouse Publisher.
Keene, E. O., & Zimmermann, S. (2007). Mosaic of Thought. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinemann.
Ogle, D., & Correa-Kovtun, A. (2010). Supporting English-Language Learners and Struggling Readers in Content Literacy with the "partner Reading and Content, Too" Routine. The Reading Teacher , 532-542.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Why is comprehension strategy instruction important?

Comprehension strategy instruction is important because it creates the framework for understanding. We want our students to be problem solvers, critical thinkers and creative learners these strategies provide the foundation for all learning, not just literature and poetry but instructional texts too.

Notes, discussions, written responses show evidence of understanding. This strategy is a benchmark for comprehension it allows a teacher to see the footprints of learning and allow deeper discussions or interventions to take place.

Questioning and responding is a way to activate thinking. This strategy involves the listener and makes the student more engaged with the text. This strategy also allows teachers a glimpse into a students mindset/understanding.

Explicit Instruction and Guided Reading are part of the framework for creating good strategies for comprehension.

The process is basically the same and can be done across all disciplines so that students are given the tools to succeed in every class; ultimately allowing them to engage in a meaningful way in school and become a life-long learner.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Is Comprehension Instruction in the Content Areas Different?

The simple answer is NO!

The research in the field of comprehension is clear. Students must activate their inner voice, build from schema and model an array of strategies in order to become creative and thoughtful learners. These strategies apply across content areas and should be taught in every discipline. The amount of strategies and tools that a student masters will only serve to heighten their adaptability and flexibility as an active learner.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Teachers as Readers 4

The Road to Character by David Brooks

July 17, 2015

As you read my post you will find bold words, these are presented to show the lenses Brooks uses when defining different aspects of character or behaviors that shaped particular character traits. All the bold words in this post are sub-headings and names of chapters from the book.

Brooks is fascinated by people and their choices, how they became who they were and what were the mitigating factors involved. He breaks down the most minute pieces of character and expands them into mini-thesises. He wants the reader to gain perspective and reflect on their own choices and upbringing. How can we do better? What is really important?

Brooks is traveling through time and a series of people and experiences beginning with Ida Eisenhower, Dwight Eisenhower's mother, and her mission towards self-conquest. We read about the history of Ida and her family, she lived by very strict rules such as: no drinking, dancing, card playing or demonstrations of love.

He diverges for a brief few pages into the meaning of sin and how it has changed over the years. "Sin is a necessary piece of our mental furniture because it reminds us that life is a moral affair." He wrestles with the notion of errors (individual)vs. sins (communal) and how rarely people commit big sins out of the blue because they usually reflect a pattern of behavior. Sin, Brooks argues, is necessary for character building.

Back to Ida, character was developed through self-control therefore she believed temptation must be minimized. She was tender and seemed to have a bottomless supply of love for her children because she knew that love could build character as well. Brooks is creating a framework for how he wants us to see Dwight, the factors that helped define his character. This is the lens from which we will view, judge and better understand the people presented in this book.

Dwight was unlike his mother in that he was rambunctious and not explicitly religious. He was disciplined throughout his young life for misbehavior and having a terrible temper. He became almost convulsive in controlling his behavior. He made decisions and devised strategies that demanded a certain protocol from which he never ventured. A quote from Eisenhower "Always take your job seriously, never yourself." shows how he has grown and defined how the world will see him.

Ultimately Eisenhower was very different person publicly than personally. He maintained such self-control that his diaries suggest his true feelings and thoughts on both people and political matters. His final trait was that of moderation. Towards the end of his presidency he spoke of balance in many letters "making mistakes slowly"

Finally the conclusion reached is that Eisenhower, through the regulation of his mother and the strict upbringing along with his ability to eventually adhere to a system of behaviors, keeping his impulses in check became a successful prominent man and a strong leader.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Lake Season

A small departure from the Road to Character by David Brooks... As a teacher I try to always immerse myself in varied types of literature and when my best friend Hannah's book the Lake Season was released I was compelled to read it, clearly neglecting my other responsibilities!! t I wrote the following review for Amazon.

This review is from: The Lake Season: A Novel (Paperback)
A summer classic! Hannah McKinnon has not only captured the delicate dynamics between two sisters living very different lives but that of the summer lake season in New England. Her colorful descriptions and careful character development transported me to New Hampshire with each page, secretly enjoying the sibling rivalry and inner family dynamics that remind me of my own crazy family. McKinnon opens a door into the world of sisters and mothers where we find nooks and crannies filled with jealousy, resentment and of course, love. I loved it and already sent a copy to my sister.