Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My "Sister"

We moved into my childhood home when I was two: a house so new it was one of the only completed houses on the street.  A cozy yellow house near the closed end of a court, with a huge backyard perfect for baseball games, gardens, and any imaginary land I could dream up.  Apparently, the trash truck didn't think our house WAS completed yet, or that we had moved in, because he never came down to the end of the court to pick up our trash.  After realizing this, my mom walked down to the open end of the court to ask the people who lived in the corner house if we could bring our trash down and set it out with theirs.  While there, she discovered that they ALSO had a two-year old girl!

Trash isn't exactly an auspicious beginning for a lifelong friendship, but in this case, that's exactly what happened.  That little girl, whose birthday was just two weeks before mine, became my constant playmate.  We must have been a funny sight -- with her dark hair and chubby cheeks, she was almost two of little bright blonde-haired me, with my ribs showing and my scrawny, bony elbows and knees.  She thinned out as she got older, but more differences emerged: She loved fairy-tale princesses, Polly Pocket, and never wanted to get dirty.  I loved Ninja Turtles, Legos, sports, and pretending I was a Native American.  She needed extra help reading in elementary school, while I panicked the teachers and principal by leaving 1st grade at a 7th-grade reading level.  (They freaked out because there were no books in the school library at my reading level, but my mom and I just carted home laundry baskets full from the library!)

None of that mattered though; we just grew closer and closer as time flew.  Both only children, we figured we were meant to be each other's sisters.  Summer days were all spent together, laughing in the pool as we became dolphins and whales.  At recess, we became Tecumseh (at that point, I always wanted to be a boy) and his sister Tecumapese.  Unless we were being horses... or shooting "smart missiles" at Sadam Hussein (it was Desert Storm, after all)... or running from an imaginary giant "blob" that menaced us from the top of the school... or being Laura and Mary Ingalls...

Middle school was full of sleepovers and boys and lots of giggling.  But then one day in 8th grade, the phone rang and it was my "sister" with some very scary news.  How could my best friend in the world have cancer?  We were only 13.  And ovarian cancer at that -- not especially common anyway, and extremely rare in teens.  All of a sudden I was visiting the hospital, holding her skeleton arm as another friend held the other arm, giving her enough support to walk with tiny steps around the hallway of her floor.  I watched all that silky black hair fall out, helped her pick out hats to go with her different outfits.  Somehow I knew though (or just kept hoping): she couldn't die.  She had so much life left to live.

And she lived and thrived and healed!  We got to giggle our way through marching band and A.P. Lit and senior prom, together.  We got to visit each other at college, join the same band sorority at our different colleges, meet boyfriends and fiances, and be maid- and matron-of-honor at each other's weddings.

And now today, the best news of all: she's a mom!  My wonderful "sister", who beat cancer with a smile on her face, has brought a beautiful new baby girl into the world!  (After 23 hours of labor at that, just to prove her strength!)  My best friend is a mom.  It doesn't seem real.  That little girl I played with all those years now has a little girl of her own!  I can't wait to meet her.

Monday, January 30, 2012

30 Goals 1: My Teaching Philosophy

Earlier this year I read about the 30 Goals Challenge on Teacher Reboot Camp. I waffled between "THIRTY goals?!  That's so maannnny!" to "Cool, maybe I'll try it!" and back again.

When the first goal was posted, I was super busy with schoolwork (well, when am I NOT busy with schoolwork?) and it sounded like way too much work.  A video, poster, or presentation about my teaching philosophy?  Sounds like a grad school assignment!  I don't have time for that!  Maybe I'll see what the next one is... Besides, I already write a lot of posts that give peeks into what I believe about language teaching and teaching in general.

However, around that time, I read Brad at Edulang's challenge to post a quotation that defines your teaching.  Awesome!  I LOVE quotations.  Of course, I love them so much that I couldn't possibly pick just one... so I held off on that too.  I eventually came back to it about a week later and managed to narrow it down to two, which I just posted by commenting because I was too lazy/busy/tired to write a whole blog post about them:
  1. "The greatest gift one can give to another person is a deeper understanding of life and the ability to love and believe in the self."  (Fred Rogers)
  2. "You must get your living by loving, or at least half your life is a failure." (Henry David Thoreau)
Perhaps someday I'll get around to sharing some more of my favorite quotations.

Then the second goal of the 30 goals came.  Highlight a favorite inspiring teaching moment?  Powerful.  That really spoke to me.  Haven't done it yet, but it really got me thinking.  I know just what to write about -- that amazing girl. The one where I wish I would've been blogging while I worked with her because those few months were the most incredible teaching moments I've ever had.  Of course, that's a daunting task.  I just have so much to say about her. So of course, I haven't done it yet.

Still, she's been sitting in the back of my mind, bugging me to try out the 30 goals and get going.  So here I am today with Goal 1: My Me Manifesto.  I'm too much of a writer and perfectionist to really be able to write out or visually display everything I believe about teaching (at least, without spending inordinate amounts of time and energy!), so I decided to make it short and sweet by making a word cloud:

Wordle: teaching philosophy
(view larger here at Wordle!)
I don't know if I'll ever get to the other 28, because that next goal is going to take a while.  I could probably write a book about my experience with R. and everything she taught me about life and teaching.  However, I'm looking forward to writing at least one post, or perhaps several, on my Magical Teaching Moment!

Until then... What are the major anchors of your teaching philosophy? Do you relate to mine?

Has anyone tried or completed 30 Goals in the past?  Are you thinking of jumping in this year?  We can give it a try together!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Explaining the un-explainable

A few days ago, I had another one of those moments to prove again that teaching culture is so incredibly valuable.  As usual, I love to integrate culture into language practice whenever I can.

This time, my 7th graders were learning about famous Spanish artists while practicing vocab for body parts.  First, I gave a little overview of several Spanish artists with a short whole-class discussion about one painting by each artist, where the kids discovered elements of the artist's style and a few major elements of the paintings.  During this part, I got a hilarious contrast between classes based on their personalities: 6th period, apparently NOT artsy, was like pulling teeth, but 7th period was practically (actually, literally in a few cases!) jumping out of their seats to point out things in the painting.  I could barely get them to move onto the next painting each time!  This is a great reminder of the importance of doing a wide variety of activities -- not everybody will love all of them, but everybody WILL find some that they love.

Next, I split them into groups and each group got a closer look at a color print of one of the paintings, with a short description I wrote at the top with a few essential facts about each painting.  Their job was to work together to count up body parts in the paintings and write simple sentences saying how many of each body part were in the painting.  (i.e. "Hay quince cabezas.")  Regardless of their disposition in the whole-class discussion, everybody was quite engaged in this part -- even if they weren't super into art, they had fun searching for body parts and looking at the paintings in more detail.  Some of the paintings (like El Greco's El entierro del Conde de Orgaz) had tons of people with lots of parts to search for, while others (like The Tilled Field by Miró) had more abstract styles that made it an adventure to find the body parts and interpret the painting.

Anyway, the best part (to me, at least) was asking each group to react to the painting and reflect on what it told us about life in Spain at that time.  In 7th period, we ended up having a poignant discussion about Picasso's Guernica. (where, by the way, the little budding art critics even guessed that the light-bulb-sun-thingy could represent the bomb, without knowing that light bulb is "bombilla" in Spanish!)
photo credit: Wikipedia
           C: Why did that Franco guy bomb the town if it wasn't even a military base or anything?
            R: Yeah, that's SO UNFAIR!
           others: Yeah, the people weren't even soldiers!  (etc.)

It wasn't just what they said, it was how they looked while they were asking.  Their eyes were so earnest and innocent, wanting me to explain the un-explainable because I was the teacher.  I didn't even know what to say. I ended up sputtering something like: "Well guys, war is horrible.  Awful things happen.  That's why Picasso painted this: to show how terrible it was!"  Our little class was so filled with heaviness that I just let it hang for a moment before spurring them on.  How do you move right on from that?

Later that day, I got to wondering: How do such awful things really happen?  Were the people who commit them ever wide-eyed, innocent kids with a sense that the world should be a kind and fair place?  What would Franco have thought, if someone had shown him something like this when he was a 7th-grader?  Would he, too, have wondered how anyone could ever do such a thing?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Lion Dance

Slice at Two Writing Teachers

This Sunday, my husband and I met my mom for dinner because my dad was out of town.  By pure chance, we decided to eat at our favorite Chinese restaurant. (forgetting that Monday was Chinese New Year!)  When we got there, the usual placemats were replaced with the Chinese Zodiac and we giggled over the descriptions of each other's signs.  (Some were hilariously accurate!)  "What an appropriate place to eat dinner!" we realized.  We didn't know how appropriate -- even lucky -- we were.

 Partway through dinner, I noticed one of the waiters hanging something from the ceiling of the dining room. It looked to be a little pale green paper bag.  (We later found out it was lettuce!)  Hmmm, I thought. Maybe they're going to do something with it for Chinese New Year? Cool!  I didn't even say anything though -- who knew, maybe it would be long after we were gone.  We finished eating and were getting ready to leave, when all of a sudden:

pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)
pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)

swirls of red and white
dancing fringe
swaying wildly
open shut open shut

pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)
pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)

the lion enters
stepping feet
snaking body
scary? no!

friendly, curious

pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)
pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)

beautiful, intricate, mesmerizing

pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)
pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)
My mom took this with her phone.  That's my shoulder!

swirling feet
friendly head tilts
joking mouth
open shut open shut


precarious climb
triumphant plucking
silly, messy, chewing lettuce

pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash) 
pum, pum, pum (crash, crash, crash)

snaking away
beautiful swirls
giant head tossing

pum, pum, pum (crash...

It was one of the coolest surprises I've ever experienced!  I've always been enchanted by other cultures (one reason I'm a Spanish/ELL teacher!) and this is one of those things you hear about but don't think you'll ever get to see. It was exotic and foreign, and yet inviting and welcoming.  I wanted to know all about it!  What did it mean?  I poured over information online as soon as we got home.  I found out that we witnessed a lion dance (not a dragon like I thought), something often performed by Chinese martial arts troupes around Chinese New Year for good luck.  (I had noticed that the drummers/cymbal players wore shirts from a local Kung Fu academy.)  An amazing glimpse into a totally different way of life!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Los días grises

Spanish Fridays on Latinaish
Odio los días grises... ¡y hoy es MUY gris!  Pues aquí en Ohio casi todos los días del invierno son grises... y fríos... y feos.  Este año tenemos un poco de suerte (mejor, algo muy raro nos está pasando) porque hasta ahora, no hubieron muchos días muy fríos.  No hemos visto casi ninguna nieve tampoco, algo que no me alegra porque me encanta la nieve.  ¡Hasta hemos visto el sol varios días!  Pero hoy... hoy es un día más típico de los inviernos de Ohio.

Echo de menos el invierno de España... casi siempre soleado, aún cuando hace frío también.  Cuando vivía en Madrid, siempre ví el sol cada día.  Me encanta bromear que en Madrid, si nevaba o llovía un poquito, no me importaba porque salió el sol después de media hora.  Y en Madrid, durante el febrero que pasé allí, creo que la temperatura no bajó debajo de 6 C (cerca de 42 F) casi nunca durante el día.  Nevó casi dos centímetros una vez cuando vivía allí y toda la ciudad se paró -- las escuelas cerradas, la gente como loca.  (¡muy cómico para mí!)

Hoy leí 8 F (-13 C) en el salpicadero mientras conducía a mi trabajo a las ocho menos cuarto de la mañana.  Tan frío que escuché algunos sonidos raros arriba...  Me dí cuenta que ¡había un poquito de hielo en mi techo corredizo que lentamente se derretía!  Y justo ahora, a las cinco de la tarde, acabo de leer solamente 23 F.  ¡Quiero esconderme en la cama con un montón de mantas!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

sparks of curiosity

I love days that my students are working on projects because I get to talk to them in a more relaxed way than usual.  Whether it's a group or individual project, the less-structured atmosphere offers more opportunities to connect with kids. While they're still engaged and working hard, there's a sense that we can take a minute to have some little "side conversations" that we just can't squeeze into "regular" days.  (Although I'm trying to create more of these on the regular days too!) Some of the best little discussions about Spanish-speaking culture, my personal life, their personal lives, etc. have come while talking to a student or group of students as they work on a project.

Recently, I got a new highlight among these little moments as my 6th graders worked on a project in the computer lab.  A couple of kids called me over to ask some unique questions:

  • student: "You know how sometimes you talk to us in a whole lot of Spanish?"
  • me: "Yeah..." (thinking: You better not ask me to talk to you in all English instead, b/c it's not happening!)
  • student: "Well, do you ever THINK in Spanish?" (several friends nearby lean in and squirm with curiosity)
  • me: "A lot!  Sometimes I think in English, sometimes I think in Spanish, sometimes I go from one to the other right in the middle of a thought!  And sometimes..." (slight pause for dramatic effect) "... I even DREAM in Spanish!"
  • wide-eyed kids: "WHOA!", "No way!", etc. 
One of my favorite things about beginning language learners is how curious they are about languages!  I can just see little sparks igniting in their heads as they try to figure out what all it means to really know another language.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The joy of collaboration

Today we had a waiver day (no kids, PD all day) due to Race to the Top funding.  My brain is pretty fried, so here's a short reflection:

  • The opportunity to discuss and APPLY whole-district ideas with people from my subject area is invaluable.  It's so important to figure out together how WE are going to apply RttT and progress measures to OUR classrooms to benefit student learning.
  • Nothing helps decrease stress like talking things out with colleagues and realizing that they are all feeling the same way I do: a mixture of confidence and being overwhelmed.  Yes, we track our kids' progress all the time through a wide variety of authentic measures, so we're already ahead of many people, I suppose. However, it's going to take a lot of work to start formally documenting all of that progress and making it more concrete. Moreover, I'm not the only one who needs to do a lot more formal pre-assessing to identify concretely where kids are STARTING so we really know HOW MUCH they're growing.
  • I LOVE collaboration -- at least, with colleagues who are "on the bus" (as School #2's principal would say) with the same types of ideas that I am.  I wish I got to collaborate with challenging, hard-working peers more often.  My current position makes me feel like an island, and while I definitely have an independent streak (I am an only child, after all!), I crave dialogue and idea-sharing and someone to work with on all these big initiatives that are looming ahead.   Moreover, I love the feeling of excitement that comes from passionate colleagues working together to increase student learning.  
  • Since I don't get to connect with those "real-life" colleagues nearly as often or as consistently as I'd like, thank you to all of the wonderful teacher bloggers who also inspire, share your ideas and feelings, and provide that same excitement about student learning.  You are like a mini-collaboration session in my RSS reader every day!

Friday, January 13, 2012

Spanish Friday!!!!!

A veces, me parece que que hablo español en una isla.  Ni mi esposo ni mis padres ni la mayoría de mis amigos hablan español.  Las otras maestras del español y yo debemos hablar en español cuando hablamos... pero no lo hacemos mucho.  Es más fácil hablar en inglés... y también, creo que el lugar muchas veces dicta la lengua que usamos. ¡Nos sentiríamos un poco raro si estuvieramos hablando en español en el pasillo del colegio lleno de gente estadounidense!  De todos modos, echo de menos el español.  Leo mucho en español -- blogs, noticias, libros... pero no lo utilizo mucho para hablar ni escribir.

Sí, hablo con mis estudiantes, pero ellos solamente empiezan a aprender el español y no pueden hablar de muchas temas.  De veras, muchas veces hablo a mis estudiantes, en vez de con ellos. ¡mejor si hablo con una pared!  Al menos puedo imaginar que la pared entiende y responde.  Entonces, estoy emocionadísma cuando puedo hablar con alguien en español -- aunque sea un camarero en un restaurante mexicano o una cajera en el almacén mexicano.

Claro que sí podría escribir en español... pero ¿cuándo y por qué?  No me da la gana escribir un diario (aunque hace algunos años, sí lo hice) y no estoy seguro si haya alguna persona que lea mi blog que hable español... hasta ahora.  Así que cuando leí de Spanish Friday el viernes pasado en Spanglish Baby, me alegré de verdad.  ¡Yo puedo escribir en español y es posible que encuentre nuevos lectors que sí hablan español!  Y además, es un motivo para escribir en español.  Como dije antes, creo que muchas veces el lugar determina la lengua... y como vivo aquí, esta lengua casi siempre es inglés si no estoy hablando con mis estudiantes.  ¡Ahora, yo tengo algo que me inspirará cada viernes para escribir en español!  Ojalá que así también yo pueda conocer a algunos amigos nuevos.  :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Tuesday's "Inspiration": Why Growth Mindset Matters

On the snapshot of my new 5-year journal in Tuesday's slice of life, you might have noticed that Tuesday's question was "What inspired you today?"  I LOVED this question, because I love the idea of finding something inspiring in each day.  In fact, I bet it would be a pretty good exercise to ask yourself that question EVERY day! Anyway, on Tuesday I happened to have an easy answer to record: a video clip by Rick Wormelli that my principal showed us during our staff meeting that day.

I've always been a believer in the growth mindset, so I was enthusiastically nodding my head constantly during the video.  Not to say it didn't make me think though -- Wormelli's analogies are fantastic examples of WHY these ideas are so important.  Moreover, Wormelli exudes his passion for student learning throughout the video, and it's certainly contagious.

If you're ready to be inspired, watch below:

Something I hadn't really thought about was that so many things in life can be done over and over until you've mastered them.  How many people be driving right now if we only got to take that driver's test once?  (Well I would, but that's not the point!)

Above all though, I love his conclusion that if you let a kid fail or not complete an assignment, you're basically saying "This isn't important," and then why did you assign it anyway?  This has always been my philosophy, but I never articulated it as well as he does.  I do not give zeros or D's or F's; it must be done, re-done, re-taken, whatever.  I refuse to let even the smallest homework assignment go, because I wouldn't have given it to you if I didn't want you to do it and didn't believe you would learn from it!  (This is also why my kids only have homework for me about once a week, but maybe I'll write more on that another time.)  Like he says, "I will haunt your nightmares!" I will track you down and make you do it, whether it's an incomplete homework or a quiz that needs re-taken.  (There is literally a kid right now that I've been bugging ever since before break to turn in a little homework assignment.  I don't want to give him a zero and move on, I want him to do the practice because I believe it's important!)  I believe all of my students are completely capable of doing well on every assignment.  If they don't, they need to find out why and complete the learning, not just give up and move on!

The new idea that my principal brought up after we watched the video is that maybe everyone should be allowed to re-dos and retakes -- kids who just passed your mastery mark or even kids who just missed a few little things. Should they be able to re-do too, if they want?  If they're inspired to fix their mistakes and grow in their learning, they should have the opportunity -- even if their mistakes are small or not as numerous.

How did the video inspire you?  Are these new ideas or already part of your personal teaching philosophy?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I (heart) journals / I am the girl who used to write

About a week ago, we went to Barnes & Noble in search of a neat travel journal for my husband's cousin.  She is heading off soon to Scotland for a semester abroad, and I thought she'd love a journal to record her experiences there.  I wrote like crazy in my journal while I was in Spain, and I love looking back at all the little bits of life I collected in it while I was there.  My Spain journal is full of ticket stubs, maps, flyers, etc of places I went and things I did, plus a lot of fun stickers.  When we went up to visit the cousins last weekend, I brought it to show her and she really enjoyed looking through it. (Even though it's all in Spanish, which she doesn't know!)  We found a really neat one for her, with an inspiring quotation on each page and cool features like a "Highlight of the Day" box on every other page. Her eyes lit up and she bounced up and down when she opened it, so I believe she'll get good use out of it!

the cover
Back to the Barnes & Noble though -- perusing the journals was dangerous because I've always loved journals, although I haven't really kept one since high school, other than the Spain one.  Too busy, too tired... you know.  Anyway, a little brown "five-year" journal jumped out at me... which my wonderful husband ending up buying for me.  I've never seen anything  like it and I couldn't resist giving it a try.  Basically, it has a page for each day of the year, with a topic or question to write about at the top.  On the page are small spaces to write 5 separate entries so you can cycle through the journal and write on each day for five years.

today's page
While it doesn't have space for long entries, the concept of coming back to the same topic and seeing how I change over 5 years really piqued my interest.  Plus, the tiny little spaces seem manageable enough to actually do every single day, and the topics will spur me to write even if I "don't have anything to write about".  (Because there's always something to write about, even when there's "not"!)

The little topics range from fun ("What song is stuck in your head?") to serious ("How do you want your epitaph to read?").  So far, I'm enjoying writing a little bit each day, and I can't wait to look back on my entries in later years.

I've really loved jumping into blogging, but it's funny how there's something special about the way a favorite pen glides across crisp, clean paper.  I do miss journaling, and when I don't journal for a while, I always end up wishing I had.  I love looking back at myself through my journals, and this new little one will be a whole different way to do it!  Besides, some of these little snippets will probably spill over to "real" writing -- they could be new slices of life or maybe even longer entries in a "real" notebook.

Since I started blogging, the girl who used to write has been drawn up from deep inside me... and now she has a new toy!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Feliz Día de los Reyes

the GORGEOUS Rosca de Reyes I brought for my kids from the local Mexican grocery
Three Kings' Day was a big hit, as usual!  The kids loved trying the Rosca de Reyes (plus various tropical flavors of Jarritos that I brought them to drink), and they got SO EXCITED for the classmates who found a baby Jesus hidden in their piece!  That really seemed to make the holiday real for them and let them CONNECT to the real people around the word celebrating with their own Roscas!

It was also a great day to CONNECT with my students.  They were genuinely appreciative that I had brought them a special treat, and I got to see a neat side of my 7th graders in the class that had organized the "Secret Kings" gift exchange for themselves.  One of my not-exactly-overachiever boys brought his secret pal a wonderfully thoughtful gift -- a bird-shaped, painted ocarina from his winter break vacation to Costa Rica!  So awesome -- it was really fun for the kids to see a piece of realia from Costa Rica and the kid who got it felt really special.  Another boy gave an intricate papercraft Santa Claus he had made as part of his gift, and everyone had fun learning that he has an artsy side!  You never know what will come out when you give the kids a chance to show another part of themselves -- but I think you can always be sure that it will be amazing!

Monday, January 2, 2012

"One little word" 2012: Connect

2011 was a big year for me professionally: I started following teaching blogs, I made the leap to starting my own blog, and I gave my first professional presentation at a conference!

Thanks to Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers (who are basically the reason I started my own blog!), I was introduced to the concept of "One Little Word".  It sounds like a neat, reasonable way to make New Year's Resolutions that might actually be keep-able.  After all, focusing on just one word seems manageable, plus I love doing creative things with words so I'll have fun creating some little reminders of my word to place around me.

So here goes: my word for 2012 is: connect.

Merriam-webster.com defines connect in a variety of ways: (my own emphasis added)
intransitive verb
1 : to become joined
2 a : to meet for the transference of passengers  b : to transfer (as from one airplane to another) as a step in traveling to a final destination 
3: to make a successful hit, shot, or throw
4: to have or establish a rapport 
5: to establish a communications connection 
transitive verb
1: to join or fasten together usually by something intervening
2: to place or establish in relationship 

For me this year, connect is going to mean 5 things:
  1. to grow my relationships with family and friends by being intentional about spending more time with them
  2. to establish stronger relationships with my students by taking more opportunities to get to know them and show them that I care about them
  3. to build stronger professional relationships in my district by continuing to share with, help, and learn from a variety of colleagues at all of my buildings
  4. to continue expanding my virtual PLN by writing more in my blog and leaving more comments on teaching blogs that I read
  5. to further inspire my students to love learning and make my content relevant by finding even more ways to connect to other disciplines and "real-life" with authentic activities that blend culture and communication