Saturday, December 31, 2011

11 in '11

It is time to usher out 2011 and welcome in baby new year 2012!

Ahhh...

In the spirit of reflection I am joining the 11 in '11 Linky Party I encountered at Ms. M's blog.  Here are 11 things I enjoyed in 2011.

FAVORITE MOVIE

This would have to be the last one I watched which was My Week With Marilyn.  I'm not really sure if it was indeed my favorite but I liked it.  I really liked it.

FAVORITE TV SERIES

Doctor Who

FAVORITE RESTAURANT

Anton's at the Swan


FAVORITE NEW THING YOU TRIED

um...

Pass

FAVORITE GIFT YOU GOT

A Kindle! All the free Dickens downloads you want.  Tons of free books.  In fact, I was able to download almost the entire reading list from Joseph Campbell's comparative mythology course!

FAVORITE THING YOU PINNED

...What now?

FAVORITE BLOG POST

My own?  It would be the one that was published by Teaching Tolerance. Hopefully the first of many now that I have been accepted into their corps.

BEST ACCOMPLISHMENT

Becoming a Doctoral Candidate!

FAVORITE PICTURE

There have been some wonderful pictures taken in 2011 but the first one that comes to mind is of my dog Nellie out in the snow.

This was taken a few months before she died of bone cancer and broke my heart. She loved the snow.  Although she was limping at this point and struggling with pain she seemed happy out there.

I miss her terribly.

FAVORITE MEMORY

Spending time with the people (and animals) I love.

It is more than one memory but wow, I am blessed!


GOAL FOR 2012

My goal for 2012 is the same as my goal for every other year.

To be happy.

That covers a lot of ground.

HAPPY NEW YEAR!





Sunday, December 25, 2011

Real or Fake?


I am walking to class with my students on Friday morning when this conversation takes place...

Child: Is Medusa real?

Me: No.

Child: Is the Cyclops real?

Me: No, the Cyclops is not real.  These are all myths, stories that people made up a long time ago. None of it is real.

Child: Are reindeer real?

Me: No.

Child: WHAT?!

Me: What did you just ask?

Child: There are no reindeer?... So, is Santa Claus real?

Me: Oh, I'm sorry.  I wasn't paying attention.  Yes, reindeer are real.

Child: (visibly relieved) Okay.  Is Santa real?

Me: What do you think?

Child: I think he is real.

Me: Well, okay then.  Go hang up your backpack.

That was a close one.  The subject did not come up again - Thank goodness!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Santa Claus is Coming to Town


With little tin horns and little toy drums,
Rooty toot toots and Rummy tum tums;
Santa Claus is coming to town!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Coordinated Mythology

The Fall of Icarus
The brilliant Joseph Campbell taught Comparative Mythology at Sarah Lawrence College for nearly 40 years.

I have created my own kiddie version of this which plays out more like coordinated mythology. Whereas Joe discovered the underlying themes in religion and mythology across cultures and time, I am discovering ways to support my students learning experience with the Greek myths across the curriculum.

While I could never come close to Joe's genius, I do share his passion.

It helps to surround yourself with folks willing to share your vision.  I have that.

I coordinated my study of Perseus and Medusa with Donna, our artist in residence, who planned an art project (currently underway) built around making gruesome Medusa masks.  Donna borrowed some of our favorite books on the subject to help plan these little bits of fright and I can't wait to see how they turn out.

I am also working with Sara, our librarian, to plan which stories she will tell and which ones I get to unleash.  I am currently deep into The Odyssey with my first grade students.  Everyday they arrive in class and ask me if I am going to tell them another part of the story.  So far we have discussed - and acted out - the story of Odysseus, King Menelaus, Paris, Helen, Penelope, Telemachus, The Trojan War, Circe, Calypso, the Cyclops Polyphemus, Scylla and Charybdis and Tiresias and the Underworld. They don't yet know how the story ends and I am milking every last drop from this enthralling tale.

Sara shared the story of Persephone, Demeter and Hades two weeks ago.

Today she told them about Icarus and Daedalus.  I love when she sits in her rocking chair and mesmerises the children with these stories. Sara's stories are always interactive (for example, bringing in pomegranate seeds for the students to taste as they listened to the story of Persephone) and she encourages them to visualize.

After telling a story she invites the children to draw some part of the it that jumped out at them and caught their imagination. Today she brought in feathers and wax to attach to their artwork.  The kids loved it!

Next up...Theseus and the Minotaur!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Community


Community is a big focus in elementary school.  We ask, "What is a community?",  "How do people in a community support one another?",  "How have communities changed over time?",  "Why are communities important?"

There are many ways to link communities with our basic human desire to have our needs and wants met.  Communities exist and develop to make life easier, more efficient and therefore, more enjoyable.

We all belong to more than one community and new communities are springing up all the time.  The blogging community is a relatively new development but the questions above can certainly be applied to it.

So it was nice to have received a show of support from the blogging community, specifically Xpressive Handz and Eh? What? Huh?, with the Liebster Award. Liebster is a German word that means dearest, beloved or favorite.  This award is bestowed on blogs that have less than 200 followers but deserve a bit more attention. It is a way to get the word out I suppose.

This award comes with some rules.
  • Thank your Liebster Blog Award presenter on your blog.
  • Link back to the blogger who awarded you.
  • Give your top 5 picks for the award.
  • Inform your top 5 by leaving a comment on their blog.
  • Post the award on your blog.

And the Liebster Award goes to...
  1. Barbara at Looking2Live
  2. Pauline at Writing Down the Words
  3. Angella at 37 Paddington
  4. Joy at I've Got a Crush on...ME!
  5. Steve at Shadows and Light
Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Who Would Win?

In the spirit of the Who Would Win? books that have my first graders entranced as of late, I decided to apply this question to a mythological battle between the unfortunate snake-coiffed Medusa and the one-eyed man-child Polyphemus (a.k.a. Odysseus' impetuous Cyclops).

The children wrote their responses to include a brief supporting statement as to why one or the other would prove victorious.

As I put this question to them I thought, "First grade rocks!"  Discussions can go deeper, students actually say things like "I want to add-on to what she just said" and we can tackle the Greek myths!

The outcome in our Who Would Win battle?

Drum roll...

According to my students Medusa would take Polyphemus down with one look! Although one clever girl based her answer on the fact that if Odysseus had already blinded the Cyclops (see The Odyssey) then Medusa's "turning to stone" thing wouldn't work and he could simply step on her.

Take a look at some of their responses below.

Medusa would win because she will turn him to stone.

I think the Cyclops will win because when Medusa is slithering the Cyclops will maybe get poked and go a little crazy and step on her. 

Medusa will win because Medusa will look at the Cyclops and turn him into stone.  Then the Cyclops will break.

If the Cyclops was blinded then Medusa can not turn the Cyclops to stone because he is blind and he could step on Medusa.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fly Sweet Birdy

This week we bid a bittersweet farewell to a very pregnant Lauren who, after 9 years as my "work wife", is venturing off into a blissful world of her own in anticipation of the birth of her son.

Everyone is asking me, "How are you doing?" And I reply that I feel as though I have gone through a break-up that I saw coming and therefore have prepared myself.

The sadness and drama have passed and I have met the reality of the situation with a clear head.  Of course, there is a bit of avoidance in really thinking too deeply about what this means.  I am sure that on Monday morning I will feel the lack of her presence immensely and my heart will ache a bit.

But knowing that she is embarking on a brilliant stage in her life trumps the sadness and brings me joy.

Tell your baby hello.
Our first graders made her cards to say goodbye and wish her family well. Their drawings of a pregnant Lauren with the "baby inside" are too precious.

I will finish the school year alone.  I am sure I will be fine but I will certainly miss being part of a fabulous team.  And with that, I will end this post.  Emotions are springing up to the surface and I'd prefer to heed the advice of Scarlett O'Hara and think about it tomorrow.

Lauren, I love you!  You will be missed.  xo

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Art of Todd Parr

Children's book author Todd Parr is an incredible artist. He is also incredibly humble.

Todd often tells children that they too can create art that is just as good as his, all they have to do is try.

So, when it came time to collaborate with our artist in residence (Margaret Phelan from The Children's Museum of the Arts) on an upcoming art project, I suggested we do something based on the art of Todd Parr.

I shared a few of Todd's children's books with Margaret, who was immediately smitten, and before our meeting was over she had decided that it would be fun to make masks with the children based on Todd's book It's Okay to be Different.

How cool is that?


Margaret began by having the students examine his art with a focus on color, shape and detail.  Todd uses bright, happy colors and he uses a thick black outline in his work.  Children asked, "Where are the noses?" and commented on the "funny hair".

And then as Todd suggests, they gave it a try!

Some children created a mask to represent themselves or a family member, while others wanted to design an alien or a cat like Todd's Cool Kitty.  I even gave it a go and created a baby version of myself (not what I intended but I went with it - art is not my forte).

After several weeks we completed our project and mounted a bright, happy and gorgeous display.

Thanks Todd for being an inspiration to our students!

Below is a brief slide show of our process.  Enjoy...



"Be imaginative! Be kind! Feel good about yourself!" - Todd Parr

Saturday, October 22, 2011

A Visit From Dan Yaccarino


Our school is becoming quite the mecca for talented children's book authors and illustrators willing to share their stories with an eager young audience.

The most recent visit occurred last week when we gleefully welcomed inspired artist and writer Dan Yaccario to our school. Over the years Dan's books have been student favorites when selecting their Top Ten books of the school year. And I have a feeling that The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, Every Friday, Lawn to Lawn and All the Way to America will be represented in the Top Ten this year.

In anticipation for his visit we created a Dan Yaccarino book bin loaded with his books and studied in-depth the life of Jacques Costeau. Lauren (my co-teacher) and I were thrilled to note that Dan has written kid-friendly nonfiction books as the current push in education (with the Common Core State Standards or CCSS) is a focus on nonfiction texts.  One student commented that The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau is a nonfiction book that looks like fiction.  This insightful comment springs from the fact that we originally categorized nonfiction texts as containing photographs and fiction, illustrations.  This comment represented her growing understanding of the nuances to be found across genres.  I mentioned her comment to Dan and he replied that this was his intention.  He is well aware of the CCSS.


Dan's visit carried the overall message of deconstructing the journey of going from a child who enjoys drawing to an adult with a plethora of published books.  Dan instilled in the children the notion that they can do anything they want to do in life, the choices are endless but underneath it all is the passion for doing what you love.  This is a message that connects with the theme of this blog and Joseph Campbell's offering - Follow Your Bliss.

At the end of his presentation Dan answered questions from our first and second grade students.  Here are some of their questions and his answers (which are not exact quotes - I can't write that fast!).

Why do you write books? 

It makes me happy.  There are stories I have inside me that I want to tell and things that interest me, like Jacques Costeau and I get to share them through my books.

How do you make books?

It starts with an idea.  First I create small drawings then expand on them with bigger drawings and paintings and then the text.  It takes almost one year to do one book sometimes.

Where do your ideas come from?

Where do you get your ideas?  From up here (pointing to his head) same as you.

Dan shared that he has drawn everyday since when he was even younger than them and encouraged the children to create their own superheros (because they wanted to know how to draw Superman and Spiderman).  Overall, this was a super-duper experience for all of us.

Below one student shares her opinion about why people should read Dan Yaccarino's books.  Notice in her drawing she shows him thinking about pictures and that the Jacques Costeau book rests on the table.

Should people read Dan Y. books? Yes! Because 1. he had beautiful colors. 2. Writes good books. 3. He thinks of pictures. 
Thank you Dan Yaccarino for taking the time to visit us!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Visit With Molly Shannon

Deliciously kooky actress, comedienne and writer Molly Shannon has added another designation to her already impressive list of credentials, that of children's book author.

Like Molly, her first children's book entitled Tilly the Trickster has a wee bit of mischief running through it.

Tilly is a young girl who enjoys making others laugh. The problem is, the target(s) of her pranks don't always share Tilly's jolly sense of amusement.

It's a slippery slope young Tilly finds herself on when she tricks her music teacher Mrs. Mooney ( I love that name. Could it be Mr. Mooney's wife from Here's Lucy?) and tastes the bitter fruit of her shenanigans.

Of course, it all works out in the end.  Well, at least...until tomorrow.

I am an unabashed fan of children's books so it comes as no surprise that I would be singing the praises of one on this blog, but I also am an old classmate of Molly's from our college days at New York University. Therefore, my endorsement comes with an added level of pride and support.

It has been over 20 years since I last saw Molly but when I spotted her at a book reading/signing at Barnes & Noble it truly felt like I was stepping easily back into the past.

It was nice to reconnect and I took the opportunity to invite her to visit my class to do a reading for my first grade students.  What children's book author doesn't enjoy getting feedback on their efforts in the form of laughter, giggles, questions and applause?

The visit hasn't happened (yet) but I remain confident that when time allows Molly will WOW the kids with Tilly the Trickster!

Click here and here to learn more about Molly and Tilly.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Tips From My Mom #14

In the mid 60s, when my parents were a young couple living in the newly developed outer reaches of Long Island, times were sometimes tough.

My mom was a housewife taking care of three young boys (an active 2-year-old and adorable newborn twins ;) and often struggling to manage the finances.

Juggling bills became an art.

Sometimes all the bills were tossed in the air and the ones that landed face-down would be paid, while other months saw the bills that were current put aside so those that were late could be paid.

Yet, every month the bills relentlessly arrived in the mail.

It became a source of great worry and stress for my parents.  So, one day my dad told my mom to throw all of the bills into the fireplace.  She did.  And to her surprise...she felt better.

Over the years my mom has shared this story with us whenever something feels like it is becoming too much, when things feel out of control and cause nothing but distress.

It has become a parable for letting go of those worries because in the end "the bills" will come back next month. All we can do is control our attitude towards unpleasant things.

Like my mom, I have been surprised time and time again at the relief that comes with letting go of worry.  Disposing of the physical manifestations (such as bills) is the easy part, the trick is letting go of the worry that is less tangible.

Still, it's a start. And as I currently have some worries to toss into the fireplace I am grateful to mom once again for this valuable tip.

Let 'em burn!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Place For Young Artists

This past week we had an opportunity to visit the recently opened (as of October 1st) new home of The Children's Museum of the Arts.

And oh, what a merry string of adventures awaited us!

The inventive design includes a clay bar (it literally looks like a bar you might visit at Happy Hour but instead of sipping cocktails you'd be creating something scrumptious with your hands!), a Star Trekian-esque quiet room, a sound booth and media lab, several well-stocked, child-friendly art studios, a ball pond to frolic while inspiration and artistic ideas grow, art labs and a large, inviting gallery.

We loved it!

Our visit began with an examination of an architectural model created by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The children were invited to share their observations of this building ("it looks like a palace", "is it a castle?", "it's a tree house", "there is a shiny, gold top!") and introduced to Hunderwasser's belief that our homes should have a connection with the environment while being fun, interesting places to live.

This attitude was carried over into the planning stages as our students gathered around a large sheet of white paper to draw their vision of a building based on what they learned from this artist.

Their plans included a rooftop playground built on a curved apartment house with tunnels to bring you to an ice cream room, buildings that were connected by a large ladder that also had trees growing off the sides, curvy spectacular structures with large, wavy windows and the Twin Towers with flowers and a man walking on a tight rope between the buildings saying "yay".

By the time they entered the art studio they were well prepared to erect their constructions using Styrofoam, pipe cleaners, tape, wire, cardboard, Popsicle sticks and aluminum foil.

It was wonderful to realize, once again, how blessed we are to have such opportunities at our fingertips. Going to public school in New York City means the whole city is your classroom.  This year we already have trips scheduled to the Whitney Museum, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Jewish Museum, Lincoln Center and The New Victory Theater.

Viva La Art!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

One Man's Treasure...

An enthusiastic child excitedly explains his writing to another student during writing workshop...

S: I had a dream I was going to Saturn.

R: That's not a dream. That's a nightmare!

This probably shouldn't have cracked me up as it did but the tone in the second child's voice definitely had a tinge of "what are you, CRAZY?!"

I went to sleep.  I went to bed and I did "zzzzzzzzz". I dreamed about I was going to Saturn. I was playing on Saturn.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

kidwatching

I have been rereading the book Kidwatching: Documenting Children's Literacy Development by Gretchen Owocki and Yetta Goodman in preparation for the Master's class I am teaching at Fordham University and am once again stuck by the message in the preface.

I am sharing it here for all of those passionate teachers out there and encourage you to give this book a read.

I am the teacher who is committed to discovering what each of my students knows, cares about, and can do.

I am the teacher who wants to understand each of my student's ways of constructing and expressing knowledge.

I am the teacher who helps my students connect what they are learning to what they already know.

I am the teacher who respects the language and culture my students learn at home, and who supports the expansion of this knowledge at school.

I am the teacher who knows that there are multiple paths to literacy, and who teaches along each child's path.

I am the teacher who is committed to social justice and to understanding literacy as a sociocultural practice.

I am the teacher who believes that each child can teach me about teaching, language and learning.

I am the teacher who believes in the interconnectedness of language, learning and life.

I am the teacher who supports children in writing I can! on their wings.

I am a kidwatcher.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Hopes for First Grade

At the start of this school year (just last week) we asked our students what they hoped to learn in first grade. We gave them a sheet of lined paper and sent them happily off to write.

The stories they created will serve as our baseline writing pieces - to be analyzed in conjunction with a writing rubric - so we can determine the next steps in writing development for each child. The baseline writing will also aid us in providing differentiated instruction for the children in our class.

I have discussed the writing process in the past (click here to read more) so I won't do that in this post, but it is evident from the selected compositions below that our students represent a wide spectrum on the writing continuum.

I will share them in order of development.

"I want to learn how to read books."

"I want to learn about monkeys."

"I want to learn about planets. I want to learn about the planets temperature."

"Flowers pop out! I want to do for first grade is to learn how a flower pop out I want it to be yellow and brown sunflower and I want it to be big and I want it beautiful and bigger the best flower in the world and I can ..."

"Science - I want to make an experiment. And I want to make flowers and I  want to make a clay dog and I want to make a potion."
We have a fun road ahead of us as we delve into capital letters, spacing between words, punctuation, grammar, syntax, spelling, content and handwriting (among other things) and I can't wait!

I wonder how I would have answered this question in first grade.

Monkeys perhaps?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Do I Want to Remember 9/11?

The cover of New York magazine reads "9/11 One Day, Ten Years" superimposed over an image of smoke from the World Trade Center after the Towers were struck.

The ladies of The View trotted out former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani to thank him for his leadership in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks. Almost every magazine cover and newscast is asking us to remember.

The NYC Department of Education has developed a series of lesson plans for K-12 students to learn what took place that day and teachers are strongly encouraged (if not required) to delve into the events surrounding 9/11.

All of this media bombardment and emphasis placed on the tenth anniversary is difficult to ignore.  But, do I want to remember 9/11?

To remember is to relive.  To remember is to feel the shock, fear and pain all over again.  For those of us who live and/or work in New York City remembering is quite a different thing than it is for those who were not directly impacted by the events of the day.  It is not part of history, it is our lives.  It is our personal loss.

To remember means thinking back to when I first heard that a plane hit the World Trade Center.  I was teaching preschool and a parent ran in with tears in her eyes stating that city was under attack.  She had heard that the Empire State Building was also hit.  Remembering is seeing the smoke rise from outside our classroom window and wondering what was going on. Do I need to contact the parents? Should I go on with the day as planned? What to do?

To remember is to feel that unsettling chill of calling my friend Adriana ("A.D.") who worked at Two World Trade Center on the 96th Floor, after I finally made it home to New Jersey late that evening, and having her young niece tell me "A.D. is still at work" in a little voice whose innocence was especially cutting against the horror of the day.

To remember that day, a day of death and loss, is too painful.

I would rather remember the life of my friend A.D. and not be forced to relive the circumstances of her death.

I want to remember how she would tease me for kicking up my leg when I had an especially dramatic moment, how she danced with me in her sister Jeanette's apartment, how she sang "Proud Mary" at my Halloween party dressed as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, how she posed near the Christmas tree opening presents with her "boyfriend" Ed, how she loved her family and laughed easily.

The last time I was on the phone with her I didn't even speak - I sang.  Her sister Maria handed me the phone to sing the chorus of Madonna's "Don't Tell Me".  I did and gave the phone back to Maria.

If I can't remember these happy, silly things then I certainly don't want to remember 9/11.  But how can I forget?  How can any of us forget?  Do we really need to be told to remember?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Thanks!

There has been quite a bit of love coming at FYB lately and I want to say thanks to several bloggers who have been especially kind.

Today Ms. M included Follow Your Bliss in her Top Ten list of teacher blogs writing "he has the most inspiring stories".  How wonderful is that? I have been wondering how to get more involved in the teacher blog craze but always seem to be missing out somehow.  I am hoping that her mention will bring other educators to this site so we can share stories and learn from one another. 

Hilary at The Smitten Image has selected two of my posts On the Playground and "I'm Britney?" as Posts of the Week.  She has a very popular, eye-pleasing blog and I am grateful for the support. Thanks!

And (e at Eh?What?Huh? gave me an unexpected nod of support with this post. (e writes about "education, deaf and hard of hearing issues, and life with a hearing loss".

Their blogs together represent my passion as an educator involved with children who are deaf, hard of hearing and hearing and the aim of this blog which is to share a bit of my journey through stories and reflections about teaching.

So, thanks Hilary, Ms. M and (e and thanks to the incredibly supportive blog kin who keep coming back to walk with me.  

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Heigh-Ho

It's off to work I go!

And I am prepared.

My little checklist is now complete as I have...
  1. Updated our class page on the school's web site. 
  2. Sent off a "Welcome Back!" letter to our students and parents - we are looping with our kindergarten students so we have them all again for first grade and I can't wait to see them.
  3. Completed my class schedule, well a tentative one anyway.
  4. Set up a Discovering the World of Art tour at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  5. Scheduled performances for The New Victory Theater's upcoming season.
  6. Purchased some new children's books including First Grade, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson, several titles by Dan Yaccarino (who will visit us on October 13th!) and Classic Myths to Read Aloud: The Great Stories of Greek & Roman Mythology (specially arranged for children 5 and up) by William F. Russell. 
  7. Brushed up on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) which are rolling out the second year plan for NY schools. More on that in future posts.
  8. Written lessons and did curriculum planning for the coming school year.
On Tuesday and Wednesday we set up the classroom and engage in professional development so we are ready when the students arrive on Thursday.

I am also teaching a Beginning Reading and Writing course at Fordham University this semester and continuing my doctoral journey with Dissertation Seminar.  After two months off (two months!) I am ready to plunge back into hectic pace that is my life the rest of the year.

All the best to the many educators out there who are doing the same!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

"I'm Britney?"

From 2000 - 2002 I taught preschool to a diverse group of energetic children. Every morning one boy would enter the classroom, throw down his stuff and run over to the dress-up corner to slip into a wedding gown.

His enthusiasm for the loveliness of this dress was unabashed.  Wearing it made him happy. He wore it when building in the block center, playing with make-believe guns ("no guns in school"), reading books and eating breakfast.

Sometimes he would roll around on the table singing Britney Spears songs. I once said to him "Okay Britney, time to get off the table" to which he ecstatically replied, "I'm Britney?"

None of the other children in the class had a problem with his wardrobe choice. It was a non-issue.  The teachers in the room didn't make a big deal out of it either.  

For Christmas that year Toys "R" Us offered to donate a gift to every child in our class.  Each student read through the catalog and chose an item.  This little boy circled a Barbie doll. It was all he wanted.  He had asked his parents for one but they said no.

What to do?

We decided that we would put his order in exactly as he wanted it.  The day the Barbie arrived in school he was grinning from ear to ear.  He spent the rest of the day holding it, playing with it and loving it.

The next day when he came to school he did not run in to get the wedding dress.  He was not smiling his normally infectious smile.  He was sad.

"Mommy threw my Barbie in the garbage" he replied when we asked him why he was so upset.

He even wrote a song about it that went something like this...

"I got Barbie.  I love Barbie.  Mommy threw Barbie away."

Eleven years have passed since this incident but it is something that sticks with me, especially in light of some recent posts that touch on similar issues (you can read them here and here.)  I'd like to think that a boy can play with a Barbie and wear a wedding dress nowadays without his parents flipping out.

Granted, it is probably a lot to swallow but isn't acceptance better than teaching shame?

Teacher of the Deaf

I am a teacher of the deaf and hard of hearing.

I am not a sign language interpreter.

Over the years I have encountered those who are confused about the difference between the two professions.

This has happened in both my professional and personal life. For folks unfamiliar with issues related to deaf culture or deaf education using the terms interchangeably is certainly understandable. Yet, the two call for distinct qualifications, demands and experience. They do not have to be mutually exclusive but the path towards certification in each is not the same.

My role as a teacher is similar to that of any other educator, only I use American Sign Language (ASL). I am also not a speech teacher - I am interested in putting forth ideas and concepts, in expanding how my students see the world, in developing positive attitudes, in fostering questioning, in supporting academic and emotional growth and independence and in helping each child reach the next level of development.  I do this through lessons, conferences, hands-on experimentation, assessment, etc., the same as any teacher with hearing students.  The mode of communication is the only difference.

Interpreters on the other hand are there to facilitate communication between people who do not share a common language.  American Sign Language interpreters facilitate conversation between a hearing person and a deaf person.

Using the services of an ASL interpreter can take some getting used to if you are not familiar with it but these tips should help ease you into it.

None of this confusion really causes any damage.  Adults figure out how to work with one another to get past barriers. However, damage is caused when deaf or hard of hearing children are placed in mainstream classrooms without access to the language.

I have spoken with teachers who simply do not know what to do when a deaf child is placed in their class.  It takes time to figure it out and some simply don't have the time or the motivation for it, which brings me to my main point.

ASL interpreters in the classroom are not responsible for teaching. Their job is to interpret. The deaf child placed in a mainstream classroom with an interpreter has the right to the same education as all the other children in that class.

While I do not feel this is the least restrictive environment for the deaf child I know that it happens.  It is my hope that those teachers will do their homework and educate themselves about effective practices.  The following guidelines can serve as a starting point.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Driving Bilingual Education

I am a good driver - but you would never know it given the theatrics of "backseat drivers" whose sudden gasps and quick grasps for the dashboard denote a lack of confidence in my skills.

This drama is alternately amusing, annoying and unnecessary.  I'm proud to say that, for the most part, my motto of "when in doubt, step on the gas" has never let me down.

The same adage can also be used to describe the path of bilingual education in America.

English language learners (ELLs) have been thrown into English speaking classrooms with a goal of acquiring this dominant language as fast as possible.  If accommodation is made by providing supportive programs in bilingual education it often ignores the research which states it takes 2-3 years before children develop Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills (BICS) and 5-7 years before Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) allows the language of learning to become fully realized.

Negative views surrounding the bilingual education debate have influenced policy and practice.  In California, Proposition 227 essentially outlawed bilingual education. This history is full of struggles with conflicting input from "experts" holding various perspectives.

It reminds me of the influences and history of deaf education in America. The push towards assimilation has been forceful and unyielding.

So it is with a great deal of pride that I find myself teaching at the only public dual language (American Sign Language and English) school in America with students who are deaf, hard of hearing and hearing.  Here the struggles in bilingual and deaf education come together allowing us to lift up on the gas to give our students an education based on the scientific research espoused by No Child Left Behind (but NCLB is another can of worms isn't it).

We may not have all the answers but we are constantly questioning and learning.  Our little school is adding to the history of both bilingual and deaf education.  I look forward to seeing where it leads us.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Beating Bliss

I love the title of this post because it is so ambiguous.

Anyway...

Teaching is a gift that fills me with immense gratitude but there are aspects of it that make me want to scream. And as my summer days drift away I've realized how long it takes to heal from those occasional beatings.

The 2010-2011 school year was probably the toughest in my 15 years because the pressures of teaching to the test instead of teaching to learn have seeped into even our school, formally a bastion of authentic exploration and child centered learning.

We are all feeling the pressure of the American educational system which creates an environment wherein passing standardized tests is considered the Holy Grail.  We are stepping away from trusting that teachers are capable, experienced and knowledgeable enough to tailor lessons to meet the individual needs of each child.  Instead scripted text books and programs are becoming de rigueur.

Stripping educators of the right to be creative artists and forcing us to become homogenized, one size fits all automatons devoid of intelligence is insulting and infuriating.  All the while the test makers, who also create the text books needed to pass said tests, are happily counting their money.  It's all about making a buck - not education.

And the situation does not seem as though it is going to improve any time soon.  Our students thrived academically this past year.  They really did. But I mourn the fact that we did not have time to engage in deeper explorations as we have in the past with our investigations into the hot dog stand, the library, the bakery, hotels or teeth.

In the 2011-2012 school year I am committed to find a better balance between the hearts and minds of our students.  It is not an easy challenge but I am determined to fight for the rights of children who are paying the price of losing their childhoods stressing over achievement instead of taking in the small wonders all around them.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Teaching Tolerance

Teaching Tolerance (a project of the southern poverty law center) is "a place to find thought-provoking news, conversation and support for those who care about diversity, equal opportunity and respect for differences in schools".

They provide free educational materials such as books, documentaries, DVDs, the Teaching Tolerance magazine and other items to promote social justice in our schools.  They also have a blog for educators to share their insights, experiences and day-to-day struggles with anti-bias education issues.

A few months ago my principal sent an email notifying me that Teaching Tolerance was looking for writers.  As a frequent reader of this blog and supporter of the work I do in the classroom he suggested I get in touch with them.

I did.

I was asked to write a try-out piece which I entitled On the Playground.  It took quite a while for them to get back to me and thinking they were not interested I posted it on my own blog (recently Hilary at The Smitten Image kindly selected it as a Post of the Week.)

However, Teaching Tolerance was interested!  They asked for a simple revision and yesterday I got notification that my post was "live".  How exciting is that?  I am submitting a second try-out post this weekend and after that may or may not be offered a contract.  The brilliant thing about all this (other than being paid to write) is having the opportunity to share my journey with a broader audience and forge connections with other educators who are passionate about the same issues.

I am grateful for this opportunity and hopeful that they will like my second try-out post.  I'll keep you posted.  In the meanwhile you can find my post here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Deaf Culture


The feedback on my Reading and Deafness post led to a bit of Internet hopping to sites focusing on issues in deaf education. Once again I was struck by opposing perspectives that influence and shape how deaf children are taught.

Delpit describes literacy as being part of a larger political entity and this is certainly true in the field of deaf education. Literacy encompasses not only reading and writing but reflects how it is situated within a larger context. Educational policies and curricula for deaf children closely reveal larger societal views towards deafness. These are represented in the two divergent approaches in teaching methodologies and modalities, namely the oralist and manualist approaches that influence how deaf children are educated in the United States.

Simply put, the oralist perspective is based on a medical view which sees deafness as a deficit.  From this standpoint deafness is something that needs to be corrected, fixed or cured. According to King and Quigley, the dominant hearing culture has historically held the belief that "deaf people were intellectually inferior to hearing people and showed definite deficits in various aspects of cognitive functioning". This is in line with an oralist stance.

This deficiency model is challenged by deaf individuals and linguists who promote a cultural perspective incorporating art, American Sign Language, shared experiences, lessons and myths.  The shift from "can't" to "capable" has a huge impact on the education of deaf children. It became apparent from my reading that these passionate debates continue to rage on.

As I jumped around the Internet I also read statements voicing the opinion that deaf individuals who use American Sign Language and immerse themselves in Deaf culture refuse to join a hearing world and are therefore choosing to remain isolated and separate from society.  This is a bit like saying that my German grandparents who belonged to a German club and spoke German were Nazis. They weren't.  And deaf individuals who celebrate Deaf culture are not anti-hearing or shunning mainstream society.

America celebrates and recognizes many cultures, why should this be any different?

Note: Click here for an interesting related article in

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