Sunday, September 30, 2012

An Abundance of Riches

At the Children's Museum of the Arts'
"PoetTree Station"
The Artists-in-Residency Partnership Fundraiser for PS347 was held on Monday, September 24, 2012 at The Children's Museum of the Arts.

The goal was to raise $40,000 to continue art education in our school because Department of Education budget cuts slashed funding for this outstanding program.

As of this writing we have raised $21,410!  The online auction is still underway so if you want to check out the fabulous items--from vacation packages to original artwork--click here.

The highlight of the evening for me centered around the nine award-winning children's book authors and illustrators who donated their time to attend the event.  We were blessed to have Jim Benton, Peter Brown, Floyd Cooper, Tad Hills, Victoria Kann, G. Brian Karas, Ann M. Martin, Bob Shea and Dan Yaccarino in attendance.

I excitedly scooped up their magnificent books and headed off to the "library" section of the gallery to pose for pictures and get my treasures signed!

With Ann M. Martin author of The Baby-Sitters Club

With Peter Brown author/illustrator of You Will Be My Friend and illustrator of Creepy Carrots!
With Dan Yaccarino author/illustrator of Lawn to Lawn, Unloveable and Every Friday
With Victoria Kann author/illustrator of Pinkalicious, Purplicious and Goldilicious
In addition to the silent auction and children's book signings, the organizers--led by the indefatigable Kirsten Hall--arranged for two workshops in the art studios of CMA.  Workshop One focused on creating a large-scale and collaborative "expanded alphabet" mural collage while Workshop Two consisted of miniature book-making inspired by and in honor of the children's book authors and illustrators present at the event.

I was asked to speak a few words about the program from my perspective as an educator.  The gist of my speech celebrated the role of art in our schools as a counter balance to the ever increasing demands for standardized tests and assessments which dehumanize children into numbers and hinder policy makers from seeing them holistically.

All in all it was a great evening to support a worthwhile cause.  A huge thank you to Kirsten Hall, Lucia Sheckner and the generous authors and illustrators for sharing their time and talent.

As Dave Bowell, our principal, pointed out in his speech..."Our EARTH without ART is just EH!"

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Visit with Mo Willems

I walked over to Books of Wonder after school on Friday to attend the Mo Willems book reading/signing event.

As I stood on line to have my picture taken with a life-sized Piggie character (I'm not too proud to wait with a bunch of three-year-olds) I overheard one mom say,

"Mo Willems is the rock star of the toddler set".

Boy, was she ever right!  The place was as crowded as Nassau Coliseum for Madonna's 1990 Blond Ambition tour with all the screaming, impatient fans clamoring to get a glimpse of their idol.

I arrived early to purchase some books (Happy Pig Day!,  The Duckling Gets a Cookie!? and Can I Play Too?) but by the time I found my way to the back of the store all of the seats were taken.  I squeezed and carefully stepped my way to a small area in front of a glass-enclosed bookshelf containing classic masterpieces, many of which were first editions signed by the author.

Mo made his grand arrival about 20 minutes later and read from his new Elephant and Piggie book entitled Let's Go For A Drive!  His delivery captured all of the drama and urgency befitting this entertaining duo.

The reading was followed by a Q & A with ground rules set by Mo beforehand.  He stated, "You can ask anything you want.  And I can answer anything I want".  He said he was once asked, "What color is your underwear" and replied, "Next question".

A bunch of little hands shot up next when he asked, "Who has a question?"

He handed the microphone to a little girl sitting on the floor who asked in her tiny voice, "what color is your underwear?"  Ka-Ching! Well played little smart ass!  She had the crowd in the palm of her hand, only I'm not sure she knew she was being funny.

The Q & A was followed by a book signing.  I was number 83 so it took a while before I stepped up to greet the man.  He was gracious and unhurried.  He even took a moment to pose for a picture with me.

All in all it was an exhausting experience but I am thrilled that I had an opportunity to meet Mo. To quote Piggie in Happy Pig Day... "I am so happy! Oinky! Oink! Oink!"

Saturday, September 22, 2012


This week we taught and practiced the General Response Protocols (GRP) for emergency situations.  Each protocol has specific staff and student actions that are unique to each response - from the relatively mundane routine of a fire drill to the frightening realism of a hard lockdown.

We began with a conversation about classroom rules and staying safe in school. We established an understanding of new vocabulary--such as evacuation and procedure--whilst reviewing the handy dandy safety PowerPoint provided for us by the good folks at the "i love U guys" Foundation.

We were old pros when it came to following the procedure for a fire drill.  Our timing was as good as Ricky, Fred and Ethel's when they had a dry run preceding the birth of Little Ricky on I Love Lucy.  It went like clockwork - stop talking and listen for directions, get in line, exit the building and go to our assigned location. Piece of cake.

The Shelter-In was no problem either because basically we do nothing.  We go about our business, unless of course our business involves leaving the building.  That is one thing you cannot do during a shelter-in.

A hard lockdown is another story. My co-teacher Michelle chose a good day to stay home.  I had to delicately finesse my way through the murky waters alone (upstream, without a paddle, at night...). This is scary stuff and I didn't want to frighten the little kindergarten children so I tried to find the proper tone, a mix of seriousness and adventure.

A hard lockdown implies that imminent danger is INSIDE the building and everyone needs to get to their safe place immediately! I told them this meant someone was in the building that shouldn't be there and to stay safe I needed to lock the doors (which I pretended to do as I talked with them to provide an unhurried, calm demonstration) and we all needed to go quietly to the large coat closet and hide.

We did.

There were a few nervous giggles as we stood there hiding before I announced, "The lockdown has been lifted" and we went back to the rug.

Once we were on the rug the questions started...

"Does that mean someone has a gun and wants to hurt us?"

"What happens if he gets in?"

"What if there is a fire in our safe place during the lockdown" (I thought, "what a wonderfully thought out, outrageous question!" and was fumbling for an answer when the little boy said, "Well, that'll never happen").

And then the tears..

"If they get us that means we'll never see our mommy's or daddy's again." (She started to cry, I started to cry.)

And finally the comic relief...

"Next time we practice a lockdown can we do it when I'm not here?"

You and me both kid, you and me both!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Communications Debate

No investigation into the history of deaf education would be complete without diving into the communications debate.

In the early 1600s it was commonplace for educators of children who were deaf to employ a combination of manual communication with speech instruction.  However, by 1778 when the first oral school opened in Germany, the belief that manual communication would retard the development of deaf children and deter entrance into hearing society took hold.

The division--which still exists today--became personified in the 1800s by Alexander Graham Bell (yes, inventor of the telephone) and Edward Miner Gallaudet. This history is documented in Never the Twain Shall Meet: The Communications Debate by Richard Winefield.

A. G. Bell was a passionate defender of oralism whose views were shaped by the strong example of an elocutionist father (inventor of Visible Speech) and oral deaf mother.  He was also married to a deaf woman who eschewed deaf culture and other individuals who were deaf.

E. M. Gallaudet was also influenced by his father, Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet for whom Gallaudet University is named.  T. H. Gallaudet was a leading figure in the field of deaf education with a strong belief in the merits of American Sign Language for instruction of children who are deaf or hard of hearing.  Like Bell, E. M. Gallaudet's mother was also deaf but unlike Bell's mother she did not excel at oral methods such as speechreading, preferring instead to "communicate all she wished by using signs".

The debate over method of instruction is heated, passionate and bitter but the common ground is the belief by both camps that theirs alone holds the key.  This stubborn adherence to being "right" has left many deaf children victim to the fallout. One size does not fit all.

Educators must work towards mending this schism. In The Mask of Benevolence Harlan Lane writes, "Speaking practically, this means that deaf and hearing adults need each other and must be willing to take steps towards each other, frequently against their instincts, in the interest of deaf children".

Check out both books if you want to learn more about the history of deaf education.  They are interesting reads.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back to School

This week New York City public school teachers put away the beach towels and set the alarm clocks to go back to school!

We had two days before the children arrived to set up our classrooms (Tuesday) and attend professional development planning workshops (Wednesday).

This year things were a tad more involved for me because after nine years I decided to change rooms. One accumulates quite a bit of stuff after nine years!  It's one thing to have organized closets loaded with books and teaching materials but to have to move all of it and then see it cascading down the tables, chairs and any available surface in a new space is quite another.

Add that to upturned state the classrooms are in from summer cleaning and multiply it by the stuff already in the new classroom and you get this...

The new room on Tuesday morning.
Michelle and I spent over nine hours on Tuesday sorting through the clutter, cleaning closets, arranging and rearranging furniture, sorting books, throwing out long forgotten items (such as lesson plans from 2003), merging her stuff with mine (a formidable task as we had two sets of math manipulatives) and finally, decorating.

At one point we became a little giddy and exhausted, dramatically moaning "I can't do anymore!" but we persevered.  By the end of the day we were happy enough with our progress to drag our aching backs, sore knees and painful hips (who knew hips could even hurt? I never pay attention to my hips) out the door.

This is the fruit of our labors...

This was our classroom on Wednesday afternoon.
Impressive, no?

In my classrooms I always try to create little, quiet places for children to sit and enjoy the pleasures of reading.

This year we created this oasis (on left) by transforming a coat closet into a welcoming reading nook.

We hung curtains, added a couch, a large wicker basket with board books and comic books, a tall magazine rack with more favorite titles and hung a lighted star above the couch to set the right mood.

Today was the first day of school and this area is already a popular place for our kindergarten students in need of a safe, welcoming space to provide a warm hug.

We are off to a great start!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

New Literacies Bring Sign Language to eBooks

A new literacy landscape has emerged that is whispering farewell to the clothbound books of my childhood.  Classrooms today are moving away from traditional print-based texts to incorporate digital media, often referred to as "new literacies".  Elementary school classrooms now come equipped with Smart Boards, computers and even iPads.

The digital format is intrinsically motivating to children because it uses familiar applications--from sending texts and emails to surfing the Internet and playing computer games.

Our school discovered another benefit of this ever-advancing technology.  It has allowed our elementary-aged students who are deaf or hard of hearing to enjoy books in both English and American Sign Language.  Unlike English, ASL has no written form.  It is a visual language expressed through hand movements and facial expressions.  It happens "in the moment," and because technology in the past was limited, this language has gone largely undocumented.

Happily, that is changing.  Advances in technology have made it possible to capture ASL and incorporate it into today's new literacies.  This year, two innovative ebooks have been published, Pointy Three by Adam Stone and Strollin' with Little Baby Owen by Owen Tales.  The e-books, which can be viewed using iBooks on an iPad 2, break new ground by allowing English text and ASL video to coexist on the same page.

This is a huge benefit for bilingual children utilizing English and ASL because it supports both language and literacy development.  "By making the English text available, a deaf child can make connections between ASL and English and become more proficient in English which may not happen with English-only texts...," author Stone explained in an article.

English/ASL ebooks are also an engaging resource for elementary classroom teachers interested in exposing students to other languages and cultures.  When other educators find out that I teach young children who are deaf and hard of hearing, they share stories about teaching the sign alphabet and some basic signs to their students.  I have also had requests for my class to Skype with other classes so those students could practice their sign language skills.

To support those teachers, Owen Tales contains a picture glossary of words and phrases in English with photos and ASL video. There are also games for emergent readers that builds on their knowledge. The design ensures that a wide array of readers is supported in their learning while having a good time.

It's learning that sneaks up on you no matter who you are.  I look forward to others following the example of these pioneering authors and creating more interactive ebooks with ASL.  The possibilities are endless.

Note: This post was written for Teaching Tolerance and can also be found here.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

A Parr-fect Banner

I am thrilled to give a hearty, heartfelt shout out to my friend and favorite living children's book author, Todd Parr, to say, "Thank You!" for creating for me the sweet illustration that now graces the top of this blog.

It's just lovely.

Todd captured the essential essence of this blog by incorporating the ASL sign for love into his picture of a smiling teacher (me) who is following his (my) bliss by doing what he (I) love, which is educating children, especially those who are deaf and hard of hearing.

It's simply Parr-fect!

Thank you Todd!


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