Sunday, May 25, 2014

Making Books with Kids

Once upon a time teachers had many opportunities to share ideas through professional development, scheduled classroom visits, weekly grade meetings and creative bulletin board displays.

Nowadays, professional development is virtually nonexistent, classroom visits are not encouraged, grade meetings are a historical relic and bulletin boards have become a meaningless chore.

But thankfully educators (and parents) are a tenacious crew. We've found other ways share ideas?  One way is through the blogosphere.

Last week I read a post in HALLWAYSKIRSTEN about a beautiful project that unfolded just downstairs and down the hall from my classroom.

Who knew?

The project--Making Books WITH Kids--was a collaboration between an amazing kindergarten teacher and a motivated parent.  In her post, Kirsten meticulously documents the process from inception to publication.

I applaud Kirsten, Michelle and all of the young writers.

Thanks for sharing!

Saturday, May 17, 2014


3 Bros - Zeus, Poseidon and Hades

I moved from Semi-Finalist to Finalist in the Big Apple Awards recognizing teacher excellence in New York City.  Yesterday I participated in the final step of the selection process, a classroom visit.

I was excited to welcome the two representatives from the awards committee and eager to share my incredible students with them. But observations are tricky and stressful.  How do you encapsulate the day-to-day brilliance of an amazing bunch of insightful, inquisitive children in a mere snapshot?

It's like our class visits to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  There are so many treasures to see but it is impossible to take them all in with just one morning.  We must focus our exploration and settle for a limited taste, trusting that there are many wonders left to behold.

As I designed my lesson I had to ponder which elements to include and which to sacrifice. I opted to create a lesson that was unique to me--not one from our scripted curriculum--showcasing our learning while meeting the demands of the Common Core. I decided to teach a writing lesson with the objective, "Students will use adjectives to write vivid descriptions of characters from Greek mythology".

We started with a group lesson reviewing and charting the characters from Greek mythology on a semantic web with time for the students to do a turn-and-talk.  Then we used adjectives to describe our latest hero, Hercules. Our six-year-old Hercules was a little demonstrative in his show of strength but we eventually got back on track.

Next, we broke off into differentiated small groups specifically targeted to match the various developmental levels of the children. After about 20 minutes we reconvened for a share which included time for feedback and praise.  This is one of my favorite activities because the students take control of the discussion and always have the most insightful, helpful things to say to one another about the work.  For example, "I really like your story but I think you could add more descriptions because I didn't really visualize what you were writing about".  BAM!

It all went relatively smoothly but the whole time I was too much in my head.  I over-analyzed everything taking mental notes on how this or that could have been improved.  I lacked a bit of the high energy delight in my students that I usually have because of the pressure of "performing".  And the kids were a little more cranky than normal.

Hopefully our visitors enjoyed the tour of our treasure-filled classroom and realize there are many, many wonders left unseen.  I should know in a few weeks when the recipients are announced. Fingers crossed.

Update - Alas, my "candidacy was not selected for one of the Big Apple Awards this year".  Onwards and upwards.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Aesthetic Education

The Old Guitarist by Pablo Picasso
with words from Wallace Stevens'
The Man with the Blue Guitar
It was my great privilege yesterday to attend a workshop at Lincoln Center with the legendary Maxine Greene.  She is Philosopher Emeritus of Lincoln Center Education and founder of The Maxine Greene Center for Aesthetic Education and Social Imagination.

At 96, Dr. Greene is still an active force readily inspiring those around her.  She spoke of the tenets of John Dewey's work and how an electrifying connection with a work of art can help "open up new experiential possibilities".

During her presentation and in our conversation afterwards, I was struck by her genuine interest in education and in those of us who teach.  She repeatedly expressed a desire to foster a dialogue so her own understanding would continue to evolve.

Never satisfied, she encouraged us to push against the boundaries of what is comfortable and to live in the question (I am not sure exactly what that means but I suspect it is that childlike place of wonder coupled with an adult sensibility of reflection).

In her 2001 publication Variations on a Blue Guitar she writes about art, "The attention we offer, the rapt attention--taking time, being quiet--is very different from a practical, utilitarian, consumerist approach, one taken far too often in the presence of works of art.  I am sure you know what I mean; the going to ballet because good, sophisticated, prosperous New Yorkers go to the ballet so that, in some sense, they can tell themselves they have had the ballet, the way some people say they have done Paris. I am sure there are people who look at paintings and try to figure out what they cost or if they will fit over the living-room couch.  Again, we do not want to use or to classify or to consume works of art.  We want to encounter them and to realize, when doing so, that it is a free act. Only as a free act does an encounter have the possibility of becoming what we would call aesthetic".

The day was designed to deepen our understanding and allow us to see how we can incorporate aesthetic education into our daily practice despite the current educational climate of conformity and blankness.

I already happily dance in this space, somewhat, but accept the challenge to bring more beauty, wonder and connection to my students though art in all its forms.

Thank you to The Academy for Teachers for hosting an incredible day of discovery.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Big Apple Teacher Awards

Teaching is a quiet profession.

It's an accumulation of days.

It's showing up.

It's the daily opportunity to facilitate the building of knowledge through exploration and perseverance.

It's the joyful interaction and exchange of ideas with students when the class is engaged in meaningful learning.  The moments when I think there is no where else on earth I would rather be and nothing else I would rather be doing.  Those times are amazing.

The other side of that is dealing with the administrative duties and excessive paperwork that takes us away from the students.  All of the measures created to hold us "accountable" because otherwise we'd be doing...whatever it is untrusting, micromanaging administrators imagine.

Teachers quietly revel in the magical moments and patiently endure the bureaucratic hammering.

But sometimes our leaders see fit to give a little pat on the back for a job well done.  The New York City Department of Education created the Big Apple Awards last year to recognize teacher excellence. This year I was nominated along with over 3,200 teachers for this honor.  I have no idea who nominated me but whoever it was must have written a fantastic recommendation letter because I was selected to apply for the award (along with 500 other educators).

The application required a written response to four questions and two letters of recommendation (from a co worker and an administrator).

That went well and I was selected as a semi-finalist.  The 100 semi-finalists had to appear for a 25-minute interview.  I had my interview on Monday.  I think it went well but these things are so subjective.

As a researcher, my inner voice kept commenting on the conduct of my interviewers.  I wondered what training they were given for this and if there were key words/phrases they were looking for.  Who knows?  I felt that I was passionate, confident and articulate.

We'll see.

I would love to be selected because the award recipients serve as education ambassadors.  Lord knows, I have a lot to say.

But, as the woman sitting next to me waiting to be interviewed stated, "It is an honor to be recognized whether it ends here or not".

It is indeed!


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