Sunday, April 29, 2007

Educator Appreciation

"They like us, they really like us!"

Yesterday I went to Barnes & Noble to pick up the copies of KAPOW! I ordered last weekend and saw that it was the first day of Educator Appreciation Week.

Being very susceptible to enjoying the perks that come with teaching (there aren't many) I signed up for the Educator's Appreciation Afternoon Tea that was to be held the next day. They promised to raffle off over $500 worth of 'incredible prizes', provide a 'light lunch' and the clincher was that there would be guest authors and illustrators. Oh, AND they would kick up the educator's discount from its usual 20% to 25%! Therefore, if I bought $100 worth of books I would save like...$250! (Joy - that math is for you.)

Now those jaded readers may say that it is just an opportunity for B&N to rev up business and for authors to turn a quick buck. I must admit this was my initial feeling. However, that little devil was silenced by the thought of winning $500 worth of merchandise.

I went this afternoon and thoroughly enjoyed myself. As I walked from table to table I was greeted by employees with "Oh, you're the teacher from New York". I felt like a celebrity as there was obviously a little grapevine gossip playing out. They could not believe that I commute two hours to get to work everyday and I enjoyed playing my part in this scenario. I am a talker after all and once I begin to discuss education and children watch out.

The children's book authors and illustrators were Wendy Pfeffer, Gene Barretta, Joe Kulka, Stephen Heigh, Betty Tatham and John Sciullo. Once I saw their beautiful books my prior resolve to keep a closed wallet was melted and I scooped up five of them. I am a sucker for autographed books and could not help myself. I think my students will really enjoy them too.

Comedian and talk-show host Joy Behar has teamed up with illustrator Gene Barretta to create a feisty, lovable character in this cheerful, funny picture book. When Max the mixed-breed meets a pack of snobby purebred dogs in the dog run, he can’t understand why they don’t want to play with him and his mongrel friends. Determined to get everyone to play together, brainy Max—who is part poodle, after all—comes up with a way to break the ice between the mixed-breeds and the purebreds. America’s current obsession with designer dogs makes this book as timely as it is lively.

An authorial debut for illustrator Barretta, Now & Ben aims at the youngest readers, limiting its purview to Franklin as a slightly tubby, jolly inventor and innovator. Each left-hand page describes and illustrates one of Franklin's contributions as we know it ("Now . . . our newspapers are filled with illustrations"); the opposite page goes back in time to reveal the Franklin connection ("Ben . . . was the first to print a political cartoon in America"). Most young children won't grasp the play on the phrase now and then but will zero in instead on the well-chosen examples, which include bifocals and lightning rods as well as lesser-known notions (a rocking chair that churned butter!), all appealingly rendered in Barretta's relaxed, cartoonlike watercolors.

From Foreword Magazine’s 2004 Children’s Book of the Year Finalist Stephen Heigh comes the heartwarming story of The Snowman in the Moon. Beautifully illustrated, Snowman's panoramic outdoor scenes capture the interest and imagination of children of all ages and the inner child in all of us.The story center around a town that has longed for a big snowfall for years without seeing one. One night, as two children are gazing up at the moon wishing for it to snow, the Snowman in the Moon appears to them. They know at that moment something magical is about to happen. However, when they tell their friends and neighbors what they saw, no one believes them.But that evening the Snowman in the Moon visits Woodstream County and blankets the land with a beautiful soft snow. The town discovers the beauty and magic of this special snowfall."If you believe, all things are possible."

A distant howl echoes through the forest, and news quickly spreads that Wolf is coming! As the wolf gets closer and closer, animals run away as fast as they can. Soon the wolf's glowing eyes are peeking through the window, and then slowly, the front door opens...

But things are not as they seem in this suspenseful, clever story. It just might be the reader who's in for the biggest surprise of all!

From School Library Journal: Grade 1-3- This title focuses on one emperor penguin family's survival. The parents' care of their young is central, shown by deft yet perfunctory watercolors depicting a harsh, challenging habitat. The danger of the baby's starvation is emphasized; one adult must keep it protected from the elements and the other must fish for food and return in time to feed it before it dies. Trading places, the caregivers share these duties until the chick is old enough for both adult birds to hunt for food together. A summary of a penguin's life up to the laying of an egg is followed by a section that describes the egg laying and nesting patterns of kings, Ad lies, rockhoppers and little blues.

Barnes & Noble is not the only institution to provide educator discounts.

Borders Books has a 'Classroom Discount Card' that entitles the bearer to 20% off list price on books, music, and VHS for classroom use.

Staples has a 'Teacher Rewards' program and a teacher appreciation day late in the summer.

P.S. I did not win the raffle.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Making Tapestries

Before becoming a teacher I majored in Dramatic Arts: Theater at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. My love of theater began at a young age but I didn’t do much about it until I was in high school. Our high school had a rich theater program that found us thespians performing scenes from a plethora of classic works for English classes and other captive audiences – such as our parents on ‘scene night’.

It was at this time that I began my love affair with Greek Tragedies and Greek Mythology. I was given the role of Creon in the Jean Anouilh version of Antigone. My scene partner, the gorgeous and talented Margaret “Peggy” Iamunno, taught this fledgling actor about the story so I could begin to grasp the enormity and history of this amazing work. I have been hooked ever since and always credit Peggy with introducing me to a passion that has never subsided. I dove into a study that continues to this day and has grown to encompass comparative mythology and most notably the writings of Joseph Campbell.

I never imagined that this interest could be tapped in my teaching of young children, but I was wrong. It all began with a visit to The Metropolitan Museum of Art when our guide stopped the class in front of the tapestry (pictured above) depicting Diana (in literature the equivalent of the Greek goddess Artemis) bathing with her nymphs while Acteon looked on. Diana, none too pleased, changes him into a stag and he is subsequently devoured by his own dogs.

This story mesmerized the students and they kept referring back to it with such excitement. On this visit the museum generously provided us with a book entitled Pocket Dictionary Of Ancient Greek Heroes And Heroines by Richard Woff. I figured it was worth a shot to begin telling them some of these stories that I knew so well. I began with the story of Theseus, Ariadne, Phaedra and the Minotaur. High student interest led to descriptive explorations of...

*Odysseus (Cyclops, Circe, Helen, Paris, the Trojan War, the Sirens)

* Perseus (Medusa, Athena, Andromeda, Pegasus, the Harpies)

* Jason (Medea, Hercules, Talos, the seven headed Hydra, fighting skeletons) and many others.

This theme crept its way into all aspects of our learning and into the physical environment of the classroom. Students chose to label the tables or areas in the room by assigning the names of their favorite characters to each.

We created our own ‘tapestries’ using burlap and various art materials. Below are a few of the ‘tapestries’ that hang above each table. (Not pictured Cyclops and Pegasus)

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"OOPS!" "OUCH!" "OOPS!" and another "OUCH!"

I am all for class trips that take advantage of what New York City has to offer, but sometimes it may just be better to stay in the classroom with the door locked and a large sign hanging on said door reading “DO NOT DISTURB”.

That day was today.

We were all very excited this morning because for the second day in a row we were “going on a trip”. Yesterday we went up to Columbia University to see a production from Little Theatre of the Deaf which went off without a hitch. So, today as we prepared for our trip to The Metropolitan Museum of Art we naively believed we would enjoy ourselves, learn something, bond as a community of learners and get back by 1:30.


First mishap…

Our tour guide got us lost in the American Wing as we tried to find our way to the New Greek and Roman Galleries.
I think she did this on purpose because although I assured her that my students were experts on the heroes and heroines of Greek Mythology, she expressed her opinion that it was too sophisticated for them. Well, we followed her through the maze of rooms and hallways, up the elevator and down the steps, back into African Art. By this time the children were getting restless and playing “don’t step on the cracks”. This meant that they were looking down rather than straight ahead of them. You know where this is going? Just as I was telling them to watch where they were headed I hear a loud “WHACK”


One of my beautiful little girls smacked her head right into the corner of a glass display case. I scooped her up and asked our guide where to find the first aid station. She suddenly knew exactly where she was and 'guided' us there. All the while we were followed by onlookers asking if the girl was okay in about four different languages.
I was afraid to look as we glided down the stairs and though the door to an unfortunate nurse, who, I am sure, was not following her bliss as a nurse at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. She gave us ice for the bump (no cuts or blood – Whew!) and we made our exit. The bus was waiting by now and we had to get back. As we departed our guide told me that she was glad we couldn’t make it to the New Greek and Roman Galleries anyway. Sweet.

I am not finished.
Second mishap...

We get on the bus. All is well. Until…

A woman in a Jaguar tries to squeeze past our school bus and does not quite make it.


We come to a standstill at a very busy intersection. Our sweet (really) bus driver gets out and starts yelling at this woman who was clearly in the wrong. She is wedged between the right side of the bus and a construction blockade. The driver’s side mirror on her beautiful Jag was hanging. No damage to the bus other than scrapes. The children were fine – slow speed, low impact – we actually didn’t even know it happened. The woman manages to get out of her car and is joined by the bus driver. I turn to my co-teacher and sign “It is pretty bad to smash into a school bus but when she finds out it is a bus full of deaf children she’ll probably feel even worse”.

The police come, EMS comes and reports are filed. However, one student tells EMS that she bumped her head when we stopped and she now has a headache.


Long story short…I spent the next three hours in the emergency room with her waiting for her mother to show up. All ended well. She is fine. I am back home.
Tomorrow we are NOT taking a trip.

Monday, April 23, 2007

"No, Thank You"

It was the night I was celebrating my commitment to teaching.

The closest that educators come to the Academy Awards is a graduation ceremony. Going up to collect the diploma is equivalent to walking the red carpet. Shaking hands with the dean of the university is an interview with Joan Rivers. It may not be glamorous but it is all we've got.

And we work hard for our few moments in the sun. Attending classes after a full day of teaching, spending the weekends writing papers, conducting ongoing research while our friends are out enjoying a late afternoon brunch, scooping up items or collecting 'garbage' because it has a purpose for that project the students are creating, it's all part of being a teacher/researcher. It is who we are, every minute of every day.

The lifestyle does not come with much respect from those with political power but it does carry a certain cache with some parents and students. Well, on the night of my certificate ceremony celebrating the completion of the Hello Friend/Ennis William Cosby scholarship program for Young Readers at Risk, at which may I add, I gave a speech detailing how teaching was my bliss, that I cherished how blessed I was to have found the perfect match, the supreme career -- on that night I was approached by a woman who offered me a scholarship to become a school principal.


Was she not paying attention?

She was taking the perspective that education is a business and who can blame her? When we have Boston-born Republican businessman-turned-political Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg espousing his agenda this comes as no surprise. In his world one works their way up the ranks to obtain wealth and power. The bottom line is the almighty dollar, what can I do for ME? This is NOT the way things operate in education.

Mr. Bloomberg has alienated many parents who feel excluded from influencing decisions about the system. “His problem all along has been a lack of buy-in with the stakeholders of the system: parents, teachers and principals,” said Tim Johnson, chairman of the Chancellor’s Parent Advisory Council, a parent group. Saying that an election every four years “is not enough to check and balance a mayor, especially a mayor with billions of dollars,” Mr. Johnson added that the parents “are more frustrated than ever,” especially given the several reorganizations undertaken by Mr. Bloomberg and Chancellor Joel I. Klein. (The New York Times, September 20, 2006)

It is all about perspective. Mayor Bloomberg or Chancellor Klein have outright disdain for teachers, absolutely no respect. I truly think this would change if they would honestly commit one week to planning, managing and teaching in a New York City Public School. How wonderful if these businessmen would allow themselves to open their minds to 'hear' what dedicated educators around the city have to tell them.

I am a teacher. I want to teach. I do not want to 'move up' to obtain more power and wealth if that takes me out of the classroom. I do not see my position as a stepping stone. I am happy to do what I do. If I wanted to be in business I would have done that. I assure you that with my education and dedication I could be raking in the bucks, but I would not be fulfilled doing that.

Therefore, on the night of my certificate ceremony I simply responded to this woman with --

"No, thank you!".

Sunday, April 22, 2007

More Children's Books

Authors of good children’s books are like celebrities to me. Anyone who shows that much respect for children by pouring their creativity and gifts into these mini masterpieces deserves whatever accolades I can dole out. Over the years I have collected autographed copies of several books by amazing author/illustrators whose unique visions highlight the richness of the genre. A listing of some of my favorites (autographed, of course) are below.

Faith Ringgold – Tar Beach

A ‘Tar Beach’ is the rooftop of Cassie Louise Lightfoot’s Harlem apartment building. She has a dream that she is free to fly wherever she wants and we join her on a journey.

This is a Caldecott Honor Book, Winner of the Coretta Scott King Award, Winner of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award and a New York Times Best Illustrated Book.

Bryan Collier – Uptown

“A young boy provides a particularly inviting, personally guided tour of his uptown home, New York City’s Harlem…Looking from his window high above the sights and sound of the city, the young narrator concludes, ‘Uptown is Harlem…Uptown is home”.
-- School Library Journal

Nick Bruel – BOING and Bad Kitty

BOING is a near wordless picture book that details the struggles of a “very young kangaroo who is desperately trying to learn how to jump like her mama, but can’t quite make the leap”.

Bad Kitty is a very funny ABC book about a bad kitty who is not so bad after all.
"This hilarious picture book takes readers through the alphabet four times and will have kids begging for more!"

Nick Bruel has visited our school twice to do readings for the children. He is extremely entertaining and great fun to watch. This guy has a terrific sense of humor and seems to really know what kids find interesting.

Nina Crews – The Neighborhood Mother Goose

Ms. Crews (daughter of children's book author Donald Crews, winner of two Caldecott Honors) uses rich, lush photography to accompany the Mother Goose rhymes. My favorite is Humpty Dumpty.

If you get the opportunity stop by a library or book store and check them out.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Spring is in the Air

Oh, happiness! There is the promise of sunshine and blue skies a lurkin', which means learning can happen outside of the confines of the classroom once again. (Artwork on left done by a student, age 6.)

In her riveting autobiography, The Story of my Life, Helen Keller wrote that Annie Sullivan would take her beyond the walls of her room to explore nature and deepen her understanding. In that environment Helen came to learn and grow. It undoubtedly had an impact on her because the book provides a detailed account of the learning that took place. Helen Keller’s recollection of this has stayed with me. Her experience has impacted my teaching as I consciously strive to provide diverse learning opportunities for my students. This is never more evident than during this exciting time of year in first grade. Now is when we normally begin our investigations into non-fiction writing.

We have been exploring features of non-fiction texts for the past month and at present the students are having a go at creating these texts themselves. In keeping with our Reggio Emilia philosophy, the children decide their own topics of study. This year there are three groups studying plants, the zoo and pizza. The explorations will develop in different ways, but all will include trips.

Our first excursion was this past Tuesday. I took the plant group for a walking trip to Home Depot to select seeds, buy soil and examine planters and pots.

The wonderful thing about my teaching situation is that I work with a co-teacher, Lauren. We have decided through the years that during non-fiction investigations one of us will ‘cover’ the class while the other spends the day (or part of the day) taking an educational trip with one small group of students. In the past this has manifested in Lauren taking trips to The Coney Island Aquarium, Brooklyn Botanical Garden and The Museum of Natural History. I have taken children to the Central Park Zoo, The Bronx Zoo and Times Square.

Remaining flexible and open to possibilities (or thinking 'outside the box') has created a new avenue to learning. I recommend this to any teacher with the available resources; staffing, organization, time and stamina. Who knows, one day one of my students may write a book detailing their trip to Home Depot in first grade. Just saying.

It is the function of art to carry us beyond speech to experience.

Joseph Campbell
Sake & Satori: Asian Journals - Japan

Sunday, April 15, 2007


My students are amazing writers and I simply cannot resist sharing some of their stories. This one is based on the story of Odysseus. Ask any of them to tell you about his journey to Troy and the adventures of his return voyage, then make sure you have a while to listen. They are experts!

They sat in rapt amazement as I told them about Circe, the Cyclops, Helen, Paris, King Menelaus, the Sirens, Queen Penelope, Telemachus, Athena, Hermes, Zeus, etc.

There is a reason these stories have lasted so long.

The story below was written in early January. It tells the story of Odysseus and the cyclops, Polyphemus. The child's retelling is accurate and follows a logical order. At the time of this writing he was learning to put spaces between his words. His current writing reflects growth in this area.

I especially enjoy this story for the artwork.

Cyclops eats bones. People ran.
(Notice the hair and the "let's get out of here" expressions)

Cyclops eats people.
(The circle to his left is a boulder signifying the entrance to his cave. Cyclops looks happy. I love the eye!)

Men were all over the cave.

Cyclops sleep. Odysseus put the stake in cyclops' eye.
(Notice that his eye is closed. Also, the size difference between cyclops and the men.)

Cyclops mad.

(Notice his hands are on his face. Not such a big man now, huh?)

End. Cyclops take a nap.

(The door to the cave is open, the sheep are getting out and the men make their escape.)

Saturday, April 14, 2007

"Enjoy freely and directly the bliss of your own true empire" - Joseph Campbell

Two books have influenced my thinking...

Myths to Live By: How we re-create ancient legends in our daily lives to release human potential (1972) written by Joseph Campbell.

Search and Re-Search: What the Inquiring Teacher Needs to Know (1991) edited by Rita S. Brause and John S. Mayher.
The juxtaposition of these two texts may seem strange, but as they swirl around in my thoughts placing them side by side seems somehow right. Both circulate around the marriage of theory and practice.

Joseph Campbell outlines how societal and individual beliefs influence our daily lives, supporting his conviction that we might look to myths to address current world problems. He writes of the challenge to the modern educator and conscientious teacher torn between loyalty to the “supporting myths of our civilization or to the ‘factualized’ truths of his science” (p.11).

Brause and Mayher argue that “we tend to try to have our reality fit our theory, rather than adjusting our theory to be better in harmony with our changing sense of reality” (pp. 6-7). They go on to posit that our actions make evident our underlying theories. We have theories about everything from the shortest route home to how to do laundry. These are continuously tested and change according to our experiences; but not without struggles.

This is how we view the world, both on a personal level and through the lens of society and culture. I have been pondering what this means for me, my students, my teaching. Teacher training is steeped in theory. Developmental, behavioral, societal, cognitive, psychosocial, learning theories, etc. are espoused in the university setting.

All this happens before actually stepping into the classroom arena as a teacher. It is not until you are hired that a practical demand is made.

How should the furniture be arranged?
What is the structure of the day?
What are the other children doing when I am engaged in a guided reading lesson?
What do I say in parent teacher conferences?
How can I be in five places at the same time?

The answers to these questions are determined by our beliefs. And if we can articulate the reasons behind our decisions our teaching becomes stronger, the class operates smoother and children learn.

It is in this atmosphere of clarity (in thought and action) that I find bliss. Although I believe that I will never ‘arrive’, I do enjoy the process of learning and teaching. I do intend to “enjoy freely and directly the bliss of my own true empire” (Myths to Live By, p.70)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Creative Farewell

We have had a student teacher from Teachers College, Columbia University as part of our classroom community since January 22, 2007. Jenny has been an incredible addition to our class but alas, the time is approaching when she will leave us.
In order to prepare the students for this, she searched for a book that would encourage a discussion around this topic. She wanted the students to ask questions (if they had them) and become mentally ready for the day when she would stop coming to teach them. Unable to find a suitable text she created one with another student teacher at our school, Mary.
Together they wrote an 11 page story that she read to them today. Each child will get their own copy to bring home. I am impressed! I want to share a few pages here...

Jenny will be with us until April 27, but I already miss her inventive ideas, motivation and warm smile. She's a natural!

Saturday, April 7, 2007

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

New York City affords many rich opportunities to learn outside the confines of the classroom. Taking advantage of the rich cultural offerings is, in my view, an obligation of the intrepid educator. Children learn through experience. In a city as diverse as New York there are a myriad of adventures waiting to unfold that will deepen a students understanding. Attending live theater is one and visiting the many museums is another.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art at 1000 Fifth Avenue offers an exceptional program for school groups. They provide guided, informal and interactive, tours for grades K-12 across a spectrum of topics. These tours are free for schools located within the five boroughs of New York City ($10 per person outside of NYC). Appointments are required for all school programs and they book up fast! Click here to schedule a tour or call the reservation line at (212) 288-7733. Below is a listing of their menu.

Exploring Art: Discover a variety of art across cultures and through the centuries - strongly recommended for first time visitors.

America: Experience the vibrant spirit of America from 1700 to the present.

Ancient Egypt: Explore the fascination world of the ancient Egyptians - pharaohs, gods, tombs and mummies. Visit a temple that once stood on the banks of the Nile.

Mythology: Hear and see the exciting tales of the heroes, gods and monsters of ancient Greece and Rome, and how those themes influenced their world and ours.

I have been taking my students to The Metropolitan Museum of Art for the past five or six years. It was our tour of mythology that sparked an intensive study of Greek Mythology in our first grade classroom that I will write more about at a later time.

Throughout the tour students are given ample opportunities to sit and sketch using materials provided by the tour guide. This activity meshes well with the philosophy of Reggio Emilia (observational drawings, using the environment) espoused by our school. Students are given educational materials and books to take back to the classroom. They also get a Family Pass which allows them to bring their whole family to visit at no charge. This allows the student to become the expert and show the family what they have learned. Teachers are given a DVD about the museum to share with the class either before the visit or as reinforcement to show at a later date. I have also used this experience in our shared writing activities.

Please note: They do not provide a cafeteria for school groups like the Museum of Natural History. Before our tour we usually eat lunch at the playground next to the museum, so hope for a sunny day. Enjoy!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

A Temper Like A Wildcat!

My maternal grandmother made no secret of the fact that she had a temper like a wildcat. This was never more evident than when she felt her only child, my mother, had somehow been treated unjustly. Woe to any individual who was on the wrong side of grandma’s wrath. She was all hot headed and feisty like the Heat Miser (pictured) out to set the world right again and restore justice. And she did too!

This trait was passed on to my otherwise very civilized mother. Back in the late 80s when I was in elementary school (just seeing if you were paying attention – mid 70s) my sweet, mild mannered mother could become the HULK when it came to protecting her children. There were times she stormed the school in defense of my older brother and again, I would not have wanted to be the one on the receiving end.

Nowadays it is my sister Jennifer whose head spins in defense of her children. Even I back off and watch the fireworks when she gets going. Jennifer has set more than one teacher straight. As an educator I respect that. As a grandson, son, brother and uncle I applaud them all.

Parents are the best advocates for their children. This can manifest in those “I am going down to that school right this minute” instances which are sparked in the heat of the moment or in the more calculated process of ongoing interventions. Somewhere down the line or maybe it has always been this way, the political system of education has bullied parents. I find this to be especially true for minorities and non-native English speakers. Teachers, social workers, guidance counselors, principals, speech therapists, specialists; teams of professionals with agendas (who may or may not have a student’s best interest in mind) tell parents what is best for their own child. In fairness, I do believe that the professionals are acting on behalf of the child but tend to neglect parental input or at least solicit it.

Well, perhaps parents know best. Perhaps listening to one another and coming to a mutual agreement and understanding will best benefit the child. Perhaps the child should have a hand in deciding the 'best placement', 'least restrictive environment' or 'educational setting'.

I find it frustrating when parents are stripped of their voices and subsequently the voice of the child is lost. Why is this so prevalent? It takes a great deal of effort to instigate change but I know of two dedicated, intelligent mothers who have refused to allow others to make decisions about their child’s education when met with difficult circumstances.

I was introduced to Marianne in 2004 when she was searching for a tutor to work with her young daughter Samantha. Samantha is a bright, funny, sweet child who was also a struggling reader. Marianne hired me to tutor her daughter twice a week for six months. During this time she also educated herself on various educational options available to her and got as much information as possible to help Samantha meet the challenges before her. Marianne was and is an amazing example of a parent 'fighting' for her child.

I have another friend who has become a full time educational advocate since the birth of her youngest son, an autistic little boy. She works tirelessly as the demands placed upon her continue to build.

This all reminds me of the oft-repeated refrain in Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax “I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. For the trees have no voice”. I encourage parents with children who are too young to have a voice for themselves to fight in their child’s best interest. And I encourage educators to listen to that voice. This is not as easy as it may sound. It takes some effort. A gentle reminder to listen, to ask questions, to work together.

For more interesting reading on this topic check out Through the eyes of the institution: A critical discourse analysis of decision making in two special education meetings by Rebecca Rogers (2000) in Anthropology & Education Quarterly 33(2): 213-237

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Overcoming Dyslexia

Dyslexia is often misunderstood and misdiagnosed but seems to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. I have witnessed countless instances wherein someone reads something, like a phone number, and reverses the order of the digits and declares “Oh, I’m so dyslexic”. This popular misconception rests on the theory that dyslexics see letters and words backward. It is actually developmentally appropriate for all children to make letter reversals as part of the writing process. We all do it at times.

Historically, deficits in visual acuity were explored as the genesis for an “unexpected difficulty in learning to read” (Overcoming Dyslexia, Shaywitz, 2003). However, modern technology in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetic source imaging which measure blood supply and electrical activity respectively as a person reads, has allowed us to effectively unravel some of the mysteries of the human brain. These tools have provided information about how both dyslexic and non-impaired readers utilize neural pathways and have localized specific brain regions targeted in the reading task. The image on the left highlights these areas.

Currently the most compelling body of evidence supports the theory that dyslexia is predominately an issue involving phonological processing. This means that it takes a dyslexic individual longer to decode written text than for those who are not dyslexic. When so much effort is focused on decoding it affects fluency and comprehension resulting in reading that is slow and labored. By the time the sentence is read you no longer remember how it started.

Dyslexia can affect all areas of an individuals life.

The great news is that through remedial instruction, dyslexic students can actually ‘rewire’ their brains. With direct, explicit and systematic training in phonological awareness partnered with instruction to improve motivation, automaticity and fluency via repeated readings, dyslexics can learn to successfully cope with this chronic condition and overcome dyslexia!

I have a lot to say on this topic. Such as providing a list of early signs of dyslexia and the many positive attributes and strengths these individuals possess. I will write more on this topic in future entries but for now recommend a wonderful documentary entitled Ennis’ Gift: A film about learning differences. It was put out by the Hello Friend: Ennis William Cosby Foundation which also supports the certificate program in teaching young readers at risk at Fordham University.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Essence of Rare Children’s Books

I happily and greedily rediscovered children’s books while I was a student teacher attending Columbia University, Teachers College. From September 1995 through May 1996 I could be found most weekends sitting on the floor in the children’s section of Barnes and Noble. Finding the right book was no easy task for me because I not only needed to find the right text to highlight my lesson but also had to find a book that I could translate into American Sign Language (ASL), which I was also learning at the time.

I loved the challenge and would spend hours sitting there. Once I found a book that met my qualifications I would sit with my sign language dictionary and my notepad to begin translating it. In my quest for the right book I came across some familiar titles from my childhood. These were books that I had not thought about in my adult life but when I picked them up I was suddenly transported back to the days when I was lost in the words on those pages.

This is when I rediscovered Curious George and Pretzel by Margret and H.A. Rey. My mom says that I was always reading Curious George books and loved him as a child but I don't have a clear recollection of this. On the floor at B&N I was also reacquainted with my old friends The Gingerbread Man and Rumpelstilskin. The memory of my Oma reading Rumelstiltzkin to me with her thick German accent came flooding back. This was a truly exciting time of rediscovery.

In searching through boxes of memories from my youth I came across two other books that are examples of connecting with the past. Both are first printings and both are hard to find nowadays. One is Just Suppose by May Garelick (Copyright November, 1969). It is a tale of imagination but has no moral like today's children's literature. It is just good fun, nothing wrong with that.

The other is The Hungry Thing by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler (Copyright February, 1971). This book was given a shout out by Yopp and Yopp (2000) in their research article – Supporting phonemic awareness development in the classroom: Playful and appealing activities that focus on the sound structure of language in The Reading Teacher, 54, 130-143. This is a silly rhyming book and I really love it. It is great for children beginning to play with language and rhyming is the entry point into phonological awareness.

There is another children’s book that I rediscovered recently entitled The Saga of Baby Divine by Bette Midler. It came out in 1983 and has some very adult humor. More for mom and dad than the kids but a good read with fantastic pictures. I ordered it on eBay and it just came today. Here is an excerpt that I particularly like.


It's the point of your view that decides what you see --

One Man's Flop is another man's hit.

From manners to movies, the picture keeps changing

Depending upon where you sit.

So, there you have another reason I love being a teacher, children’s books.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Stages of Writing Development

In her fascinating book I Already Know how to Read: A Child’s View of Literacy researcher Prisca Martens documents the writing development of her daughter, Sarah. She quotes Jean Piaget, a cognitive developmental psychologist, in stating his belief that we don’t “know what we see”; we “see what we know”. She supports the notion that our interpretation of a child’s statements and actions are influenced by our beliefs about children and how they learn. Through this lens take a look at two different pieces of student writing.

The above was written by a six year old deaf boy. It depicts a very detailed story that I will relate to you. On the left is Charlie Chaplin – notice the exquisite detail; the easily recognizable mustache, the hat, the walking stick, the out turned feet. Next to Charlie is a woman and they are going to get married. See them holding hands? The heart between them is further evidence. As I sat with this boy I questioned him on the drawing and he told me more, which he added to the picture. They are filming a movie (see the light of the camera above the heart and how it reflects off of his hat). He went further by adding letters to the top of the page. He knew that writing served a purpose and although he has not yet mastered conventional spelling or writing conventions he has made this important connection. This is part of writing development. I am conscious of seeing this piece of writing from the child’s perspective. My belief is that he will continue to progress along the writing continuum. I am happy to be in a position where I can support that. I am a lucky man to be able to watch this development and give whatever assistance I can to aid it.

I love the picture above. It is the first page of a six page story written by another student who a short time ago was drawing one page pictures of Superman. His previous work contained primarily a one word label - Superman. His art work has always been impressive. Notice the details in this picture. Some people have their eyes open, others are closed. His sister’s hair is blowing in the back seat; faces are in profile and full on. There is a steering wheel, a flag, the bank is labeled. He is also showing evidence here of his development by writing on the lines and spelling conventionally. Directionality has been learned, the text matches the picture, he is telling about a real event across several pages and beginning to incorporate punctuation. This is great stuff. And the best part is he will keep developing along a path of writing that is pretty much consistent across all beginning writers.

I met Prisca Martens on July 10, 2002 and she signed my copy of her book with a quote from author/researcher Yetta M. Goodman. She wrote “Keep kidwatching!” Children teach us quite a bit about themselves if we watch and keep believing that they can. How powerful.


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