Friday, December 28, 2012

The Christmas That Almost Wasn't

When I was a young Bürschchen shamelessly tooling around Long Island in my lederhosen, HBO showed The Christmas That Almost Wasn't constantly.

The infectious and annoyingly creepy theme song still worms its way into my brain every so often.

After endless repeats I started to hate that movie.

We weren't even supposed to have HBO.  At the time I was making a big fuss about going to see the movie Benji.  My dad told me we could either see Benji or get HBO.

I chose Benji.

We got HBO.

I never did get to see Benji but I did see the terrifying horror flick Beyond the Door and The Christmas That Almost Wasn't about a hundred billion times.

With all the talk of the Mayan calendar and the end of the world it seemed as though this might actually be the Christmas that almost wasn't. Thankfully, like in the movie, Christmas did come to all of us down here in Whoville!

I am also hoping that, like the movie, we are in for a change of heart and a happy ending.  Dear Shirley MacLaine believes the end of the Mayan calendar signals a shift in the collective consciousness towards a point of oneness wherein mankind begins to truly care for one another.  Wouldn't that be nice?

Either that or extra terrestrials will make themselves known.

I suppose that would bring us together too.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Time and Passion

It's astounding.

Time is fleeting.

I've got to keep control!

I have been bemoaning my time crunched state of late. Envious of those friends who are full time doctoral students pursuing this degree without the demands/distractions of a full time job (or a 4-hour daily commute) while I barely have 10 minutes during the week to devote to my studies.

I witness these intrepid souls sailing through their doctoral programs, happily completing their course work and comprehensive examinations (comps) in only 2 years to become doctoral candidates obtaining ABD (all but dissertation) status.  It took me 6 years to achieve that milestone.

I wonder if I will ever finish.

Time is ticking and I am constantly reminded by my advisor that I am operating within strict time constraints.  Why, oh why, can't I fly over the rainbow to an alternate universe where I can devote all of my time to completing the arduous task before me?

I feel sorry for myself every so often but then I remember why I am not like my studious friends.

It is because my passion does not rest with this achievement.  My passion is teaching.  My happiness resides in the day to day interactions with my students.  My spirit thrives in the small moments; the beaming smile of a proud student, a warm welcome each morning and by being so moved by a child finally learning the alphabet--after much struggle--that I start to cry (this actually happened on Friday).

I could never be completely satisfied or altogether happy being a full time doctoral student but I am content being a full time elementary school teacher.

So I inch along.  Step by step. Year after year.  One of these days I'll get there.  Perhaps.  

Comparisons are inevitable, but as my friend Arielle discusses on her blog, they are simply "not good". We are all on our own journey. I like this path I have chosen.

"Passion will move men beyond themselves, beyond their shortcomings, beyond their failures" 

-Joseph Campbell, American Mythologist, Writer, Lecturer and Teacher

Saturday, December 22, 2012

One of Those Days

Curious George and some bejeweled snowflakes
we made in art class.
Teaching kindergarten is wonderful indeed but rest assured it is not all bejeweled snowflakes and cake pops.

Every once in a while we'll have "one of those days" when it feels like a comedy of errors is unfolding before my disbelieving eyes.

Happily, those days seem to usually occur just prior to a vacation which provides ample time for everyone to recover and return to school energized and refreshed.

Yesterday was one of those days.

Picture the scene...I am sitting on the rug with the children.  Each student is seated in a large circle working on putting magnetic letters in alphabetical order.  I notice one little girl is staring off with an odd expression on her face and holding a tissue to her mouth.  I ask her if she is okay and it is then that I notice that she has thrown up a bit.  Her mouth is closed and her eyes are wide.  It seems she is afraid to move.  We help her over to the garbage can where she continues to get sick.

By now all of the other children are gathering around and I feel like the traffic cop from Frosty the Snowman.  What did I just witness?

She goes off to the nurse who contacts her mother.  However, it takes a while for mom to show up so we bring her back to the classroom where she falls asleep.  When her mother arrives she awakens and steps into the small coat closet to retrieve her backpack and coat.

Time passes.

She is taking an awfully long time to get her backpack.  I step over to the closet and now it is my turn for the wide eyes and odd expression.  She has gotten sick all over the closet.  On coats, backpacks, a pair of gloves that were not put away properly (which prompted me later to offer the oft-repeated words of wisdom, "This is why you must put your gloves away!  You never know when someone is going to throw up on them!"  Isn't that a saying?).

Everything stops.  Everyone freezes.  She looks at me.  I look at her. I give some confusing directions.  "Don't move!"  "Come here!" "Wait! Hold on!" "Okay, um...okay, let me see." My co teacher Michelle calls the custodian but in the meanwhile I am trying to clean up this poor child.  I ended up cutting off her outer shirt because it wouldn't go over her head without making a bigger mess.

While I am doing this our custodian appears, assesses the situation, dry heaves and tells me "I can't clean that!" We both laugh.  That laugh when nothing is really funny but laughter is the best option.

In the midst of this the boy with the soiled gloves starts crying because we had to throw them out.  The girl whose coat was splattered is crying because now she can't go outside during recess (we called her mom and worked it out).  Another girl--whose stuff was not affected--starts to cry also and a few girls begin to shout that she is only fake crying.

Michelle is busy spraying Lysol, bagging up clothes and changing garbage bags.

Finally the mom, who was no help whatsoever, takes her daughter home.

The afternoon was smooth by comparison.

Get well soon little one!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Fighting Back with Kindness

Samantha wrote that her superhero, Flower
Girl,  would fight bad guys with
(Click on the picture to make larger.)
Words cannot express the loss, anger, helplessness, sorrow and pain brought about by the unfathomable events that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut on Friday.

As the horror was unfolding that morning I was sitting in my classroom surrounded by the happy smiles of my kindergarten students.

We were playing an alliteration game using Pam the pretty pink pig purse in a safe, cozy, welcoming environment.

It's difficult to imagine the horror that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School but it is also difficult not to think about my precious students.  The children I have the honor to teach.  The children whose parents have entrusted them to my care.  The children I have grown to love.  The children I have dedicated my life to teach.  The children I promised myself I would always respect, listen to and protect.  The children who have helped define who I am.

Life seems especially fragile at the moment.  And things don't make much sense.  But today I saw a video entitled "A Few Minutes of Perfection" and besides pushing me over the emotional edge, it helped me begin to find a way to heal.

Kindness is the way to fight back.  That makes sense to me.  And I know that when my students enter the classroom tomorrow kindness will be the order of the day.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

A Visit From Zachariah OHora

I had the great pleasure of welcoming children's book author and illustrator Zachariah OHora to our school recently to share his first book, Stop Snoring, Bernard!, with the kindergarten classes.

I discovered this enchanting book during one of my visits to Barnes and Noble and was immediately smitten. As I read I couldn't help but compare the style and tone of this book with the work of Margret and H. A. Rey, creators of Curious George.

Two years ago I attended an exhibit of the Rey's work at The Jewish Museum and it contained the handmade, original Christmas cards they sent out every year.  I found myself wishing I knew them and could stop by their New York apartment for tea or something. Obviously, that ship has sailed (H. A. died in 1977 and Margret followed in 1996 - the same year I started teaching) but perhaps I could meet this incredible author/illustrator Zachariah OHora whose work charmed me in the same way.

I sent him an email telling him how taken I was with Bernard and invited him to come visit my kindergarten children if he was ever in NYC.  To my great joy, he responded!  He wrote that he would love to visit and outlined an entertaining program for a 30-minute presentation.

I don't think I will ever get over my admiration for talented children's book authors and illustrators.  Each one who visits our school has been patient, fun, entertaining, educational, motivating and full of joy.  Zachariah was no exception.

In addition to reading Stop Snoring, Bernard!,  he took requests from the boys and girls and drew large pictures of various animals on chart paper.  We watched as he created Bernard (an otter who loves "mealtime, playtime and best of all...naptime!"), an elephant, a bat and an alligator.

He graciously signed all of the pictures and we will frame them for our library and classroom.  It's the Christmas card I never got from the Rey's.  Amazingly cool!

Throughout the session Zachariah good-naturedly answered questions from the students about his art, his books, his childhood and his ideas.  It turns out Stop Snoring, Bernard! was inspired by this video of two otters holding hands.

He ended by teaching the children the Otter Dance!  Their happy smiles and silly movements stood as a testament to the success of his visit.

Zachariah kindly stayed to autograph books, pose for pictures and chat with me about his upcoming books No Fits, Nilson! and Pet Project. They both have the retro charm evident in Stop Snoring, Bernard!

I encourage you to check out his books.  I guarantee you'll become a fan, like me.

*Update: Zachariah has posted about his visit to P.S. 347 on his blog.  Click here to check it out.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pumpkin Contest

Nothing builds community like a dash of healthy competition.

 And nothing says Thanksgiving like a Halloween pumpkin contest!

Well, perhaps that is a bit of a stretch but the fact that I am writing about a Halloween pumpkin contest the day after Thanksgiving is proof of how sorrowfully negligent I have been in keeping up with my wee educational blog.

Anyway, our school was asked by California Pizza Kitchen (CPK in NYC) to engage in a pumpkin decorating contest involving all classes Pre-K through 8th Grade.  The winning class was promised a pizza party and a tour of the CPK kitchens.


That enticement was enough to get the creative juices flowing. All of the teachers and students starting vying for the most creative, eye catching pumpkin.  By the time CPK delivered the pumpkins we all had a clear vision of how our pumpkins would look.

The students in our class excitedly suggested a mummy pumpkin.  How cool is that?  My coteacher and I loved that idea and thought it would be fantastic if we could make a literacy connection.  The children modeled the pumpkin after Derek in Skeleton Meets the Mummy by Steve Metzger.

Derek was fairly simple to make.  I bought a self-adhering bandage and the kids just wrapped it around the pumpkin.  We added pipe cleaner eyes and a foam mouth and voilá "Derek" was complete.

We thought we had it in the bag until we saw the "Robo-Pumpkin" submitted by the 3rd Grade.  This little guy was cute, cute, cute and very creative.

CPK collected all of the pumpkins days before Hurricane Sandy hit NYC and placed them in their store on 30th Street and Park Avenue South (near our school).  Customers were encouraged to vote on their favorite design in a good-humored fashion.

Hurricane Sandy delayed the announcement of the winning pumpkins but last week we got the news.  Our pumpkin came in second with 62 votes but "Robo-Pumpkin" came out on top with 81 votes!  Third place went to the 8th Grade entry "Purrfect Pie Pizza" (a cat pumpkin) with  41 votes.  All in all, 282 votes were received.

I hope our school will engage in more fun partnerships with CPK and other local businesses in the future.  It was a wonderful way to build school spirit and bring us together.


Monday, November 5, 2012


"A tree is pulled from the ground.
It's raining.  I am in my house."
Over one million New York City Public School students returned to school today after a week off, courtesy of Hurricane Sandy.

Sandy uprooted more than trees.  Some families were forced to evacuate their homes and sought refuge with friends on the Upper West Side, Westchester or Connecticut.

Many who were able to stay in their apartments were without electricity, heat or water.  Food was in limited supply.

It was a scary event.  I imagine this was magnified for children who feel even more powerless in these circumstances than the worried adults around them.

Today we welcomed the children back to our cold school--we had electricity, but no heat--and talked with them about their experiences with Hurricane Sandy.

What did they do?

How did they feel?

In a group discussion with our incredible school counselor, Melanie, the children shared how they coped with the strong winds, rain and destruction.  One girl described how she crawled to the end of her bed, under the covers, as the storm raged.  A little boy told of jumping into bed with his parents where it was safe.

They do not look happy with all
the spoiled food.
Another child talked about having to throw away all the food in the refrigerator because it had gone bad.

A little boy earnestly stated, "The Chuck E. Cheese was closed and I was crying!"  (It seemed so silly to me that in the midst of everything that was happening this was what he was upset about, but it reminded me to see things from his perspective.)

The children drew pictures and wrote about what they experienced and the images they saw on television.

I am always impressed with how children talk and how they process things.

Today our class became an even stronger community supporting each other in times of struggle.

I am proud of those kids!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Reinventing the Mission Statement

Last night I attended a talk at Fordham University given by Dr. Alice Wilder.

Dr. Wilder was the Director of Research and Development for Nickelodeon's massively successful children's program Blue's Clues, the creative force behind Super Why! and is Chief Content Officer for Speakaboos.

I wanted to attend her lecture mostly because I am convinced that I would have been a perfect host for Blue's Clues and thought I might chat her up about upcoming children's programs in need of someone with my unique talents (Alas, I never got the opportunity).

But her words were exactly the words I needed to hear as I work on reclaiming optimism.  She spoke of her personal mission statement and how her journey through college as a research assistant with a knack for listening to children led to incredible opportunities.  Dr. Wilder highlighted the importance of reinventing one's self which can mean making necessary adjustments to a personal mission statement.

And it hit me.  That is what I am struggling with lately, reinventing my personal mission statement.  My Ph.D is now within reach--anticipated date of graduation is May 2014--and although I will definitely continue teaching I also wonder what's next?

I certainly have the desire to reach a larger audience of children and am actually toying with the idea of simply videotaping my lessons and posting them on YouTube for children to watch.

Someday I would love to use my background and experience in literacy research, child development, teaching and American Sign Language to host a children's program (universe, are you listening?).

Dr. Wilder said more than once,  "It is your journey (thus far) that makes each of you uniquely you".  But it's the future I am curious about.

So many possibilities.  It's daunting.

What makes you "uniquely you"?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Reclaiming Optimism

This school year I have become so sadly disenchanted with the educational system.

And that is saying something for someone who is as passionate and dedicated to the profession as I am.  This blog is a testament to the happiness, love and blessings I feel everyday when I walk into my classroom to see the energetic, welcoming smiles of my students.

I am a teacher.

I am an educator.

It has always been my destiny and it is my bliss.  Why, oh, why then am I feeling beat up lately by the disrespect heaped upon those in my profession?  Have my rose-colored glasses slipped a bit?  Am I just more aware of the manifestations of insolence that were always around me?

Who knows?  But in a society that seeks to find fault with teachers (and if none can be found they'll make something up) it is difficult to keep smiling.  In the jungle a zebra can never really relax.

But, today in church I decided to reclaim my optimism and focus only on what I can control and nurture.  And that is the day-to-day learning and interactions with the students entrusted to my care. Today I am reminded to keep my eyes on the joy.

It's the only thing that lasts and in the end it's the only thing that matters.

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!

Friday, August 31, 2012

Helping Hunter Spanjer Keep His Name

Grand Island Public School District (GIPS) in Nebraska wanted 3-year-old Hunter Spanjer to change his name because they said it violated the school's weapons policy.

I am outraged.  But more than that, I realize that students like Hunter need advocates.

 As a teacher I've had students with some pretty unique names but never once have I taken it upon myself to rename a child. 

Actually, it wasn't Hunter's audibly spoken name that caused the unrest, it's because Hunter is deaf and communicates through sign language. The school district took issue with his name sign because it resembles a gun and therefore infringes on their policy that forbids children from bringing "any instrument that looks like a weapon" to school.  Apparently, Hunters small fingers--thumbs folded, index and middle fingers crossed--could be confused with a gun so they told him to change his name sign.

Not only is it absurd but it shows a lack of sensitivity, respect and understanding of Deaf culture and family privilege. The school failed to consider the cultural identity of the child, Hunter's linguistic development and the family's right to name their child.  A name is a very personal decision--whether it is in English or ASL--and not one that rests with the school.   

What Grand Island public school needs is a little education. Name signs are given according to set parameters. For example, they should be given by a Deaf  person (the capital D in "Deaf" signifies someone who is culturally deaf with ties to the Deaf community) or at the very least by a hearing parent who signs. Name signs can reflect some physical trait or characteristic of an individual and may incorporate the first letter in his/her name.  Hunter's name sign is a modified form of the letter "H". Over time Hunter's name sign may change--this is a normal developmental process for signers--but that decision is his.

As a deaf child attending a mainstream program Hunter has very little power.  Taking away his name sign is a very significant blow. However, having Hunter at this school can help educate staff and students about Deaf culture. That is why diversity is crucial.

Rebecca Marshall, former principal at PS347 The American Sign Language and English Lower School in New York City said this situation could have been avoided if the school had at least one person on staff who was deaf and involved in the education of children who are deaf and hard of hearing.

Marshall applauded Hunter's parents who are strong advocates for their child but pointed out that without a community outcry the outcome would have been quite different.

The school district, under pressure from Internet petitions, and the threat of legal action from the National Association of the Deaf, has relented and decided to allow Hunter to keep his name sign.

When we hear of something like this happening it is up to all of us to step up and be that advocate who gives voice to a child who needs it most.

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

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Spicing Up Your Word Wall

This is the time of year when many teachers are stepping back into the classroom after a relaxing summer break to tackle room arrangement.  And if school is not yet in session, you can bet most teachers are thinking about how to set up the perfect classroom environment.

One aspect of this in the early elementary grades centers on the word wall.  Teachers ask, "Where do I put it?" and "How should the letters be displayed?"

In our class we developed answers to these questions over the years through trial and error.  We are a dual language school utilizing both English and American Sign Language so we wanted our word wall to be representative of that.

Our idea was to take pictures of the children signing the manual alphabet.  Next we uploaded the photographs to an image hosting site, such as Photobucket,  and edited each one to include the printed letter. You can play around with letter placement, font, color and size as needed.

You can go from this...

to this!

Last year we painted over our blackboard with magnetic primer and attached magnetic tape to the back of the index cards we used for each word on the word wall. We wanted our students to be able to take the words off the wall easily if they needed them during writing or word study.

It is a nice way to get all of the children invested in the word wall and it also puts forth the feeling that the classroom belongs to everyone.

I even had my own letter - G!

Monday, August 20, 2012

Friday Folders

Friday Folders are evidently a thing!

Who knew?

I certainly never heard of Friday Folders before Michelle, my new co-teacher, told me about them today during our long distance planning session for the upcoming school year (which begins in two weeks).

She remembers them fondly from her own school days and suggested we incorporate them into our kindergarten routine.  Every Friday we intend to communicate with parents using these folders.  The purpose is to provide specific information to allow interested moms and dads to construct a portrait of their child's academic, social and/or emotional development at school during the past week.  

The parents will then respond with their opinions, concerns, questions and comments over the weekend and return the folders to us on Monday morning.  The folders provide a way to ensure open communication between the school and home environments.

Meet Michelle, my
new co-teacher
I think it is a great idea and I am sure just one of many additions to my modus operandi that Michelle will contribute as we enter into our new partnership.

Although I embrace working with Michelle, I haven't totally loosened my grip on Lauren who worked alongside me for nine years. Lauren is ever gracious in providing feedback and resources as I prepare for another exciting school year.

I can't help but feel like a lucky guy. Take a look at Michelle (pictured). Take a look at Lauren.  They are both as beautiful on the inside as they are on the outside.  And smart, kind, charming and funny too.

I'm sure I'll be writing a lot more about Michelle throughout the year.

Consider yourself introduced.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Teacher Appreciation Day

Celebrate Staples Teacher Appreciation Day.

Enter your state and city to find the date and time your event will start.

The "great perks" include...

A FREE thank you gift bag (while supplies last) with bonus coupons to use at the event.

A sneak peek at must-have new items for your classroom.

Time to catch up with colleagues.

Staples makes it sound pretty exciting.  The image their advertising inspires is one of a relaxed social gathering with smiling people sipping cider and laughing whilst extolling the virtues of glue sticks and post-it notes.

 In reality, a harried employee slaps down a tote bag containing fewer items than the year before and you make your way through an overcrowded store thinking, "do I really need any of this stuff?".

But, it's all part of the back to school ritual and it is common knowledge that teachers like free stuff!

In my area Office Max has their Teacher Appreciation Event on the same day so my little MINI will be bursting at the seams.

And that's a good thing.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Save the Date

I am pretty excited about the upcoming evening of fun to benefit the Artists-in-Residency partnership between the Children's Museum of the Arts and PS347, The American Sign Language and English Lower School!

The event, which is taking place on Monday, September 24th from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m., provides a unique opportunity to meet the award-winning authors and illustrators of some of your favorite children's books including...

Dan Yaccarino (Lawn to Lawn, Every Friday, Unlovable, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau, All the Way to America)

Peter Brown (Children Make Terrible Pets, The Curious Garden, The Purple Kangaroo, You Will Be My Friend!)

Jim Benton (Cherise the Niece, Dear Dumb Diary, Franny K. Stein: Mad Scientist, It's Happy Bunny)

Victoria Kann (Pinkalicious, Silverlicious, Purplicious, Goldilicious)

G Brian Karas (On Earth, Atlantic, Young Zeus, The Class Artist)

Ann M. Martin (The Baby-Sitter's Club, A Dog's Life: The Autobiography of a Stray)

Bob Shea (Dinsoaur vs. The Potty, New Socks, Race You to Bed, I'm a Shark!)

Floyd Cooper (Coming Home: From the Life of Langston Hughes, Mandela, Jump!, Cumbayah

Tad Hills (How Rocket Learned to Read, Duck & Goose, Knock, Knock Who's There?)

In addition to book signings expect food, drinks, raffles, prizes, a silent auction and kids' workshops!

Tickets for the event--held at The Children's Museum in Tribeca--are $40.  If you plan to attend, please RSVP to

I hope to see you there!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

A System of Tens

I know I am not alone in when I write that math has never been one of my favorite subjects (except for algebra, which I loved).

So, who'd have thought that I'd have fun spending 4 days (25 hours) discussing...

The Commutative, Associative and Distributive Properties


Compensation Strategy

Mental Math

Identity Property

Order of Operations (PEMDAS)

Constant Difference

Decimal Points and Percentages

The way we teach math nowadays is a far cry from the "Yours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply" mentality of my childhood. It is unsurprising that I am lacking mathematical confidence after an education wherein traditional algorithms replaced an understanding of how numbers work.

I learned to "carry the one" but wasn't taught that the "one" was actually a "ten".

Today the traditional algorithms for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are taught after the children have developed an understanding of our number system.  In kindergarten we explore basic numbers and each successive grade builds on that understanding.

It's truly incredible to listen to children explain how they mentally solved a math problem by manipulating the numbers into "friendly" or "landmark" numbers and giving the parts meaning. For example (taken from the book pictured above), 38 + 25 could be solved as 30 + 20 = 50 then 8 + 5 = 13 then adding these two numbers together  to get your answer 50 + 8 = 63. Or another child might try it this way, 38 + 2 = 40 then 40 + 20 = 60 so 60 + 3 = 63.  There are so many possible ways to figure this out and the tradition algorithm is simply one of many.

Interestingly, once children develop number sense, the traditional way I learned of "borrowing" and "carrying" becomes the most confusing, complicated one of them all!

Kudos to our workshop leaders, Kerry and Christina, for making me as smart as fifth grader!

Helpful Resource: 
Check out the Common Core Alignment Guidance for Everyday Mathematics. Lessons in Everyday Math are color coded according to relevance to the Common Core.  

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Owen Tales: Strollin' with Little Baby Owen

I have such clever, clever friends. 

First, Adam Stone teamed with Lauren Ridloff to create the charming iBook Pointy Three in English and American Sign Language (ASL).  

And today my friend (and former principal) Rebecca Marshall announced that after years in development the first iBook in the Owen Tales series Strollin' with Little Baby Owen went "live"!  

This is a fun, truly interactive book that includes audio/read aloud in Spoken English, video read aloud in American Sign Language (beautifully executed by Lauren), engaging photographs with "hidden" messages, a picture glossary, puzzles, games and live updates on adorable Owen's shenanigans!  

The design ensures that a wide array of readers are supported in their learning while having a good time.  It's learning that sneaks up on you whether you are a child listening to the silky tones of the audio track or watching Lauren sign, an advanced reader focusing on the written text or a parent/family member learning ASL to communicate with a baby.  

I am also thrilled to note that Cal, my Saint Bernard, makes a cameo appearance in Strollin' with Little Baby Owen!  

See...clever, clever, clever!

Saturday, August 4, 2012


Yesterday I spent the day happily working around the house.  And while the body is occupied with trimming the lawn and bathing the Saint Bernard, the mind is free to wander.

I was thinking about how lucky I have been to have spent the past 16 years teaching elementary school.  It's a blessing and one that I hope I never take for granted.  There is absolutely nothing on Earth that matches the sense of "rightness" I feel when I am sitting in a classroom guiding the learning of a group of children.

I thought about those amazing kids entrusted to my care.  How they have brought me happiness, frustration and insight whilst keeping me on my toes.

I hate to think about the day it will come to an end but that day is not today.  I am in the middle of this journey and appreciate it so much.

I'm sure all this waxing sentimental influenced my dreams because last night I dreamt I was in my classroom reading with a group of children.

It was lovely.

Life is good!


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