Sunday, July 29, 2012

"8" the Play

Last night I proudly took part in a one-night-only staged reading of "8" the Play by Academy Award winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black.

"8" is an unprecedented account of the Federal District Court trial in Perry V. Schwarzenegger (now Perry V. Brown), the case filed by the American Foundation for Equal Rights to overturn Proposition 8, which stripped gay and lesbian Californians of the fundamental freedom to marry.

I played Chief Justice Vaughn Walker (the Brad Pitt part in the video below).  I have not acted since the summer I was accepted into the Hello Friend reading program at Fordham University--which led directly into the doctoral program--so this was a simple way to step back into it (only one rehearsal!).

But more importantly, it felt good to take part in a theatrical experience that promotes discussion, tolerance and equality. The show came about because the Supreme Court blocked plans to broadcast the trial therefore denying the nation access to the powerful testimony of the four plaintiffs. However, the transcripts could not be hidden and "8" the Play brings the proceedings to the people.

It's a clever way around the Supreme Court ruling, no?  Now, productions are taking place all over America with "talk back" sessions following each performance.

At our talk--which was a bit of preaching to the choir--the issue was brought up about the protect our children strategy put forth by supporters of Prop 8. How fear and manipulation were used to ignite an emotional response from the voters to vote yes.

One cast member, when relating a story about a friend who didn't know what to say to her child about her attending a "gay" wedding,  reminded us that the focus is always on love, never sex. She told her friend to simply tell her son she was going to celebrate the love between two of her male friends who were getting married.  That's enough.  And she added, "if you attend an opposite-sex marriage you don't say, 'and after they say their vows they have a honeymoon and then they have sex.' You say, 'they are getting married.'  It's no different."

The overarching theme of our discussion was "what can I do to promote equality?" And the consensus was that we each have a responsibility to speak up when someone says hateful, harmful things.  Call them out on it in a respectful manner, without anger or accusation.  If someone says "that's gay"(the implication being negative) say something.  The less acceptable it is to promote prejudice and negativity the sooner it'll stop.

At least that's the idea.

Monday, July 16, 2012


"You make me want to be a better man."

Isn't that a line from some movie?

My female friends tell me that the notion of being a "good person" is strictly a guy thing.

Evidently, women don't think in those terms. Is that true? If so, I guess it'll be lost on the fairer sex when I proclaim that Wonder makes me want to be a better man.

Wonder, the powerful first novel written by R. J. Palacio, is one of those books that changes the way you see the world.

The publisher's description reads, "August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school-until now.  He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be.  The thing is Auggie's just and ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face.  But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?"

For the past two years I had a child in my class with facial deformities that often took strangers by surprise.  Their audible gasps and sympathetic glances signaled that he was not an ordinary kid. But like Auggie's family I saw this boy for who he was.  His talents, his academic strengths and weaknesses, his stubborn personality, his mischievous side, the anticipatory glint he got in his eye when he was waiting for me to chase him on the playground, his frustrations and his incredible strength. He soldiers on no matter the obstacles.

In the book Auggie has a teacher who believes in him. It seems that this is the character I should most associate with.  However, the character who resonates most is Auggie's sister's boyfriend.

This guy questions the world.  He struggles to come to terms with injustices and then has an epiphany which leads to the most beautiful understanding of what it means to be human.  It is a dynamic, moving piece of writing. That alone is worth the investment.

I hope one day I can contribute something this gorgeous to the world.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Top Ten 2011 - 2012

I love the Top Ten!

Each year I eagerly anticipate the whittling down process to see which books had the greatest impact on the children and, of course, await the inevitable surprise selection.  This year in accordance with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) I asked my first grade students to write an opinion piece explaining why they chose a book and reminded them to include all of the necessary elements (including a "sense of closure").  I will share a bit of that writing as the list unfolds.

The only requirement for consideration was that each book had to be one that we enjoyed as a class.  Personal favorites that were unknown to everyone were eliminated.  All of the books listed below were either read aloud in class and/or used in a unit of study or excitedly circulated amongst the students without any guidance/nudging/input from an adult or connected with an author visit.

The Top Ten Children's Books for 2011-2012

The Number One book, The House That Drac Built by Judy Sierra, was a bit of a shocker to me.  That was until I realized that this was the same group of children who voted for another Halloween themed book (Skeleton Meets the Mummy by Steve Metzger) when they were in kindergarten.

I guess it's hard to keep a good ghoul down.

The second most popular book was The Three Little Aliens and the Big Bad Robot by Margaret McNamara.

I love this choice because this was a book brought in by a student who asked me to read it to the class. It connected to our study of the Solar System and was rooted in our kindergarten investigations into fairy tales.

How wonderful to have a book in the top ten introduced to the class by another student.  I was not familiar with this book until she brought it to my attention.

That cannot be said of the Number Three choice - Curious George!

I am happy to note that years of not-so-subtle brainwashing has proved successful. How can anyone resist the charms of this indefatigable monkey?

I am psyched to teach kindergarten next year so I can introduce a new group of children to the adventures of H.A. Rey's Curious George.

Number Four is really a series of books.  It is the immensely popular, incredibly entertaining exploits of Greg Heffley in The Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney.

I never read these books aloud in class (without the visuals much of the humor is lost) but they were the most sought after titles on our weekly library visits.  The books passed from one child to another and sparked many impromptu "book club" discussions.

At one time I questioned whether or not these books were appropriate for first grade but who can argue with that kind of motivation to read?  Plus, they really are funny!

I Will Surprise My Friend by Mo Willems comes in at Number Five.  It is my feeling that this "Elephant & Piggie" book is representative of the love we all have for the entire series.

Like the Wimpy Kid, these books are wildly amusing and clever.  One student wrote, "The story of I Will Surprise My Friend is funny because it tells the story of hiding from friends and being scared and surprised."

We've all been there!

The Number Six selection is yet another book series.  The Betsy Books ("B" is for Betsy, Betsy and Billy, Back to School with Betsy and Betsy and the Boys) by Carolyn Haywood were books that I read when I was a boy.

Written in the 1930s and 40s, they follow the adventures of Betsy and her friends through First, Second, Third and Fourth grades.  The stories may be about the life of suburban children long ago but the timeless tales of childhood are easily relatable for urban boys and girls today.

I read the books aloud--about a chapter a day--with the class comfortably sprawled out on pillows.  I used this time to deepen their listening skills by stopping periodically to ask them to retell what happened.  As time went on we began to make connections and predictions during the readings. The time we spent with Betsy was incredibly fruitful and enjoyable.  I consider it one of the great successes of the school year.

One student wrote, "I like the Betsy and Billy books because Billy made a lot of mistakes because he fell in the snow with his feet kicking out of the snow and he fell in the paint, he slipped on the pancake batter with Betsy and the dog.  The children named Betsy and Billy made 2 giant golden pumpkins in the oven.  And that's why I really, really love Carolyn Haywood books!"

Billy's legs sticking out of the snow!

Favorite children's book author and illustrator, Todd Parr, is represented in the Number Seven spot with Underwear Do's and Don'ts.

Todd is coming out with The Underwear Book soon and I am sure this will be a hit as well.

Never underestimate the appeal of underwear (or other silly, not talked about subjects) for a group of giggling children. Todd knows his audience!

A note to children's book authors - visiting schools works!

Two books on the list were written and illustrated by talented men who took the time to read and sign books for us.  Number Eight is Lawn to Lawn by the incredible Dan Yaccarino.

One girl wrote, "I like Lawn to Lawn because it is a traveling adventure!"

This is one of my favorites as well (click on the book title link to see a cute video based on the book).  Dan's books Every Friday, The Fantastic Undersea Life of Jacques Cousteau and All the Way to America: The Story of a Big Italian Family and a Little Shovel were hovering just outside the top ten.  If this were a top twenty they would have made the cut.

Tad Hills also visited our school this year. His How Rocket Learned to Read falls at Number Nine.

After his visit my students found an app on the iPad for this book and it became very popular. I look forward to reading Rocket Writes a Story which will be released on July 24, 2012.

I also use this book in my beginning reading and writing course to demonstrate to graduate students in education how children's books can be used to support classroom instruction.

Rounding out the Top Ten is Let's Go, Pegasus: A Greek Myth retold and illustrated by Jean Marzollo.

In first grade I teach the Greek Myths and the inclusion of the Medusa story in the Top Ten reflects a bit of everything we covered this year.

The list represents the multicolored dimensions of our time together. A bit of planetary exploration, a dash of wonder, a sprinkle of laughter all tied together in a collaboratively fulfilling time of growth.

I'd say they chose well.

Friday, July 6, 2012

One Door Closes

That's my classroom on the last day of school - Wednesday, June 27, 2012.

Room 201 provided a happy sanctuary for me lo these many years but alas the time has come for a change.  After 9 years it is time to move on. I'm not moving far, just next door, but the move holds a significance that belies its simplicity.

The move signifies an end to my time with the ever charming, ethereally beautiful Lauren.  We were an amazing team and it was a joy to come to work each day to take on the challenges of teaching together.

A chapter is closing so it is only fitting I stack these chairs one last time.

In September a new room brings a new co teacher and a new group of children.

Change is exciting but there is also sadness that comes with closing this door (literally and figuratively) one last time.

Onwards and upwards I suppose.


Related Posts with Thumbnails