Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hmmm...musings on poetry,life, and Shakespeare...

This weekend I officially have no report cards to finish.  They now have hopefully reached 27 homes (one student is in India) and I just have to endure 27 interviews next week prior to Easter weekend.  Next excitement is the school musical and a workshop with Adrienne Gear at our school I am organizing for LOMCIRA (I guess I didn't get enough of that the last four years at the school board,)  Following that I get to plan four days for a teacher on call because I am going to Chicago for the International Reading Association conference thanks to having banked three days from the summer having given a couple of summer insitutes.  I am so looking forward to this as I really like Chicago and at this point I am particularly looking forward to all those books I plan to bring back to my classroom, excess luggage or not.  Also I am sure I will get lots of inspiration as well as getting to wander around that gorgeous city, staying at a historic hotel and going to see Billy Elliot, the musical.
My class thoroughly enjoyed meeting Beryl Young and now one of my girls is happily reading Follow the Elephant.  Many of our students had been to India so that there was lots of discussion.  She was lovely and many of my students noted this as a highlight of their week!
What am I reading these days?  A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller by Frances Mayes and I am currently in  Portugal.  I have to admit I started  Under the Tuscan Sun but didn't keep reading because I wasn't in the mood for it but I did see the movie and I am enjoying A Year in the World.  I am learning perhaps more than I want to know about Portugal and its food but what a nice escape to read this just before I go to sleep after a day of teaching.  Not having been to Spain nor Portugal it's great armchair traveling.  I am planning to go to South Africa this summer but I still find myself in a bit of a state of disbelief but if all goes according to plan this should be an exciting adventure.
Well April is coming soon and it will be Poetry Month as the wonderful Ruth Powers from Choice Literacy reminded me in the latest The Big Fresh Newsletter.  I have given you that link so you can explore all the great links there.  I love the idea of Poem in a Pocket Day on April 29th where everyone carries around a favorite poem. You also have to check out 30 Poems in 30 Days where you get a new unpublished poem from some of the best children's and young adult's poets each day.  We all need more poetry.
Before I go to Chicago I believe my class is going to get to see A Midsummer's Night Dream at our local high school.  One of my fellow teachers had already decided to do an integrated unit on this and I may have to steal an idea or two.  One of my students is currently reading Nathan Fox: A Spy in Dangerous Times, Nathan is a young actor in William Shakespeare's company.  He wondered why it sounded as if it was written 1000 years ago-well I said it takes place 400 years ago!  And I am off to see Queen Lear tonight.  This is especially  exciting as the lead is being played by Shirley Broderick who was a good friend of the mom of the friend with whom  I am going to see the play. 
I started the blog not sure if I had anything to say but as you can see...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Finishing Report Cards

There is nothing as sweet as finishing report cards-watching them print out and knowing that other than fixing the typos and running them off and stuffing the envelopes I don't have to do them again for a couple of months.

Looking at my last entries I sounded a bit embittered.  No doubt due to report card writing hanging over my head.  It really put a cramp into my enjoyment of Spring Break.

I have to admit I wasn't overly thrilled with returning to school but then  I was really happy to see my students.  I missed them and I think they missed school.  Most of my students were not off on exciting holidays and for them the school is their place to socialize as well as learn.  Mind you I think we all needed a week off, kids included!

I look at my class and can see lots of growth.  Many of my students at this point have read more than 20 books independently that they have written about in their Reading Response Journals.  I think my latest approach  making sure that they read silently for twenty five minutes each day and then write about their reading has really helped.  By 8:50 my class is settled and reading (we start class at 8:45 officially).  Even my "worse students" handle this easily.  I really have to thank Orca Publishing for their generosity as many of students have been turned onto reading with their Soundings, Currents, and Sports series.  Having the author of Dormia, Peter Kujawski and his wife, Nancy(also known as Celia Rose in her musical career), come at the beginning of the year was a wonderful way to begin and we have enjoyed our slow journey through this book as a read aloud.
Right now I am really trying to be more systematic about looking at content area reading and giving class  lessons moving from modeling to guiding to giving students independent practice and  consolidating.  The Canadian Reader and What in the World are great resources for teaching kids about current events at an appropriate reading level and include great lesson plans as well.  I am not a good follower of other people's lessons so that is quite a compliment.
For those of you not in Vancouver I am including a picture of one of our beautiful cherry trees.  We have lovely cherry trees outside our classroom window as well.  If you are feeling poetic why don't you enter the haiku contest that our Cherry Blossom Festival sponsors?  And now I have to work on cleaning up my garden! 
I have to mention it is kind of thrilling actually having official followers of this blog!  Wow! 

Follow the Elephant

This week our school is getting a visit from author, Beryl Young, so in anticipation of her visit I decided to read her latest book, Follow the Elephant.  Following the death of his dad, Ben is angry and isn't overly thrilled when it is announced that his grandmother is taking him to India with her in search of her long lost pen pal. Having been to India it was interesting for me to read this book and to revisit places I had been and to visit places that I hadn't.  I think it's a good read for kids but strangely no one has yet picked it up in my classroom and I am not sure why.  One of my boys is thoroughly enjoying an earlier book, Wishing Star Summer, about a girl coming to stay in Vancouver from Chernobyl. I have to share with him an article in the paper about one of the Paralympic sledge hockey players who is physically handicapped as a result of the nuclear explosion there.
Many of my students have parents from India and have visited India so maybe Follow the Elephant doesn't seem exotic enough for them?  I am sure once she visits interest will grow. 

Friday, March 12, 2010

Post Olympics

It was a strange week after the Olympics ended.  We were euphoric, the hockey win was icing on the cake.  I was busy with company from Montreal but it was great fun having them here for the end of the festivities.  My flooded basement was back to normal.  School was busy-it was hard getting work done with all the excitement so felt a need to catch up plus evaluate to be ready for report cards.  My class presented their Olympic projects.  When I saw the first three I really wondered about my teaching ability as they had chosen to ignore the criteria, more caught up in multi media presentations than in information but the rest were really rather excellent and the first three pairs filled in their gaps and redid their presentations.  We ended the week with an Olympic project fair inviting other classes to see their work.  It was a challenge  for my class to figure out how one made the projects understandable and interesting for the primary students as well as intermediate.  I think it was a fun and hopefully educational morning for the classes that visited and it ended nicely with our grade one buddy class coming to see the projects and then pairing up for shared reading.  My grade one teaching colleague and I had breakfast yesterday at the Pan Pacific and we both feel that our buddy program has been one of our best successes this year.  Now I won't bore you with the lunch that disappeared from the cloakroom or the lost science notebook that reappeared in someone else's knapsack... Life is never meant to be totally perfect.

Relearning a craft...

"The moment we think we've learned a craft, it's the time to start all over again." I read this quote in a book I recently read and enjoyed, Pastries by Bharti Kirchner. In this book, baker and owner of a pastry shop, has several challenges, but most seriously she has lost the ability to bake.
This year as I returned to the classroom this idea of having to relearn a craft has seemed very true.  Now the quote was referring to baking but I can relate because despite my years of experience after an absence of four (actually five being full time) years from the the day to day life of a classroom teacher, it's been a challenge.
As a consultant there was so much I missed about classroom teaching, first the kids, then the  staffroom-the camaraderie of the staffroom, the fun of putting units together, the challenge of solving the puzzle of how best to help one's students, the fun of putting together a classroom.  Now that I am back, I, of course, remember all the challenges that are not always easy, and how much work it is to do it all.  I honestly find it strange that I am sure the longer I have taught the more I worked.
I began my career in Quebec in Special Education.  I had challenging classes but they were small and I had lots of prep time (far more than I have ever had in B.C.) so that I didn't really have to bring much work home.  In my first seven years of teaching I completed a special education diploma and a Master's degree while working full time.
This year it strikes me I am working longer and harder than ever.  It's March break and I am actually working on report cards, something I don't remember doing before during a break!  I am also trying to catch up on all sorts of things I don't seem to have time nor energy for in the regular school year.
Am I totally inefficient or obsessed?  Someone told me about a teacher who taught all day and then volunteered at the Olympics.  Not sure how she managed that one.
I read an essay at least twenty years ago that time would be the new luxury, despite labour saving devices because more is expected of us because of these.   Several years ago I felt overwhelmed because I had to learn to use a digital camera, a new computer, and a palm pilot all at the same time.  At this point I still have the same camera, stopped using the palm pilot, and still have the same computer.  I am in danger of becoming a Luddite.
And then there are blogs that are also rather time consuming to produce which is probably why this one hasn't been being written as much lately.
Now back to the main idea which was about starting over to learn a craft, I personally don't think you can totally start over though it sure may feel life that, but I do think it is good for the soul, as humbling as it might be.  When you finish yoga you are supposed to congratulate yourself for coming to class, and I have to congratulate myself for going back to the classroom no matter how inefficient and overworked I may feel.  I also have to congratulate myself for leaving the classroom as well as being a consultant had its own share of challenges.
So enough rambling, back to those report cards, all the things I said I was doing this week, and venturing out into the rain in this last day of holiday.