Thursday, May 30, 2013

Baking Cakes in Kigali

There are books that you just have to share and Baking Cakes in Kigali is one of them. This book by Gail Parkin is set in contemporary Rawanda. Like many people I have seen the movie, Hotel Rawanda, and read the various reports, and the big question is how do you build a country after such bloodshed. How do you forget, forgive, move on? What is it like to live in such a place?
The heroine.of the book, Angel, is married to one of the many people brought into the country to help with the rebuilding. She too is African but from Tanzania. One reason her husband has left his university position to come to Kigali, is due to a bigger salary, which they can use. as they have been left to bring up their five grandchildren as both their own children have died. I bet you are thinking this already sounds depressing. They live in an apartment complex populated by a wide variety of foreigners who have come to help, most paid and some paid.
Angel has a profession, she bakes cakes. She ends up baking cakes for the other residents of the complex but also for a variety of Ugandans. She also won't bake a cake for you unless you tell her your story. And these are fascinating interwoven stories. In a way it's a tricky concept considering the setting, but I think with the author's knowledge of Africa she pulls it off. I kind of also love the fact that my friend, Val, lent me the book and she was given it by a woman, working in the German consul in Rawanda, whose son was staying with Val while going to school in Montreal. I totally recommend this book to all!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Ancient Greece finally...

It was a short week.  It was a long week.  Life has been kind of hectic-with school musical and a flash mob along the way.  I was looking for a week of getting "back to the basics"!  Tuesday, after the long weekend (having celebrated the queen's birthday) they were supposed to finally present their Ancient Greek projects.  Probably that wasn't the best idea I have ever had but the presentation of said projects had been delayed with everything else that had occurred and I had been able to book two periods in the library Thursday to share their work with other classes so I needed to see what we actually had.

To keep momentum going I don't think project preparation should go on more than two weeks, three weeks at the most, but I am afraid this one had due to the musical.
Two students were away and their partners weren't prepared to present on their own as their partner had what they needed.  One hadn't tried his power point out and it wouldn't work.  Others somehow missed the part that projects were supposed to be multimodal (more than two ways of presenting) or that they were supposed to be presenting to a group of anthropologists to get a research grant.  There were some good projects but they looked quite "flat" generally.  I was glad we had two days before the "public" presentations.

We set up as stations so that half the class were presenting and then the other half went and listened to the presentations, used a checklist evaluation sheet to evaluate their peers, and then we switched.  When I looked at the presentations, I had that feeling that my grade seven students were thinking school was over early.

I had been reading our professional book club book, Classroom Habitudes.  In their self-evaluations I asked them to tell whether they had demonstrated passion in their presentations.  Wednesday I had them do top ten books about the top ten facts they had learned from their research and asked them to write a found poem about their topic, two items they could add to their presentations.  I also asked them in their self-evaluations to tell how they could improve their presentations for Thursday.

I was kind of grumpy Wednesday though sometimes teaching seventh grade requires a bit of acting.  And I could see students making plans and getting to work with a sense of urgency.

Thursday they started the day with a math test and then before recess we went to the library to set up and were ready to go after recess.  Well almost ready, now the powerpoint that had finally worked on a classroom computer wouldn't work in the computer lab but said student again hadn't checked it earlier!  Another two students were away but one student was well-prepared and was ready to present without her partner (the partner did come for an hour in the end to do the presentation although she wasn't well) and the other group's partner did show up but they had figured out the password to their prezi before his arrival.  You can tell students to be organized a day ahead, to have each other's phone numbers etc. but one only learns by failing sometimes.

It's always good to have an audience and the projects had greatly improved!  The visiting classes and teachers loved them and they kept students from grade one to seven entertained and informed.  Each group had sticky notes and pens or pencils so that their visitors could write comments for them.  I feel good that in my four years here, my class's projects have inspired other teachers and classes to do these type of projects and presentations.

They again had self evaluations to do and I think that helped them to see their improvements as well.  This all makes me again think of the habitudes that Angela Maiers thinks students need for the 21st century-imagination, curiosity, perseverance, self-awareness, courage, and adaptability.  Funny how a project on some aspect of Ancient Greece can help these all come into play.

Now I am actually having them present individually (well I have 14 groups) on Monday because it was a little too busy for me to properly evaluate Thursday and I think I know who is the grand prize winner but I want to make sure!  Also there isn't much room in my classroom with various models and posters. Have I ever complained how tiny they make newer classrooms with no storage space?

So back to the basics... well they definitely read, wrote and did math this week.  Friday I taught them how gambling works (probability) and we actually I spent two periods on French.  I think other than a reading assignment on sinkholes and a discussion on tornadoes, science was left a bit behind.  And Monday we begin a facilitated unit on coping with life's ups and downs (personal planning).  They are also finally getting their lemonade and freezie sale organized for Room to Read.

And people ask me if I am winding down in my last few weeks of teaching.  I don't really think so...

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Reel to Real to Visual Journal Display to School Musical to Flash mob...

Shocking!  I was just looking over my posts and thinking about what I haven't written about yet!  I haven't ever told about the visual journal project finale at the school board and how I missed it.  I haven't reported on the Reel to Real Film Festival that we attended months ago!  And I have an unfinished post on the professional books I bought at the International Reading Association Annual Convention.  And now there is the musical and the flash mob and even the retirement party.  And the one thing I really don't want to write about, the recent provincial election...  Where do I begin?
 And then I could talk about the young adult books I have been reading non stop lately.   Well I will finish the post on the convention eventually. For the rest let's just try to begin.

Last year Clara and I took our classes to the Reel to Real Film Festival at the Roundhouse Community
Centre and we thoroughly enjoyed the experience.  This year we wanted to go again and for once I signed up as soon as I got the information partly because I needed to go at the beginning of the week as I was off to San Antonio for the IRA convention on the Thursday.  We also were able to get our first choice of a workshop doing digital film making.  First they were able to see some great international animated short films with a music theme and hear from a couple of the film makers.  Then they learned how to do film tricks and make their own short films implementing these "tricks".  Their instructor happened to be Flick, who is also part of the Something Collective who are the resident artists at Moberly Arts Centre.  To say the kids had fun would be an understatement.  They also loved Yaletown, checking out the various food options, and going for a walk along False Creek.

Needless to say, when they returned they had  to draw and write about the experience.  It was fun having the opportunity to show Flick their impressions when he was at school this week.

Then of course I was off to San Antonio, only planning to miss two days of school because we had a Profesional Day on the Friday.  I was returning early Monday evening and then we were off to the Vancouver School Board Education building Tuesday morning.  Everything was planned and organized.  Unfortunately my plane was late arriving in San Antonio and as a result we left late then sat on a runway in Dallas for twenty minutes and then had to go to another terminal and missed our flight to Vancouver by ten minutes as they didn't wait for us even though they must have known why we were late!  As a result I had to stay at the Dallas Airport Marriott and somehow my carry on bag had books but no extra clothes and I missed the event at the school board.

I was able to call my principal and make it possible that our teacher-librarian and the class' art teacher went with them and I e-mailed the others involved to tell them what had happened.  When I finally
made it in the early afternoon, I whipped down to the school board to see the display as I doubted I would have any other opportunity!  It was disappointing!  But the kids had a great time!  They enjoyed sharing journals with the other kids.  They loved the wooden carved plaques for each school in the foyer and the life sized statutes in the park outside the building, and of course the cookies and juice.  And apparently the bus driver had great jokes!

The next big excitement was our musical, Rock and Roll.  Our primary classes did a musical at Christmas and we, intermediates were willing to do one in the spring.  Since our principal and music teacher (the same person) is retiring it seemed fitting.  I suggested doing the History of Rock and Roll, one I had been involved with a couple of times before at Moberly, and we combined this with a newer version, Rock and Roll Forever, by the same authors, John Jacobson and Kirby Shaw.  We also added Division One's new favorite song, Stop in the Name of Love.  It's great when a staff works well together and we do.  Everyone had a role, and it's a great experience for the kids. While our principal taught the kids the songs etc., our PE teacher taught all the students the dances, I took care of the acting, and the others did sets and costumes, lighting etc.  The primary teachers treated us to a barbecue on the school roof before the evening performance.  My kids learned quite a bit about the history of rock and roll and developed a real taste for 60's music.  My class had to act or dance and they did well as did all the others in six classes.  What a community event it was Thursday with an afternoon and evening performance. And on Wednesday it was neat when the Moberly intermediate classes came over to see our dress rehearsal.

And just as the musical ended, it was time for our final rehearsal for the flash mob to be performed at Sunset Community Centre this Saturday.  We had a fourth session with Natalie, our dance instructor from the Something Collective, who helped the students build this piece during four four hour sessions.Natalie had worked with my last year's class on our story telling so half the class already knew her.  And then Flick, our video instructor from Reel to Real, came to film on Friday and was at the Community Centre on Saturday.  Here is a link to the event on Saturday.  

And yes, occasionally I do work in math and science and stay tuned for the Ancient Greece projects coming next week!  But I think all these activities are giving my students a range of experiences and a taste for all the possibilities the arts can bring.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Thank you Speech!

Gratitude is a word that has been a bit of a theme in my classroom this year.  We have been savouring a novel about a girl named Sugar who loses her home in a book called Almost Home by Joan Bauer.  I only read a chapter or two a week and this week we didn’t even seem to have time to read one chapter what with the musical and also preparing for a flash mob at Sunset Community Centre. 

Sugar’s mom is a big fan of thank you letters and a big believer in having gratitude.  And even when her mom becomes depressed after they lose their home and end up in a homeless shelter, Sugar never loses that ability to have gratitude for something even when it isn’t easy.

Having made many slide shows and a few for retirements, I said no slide shows and then I decided that I would like to do one myself.  I thought it might be tricky as I would sooner take pictures any day than have to be in one, but as I went through many photo albums and the many pictures on my computer (feel grateful I just couldn’t handle going through my thousands of slides-so no pictures of Australia or China for instance- and that some years the albums never got made and who knows where the pictures are) I felt really grateful for my life so far and the wonderful people with whom I have shared it. 

Forty years ago when I finished my B.Ed. at Queen’s I would have been shocked to know that I would be still teaching.  I was passionate about teaching but teaching hadn’t been necessarily my first choice
of careers (in first grade I declared I wanted to be a horse breeder) and I had many other ideas as well after that). I really didn’t see myself teaching more than a few years.  In my first days of teaching I thought it might be only a few weeks, but here I am forty years later still teaching and still truly having a wonderful time!

This career has given me a wide variety of experiences way beyond teaching high school English.  And honestly, I have found challenge and joy in all of these experiences (sometimes more challenge sometimes, more joy and that may have been all in the same day).  And as much as I have enjoyed working with teachers, I kept realizing I loved teaching kids the best or often letting them teach me.  There may have been a reason I loved Pollyanna who never wanted to grow up.  I haven’t had to!

And I have loved working with my colleagues-many of you are here today but many more can’t be and as I looked through many real pictures and other pictures even more sharply in my mind, I just kept thinking how much fun we have had.

 I recently read a cartoon with a teacher at her doctor’s and they are looking at an X-ray and the doctor says your heart is slightly bigger than normal but that isn’t unusual in teachers.  And honestly I think it has to be true.  In my hardest teaching and life situations, I had incredible colleagues who saw me through. 

The other wonderful thing about teaching is that you are constantly learning.  I loved teaching at SFU because they actually paid me when I was learning with my students!  How cool was that!  And at the VSB I actually I got paid to read and I got to buy books and give them away.  Also very cool! 

Through the years I have been involved in many projects with outside agencies and I am so grateful for those of you who have widened the world for my students and for me.  I am also incredibly grateful to the International Reading Association and those with whom I worked in LOMCIRA and BCLCIRA who gave me an education way beyond the classroom walls and shared my love of reading and belief in its importance in changing worlds.  Also special thanks to my friends who are here who have nothing to do with any of these worlds but who share with me so many of my other loves-travel, photography, gardening, attempts to be fit etc.  Thank you! 

I am probably crying by now-when I left Moberly and they had a party all I could do was cry which is why I have written a speech.  My colleagues from Henderson, Maquinna, Osler, Moberly, and Learning Services, thank you for so many many things to countless to mention, so much support in every way.  I also have to think of my great teaching friends in Montreal, some of whom have remained lifetime friends and three people who really have been mentors to me, Judy Scott, Diane Potts, and Jan Wells.  Then there are my administrators who I really consider teachers- I have been fortunate in having had some great administrators who have really supported me and enabled me to be a teacher and consultant with lots of autonomy.   

Last of all I have to thank my current staff.  When I left the board I knew I wasn’t ready to stop teaching, I wanted to go back to the classroom.  I very intentionally chose Trudeau.  I knew that Jim could only be kind and supportive.  This was a staff with which I had worked well in the literacy project and always wanted to feed you!  I loved the classical music floating through the parking lot in the morning and perhaps, most significantly, I never had Beetle mania but I sure had Trudeau mania. Although I really have loved working with kids all over the city, the south slope has been my special spot, and most particularly the kids from Moberly and of course Trudeau was originally Moberly’s annex.

I thought it might only be a year but somehow it stretched to four so I think that tells you how much I have enjoyed being here.  This is a wonderful staff and the care and effort they have taken to make today so beautiful makes me truly grateful, and sums up the kind of people that they are.  Thank you!

As a child I think I most wanted to travel the world, and have a multicultural family like Roy Rodgers and Dale Evans.  I think that has happened!  But I have a bit more of the world I want to see. 

Anyway I am looking forward to what comes next and thank you all for being here today!  
(Yesterday was my incredible "retirement" party and people actually wanted to a copy of my speech so here you go!!!)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

More on lit circles and ipads and found poetry

I really have to recommend blogging.  Having blogged about literature circles yesterday I think it helped me with them later in the day.  The kids really think that videotaping or orally taping in some cases is really helping them stay focused.  And as I listen to their discussions I can see how these conversations really help their own comprehension as they puzzle out bits of the story.  I also am finding it lovely to have them discover on their own beautiful works such as Where the Red Fern Grows and The View From Saturday.  They occasionally ask me a question e.g. was Where the Red Fern Grows based on a true story? and I quickly do a little research on my ipad and tell her, somewhat,  and tell Arshpreet to check out Wilson Rawls' story on Wikipedia because it is so interesting.  And then I am asked a question about the Great Depression.  I just now found a great link from Jim Trelease with more about this interesting author I am going to share with the kids.

Later in the day, our Community Links teacher was doing a session with them on getting ready for high school.  He gave them a test where they had to determine what kind of learners they were.  The vast
majority reported they were kinesthetic learners.  Somehow that didn't surprise me!

I had been marking their response booklets for Almost Home the night before.  I had taught them how to write to write found poems, turning prose into poetry.  Usually I read a chapter of the book and they listen and write and draw responses but this time I photocopied a copy of the book so that they could highlight their favorite words and phrases to turn them into poetry.  I was struck by Ellie's poem so I simply took a picture of it with my ipad and sent it off to author, Joan Bauer.  Honestly, how did I survive in life before I had my ipad?!  While they were having their literature circle discussions, I heard the sound of mail arriving.  I looked, and there was a response to Ellie's poem from Joan Bauer.  "Oh, Meredyth.  Wow!  That takes my breath away"

And here is Ellie's poem!
I tried to get there
I'll try again
You remember what you told me?
I remember
that you love me very much
that love can be transforming
that it will help you change
like a key that unlocks a door
I'll help you change
I tried to get there 
I'll try again
I promise
I will try

Ellie does want to be a professional writer and illustrator one day so that it is nice to get this kind of mentoring and appreciation.  Darshana was writing in her Reading Response Journal about another Joan Bauer book she is reading and she wrote that she bet Ms. Kezar could be a good author herself so I had encouragement as well!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Literature Circles

Well I am back!  I have lots to blog about it, just have to get around to doing it.  Just now I was listening and watching my kids tapes of their literature circles.  Once a week they have been meeting in their groups about the books they are reading.  As mentioned in an earlier column my literature circles have taken many combinations and permutations.  This year they just seemed to settle in to them very quickly without initially much direction.  As time went on they seemed to need more direction at times and some individuals can make the circles a bit difficult.  In the past groups changed but these groups have stayed the same.  When these groups occur I have another group who meet with our teacher-librarian who is  also my resource teacher.
Probably inspired by something I heard at the International Reading Association conference I recently attended, I told them to use their ipads to videotape themselves and that is what I have been watching.  Two groups preferred to audiotape with them.  All the groups felt that it helped to keep them on task and I actually heard some interesting discussions.  The audio tapers seemed to prefer to tape themselves reading but it was kind of lovely to hear them read the words of these great authors.  The groups have a combination of discussion, and oral and silent reading.  They have a list of suggested questions.  They have been eating up books and I have had to go and find them more books.  Old treasures such as Call It Courage and Where the Red Fern have come out.  They decide how much they are going to read although some people often do read ahead.  Some groups read more slowly but they are also reading other books at the same time.  One group seems to read a book every week or two.
I honestly don't really have any reluctant readers in this class.  As I watched my all boys' group I was impressed by the level of discussion and the use of text to argue and make connections.  Why did the lake in Holes dry up was one question?  In another group a girl who faked reading in the past was using text to correct her group mates about Stargirl's winning of contests.
I think I will have them make use of the ipads to video tape again today.  And now thanks to the videotape,  I know who was making the annoying noise with his ruler!
I realized I didn't have any recent lit circle pictures so I just put up this quote-I have my frustrations at times  but the quote is so true about my class.

And here is a picture of them hard at work!