Friday, January 23, 2015

Celebrate Moments of Contentment

Tonight I was sitting at the kitchen table doing some work when I felt compelled to get up and turn the lamp on in the other room because the view around the corner makes me smile.
Around the corner

I know it may seem shallow to find contentment in a thing, a material possession, but to me this thing is so much more than just a new toy. It symbolizes so much for me in my life journey: the fact that I am finding the courage to sit back down and play again after many years away, finding joy as my fingers move across the keys when all that I felt for many years was emotional pain, seeing this beautiful instrument that I've always dreamed of owning sitting contentedly in my house like she was always meant to be there -- it's a beautiful thing.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Friday, January 9, 2015

Thinking about my role with students and social media

Katerine Sokolowski's recent blog post about world colliding as a parent and teacher continues to get me to think about my role in helping students navigate this brave new world of social media.

Most teachers did not grow up with social media and so our initial reaction has been to steer clear. Don't friend students. Don't put yourself "out there" for students to find us. That advice, in a way, has been somewhat faulty. Kids often make mistakes - it's a part of growing up. When we were growing up those mistakes were just mistakes. We'd dust ourselves off, maybe get grounded, and that was that. Today mistakes are made public and permanent by the things they post online and we're letting kids function in the Wild West without a sheriff. Bottom line: We need to be role models of good digital citizenship so our students don't lose out on college admissions opportunities, possible jobs, or even their future freedom if something they post on social media could possibly incriminate them. But what this post really helped me to see is that we shouldn't just be lecturing to students about this. We should also be living it.

Many of my students follow me on Instagram. I could have chosen the moment when students started following me to panic and set my account to private. But in the end, I decided that this was an opportunity for me as their teacher to show them what it is to be a good digital citizen. So my students follow me, and as a result, I pander to that audience. I post book recommendations, I share with them my reading life, and I also give them a glimpse into my daily life as well: posting pictures of favorite recipes I've made, my journey with buying my new piano last year, and pictures of my dogs. As a result, I think it has helped get students to trust me more. To see that I'm just a regular person who does regular things. If they were looking for something scandalous by following me, they ain't gonna find it here. So they came for the scandal but stayed for regular old boring Mrs. Shaum (well, some of them stayed. I think some of them un-followed me after they realized they weren't going to find anything gossip-worthy on my Instagram feed).

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Embracing Procrastination

I have had a wonderful, relaxing Christmas break, but as going back to work on Monday looms over my head, so too does the knowledge that I still have 40 more midterm essays to grade before grades are due on Tuesday.

I fully admit that I am procrastinating at this task. But you see, I've had so many books to read and friends to visit and naps to take! 

Another reason why it's taking me so long to grade my students' midterm essays (besides being a total procrastinator that gets easily distracted? What's that? Click bait? Cute puppy bellies? Dogs riding on Roombas? SQUIRREL!) I'm actually basking in the glow of the brilliant insights my students have discovered about their own selves as writers.

To read things like:

I feel safe and secure in your class. - Hannah S.

But most importantly, with the writers notebook, I learned that while you’re jotting down all your thoughts about that one topic, you’re actually teaching yourself. You’re teaching yourself new words, new formats of writing, and even about the topic you’re writing about. - Lauren G.

At the beginning of the year I HATED reading... I used to read only Dr. Seuss, but Mitch Albom has me reading his book, For One More Day. I am actually in to it. I’m bewildered that you, Mrs. Shaum, tried so hard to get me to read. You have succeeded. You have altered my mind actually read. THANK YOU! English is not that bad. I might just like it. You have made it easier for me to succeed and grow as a writer. - Jacob S.

While we were doing NaNoWriMo, the world I knew was shedding, and I was soon receiving a new one. I didn’t know how to deal with such an experience. I felt incapable of explaining to anyone what was happening to me. But during NaNoWriMo, the stress, the anxiety, everything that would build up, just tumbled back down when I was writing. I couldn’t tell anyone what was happening, and I didn’t want to. My hands trembling trying to form words about how I was feeling couldn’t keep a pen steady. But in class, surrounded by people, I could just pour my emotions into the keyboard. And when my fingers started moving they wouldn’t stop. To say NaNoWriMo was the most important assignment I’ve ever done, would be an understatement. Maybe I didn’t learn the most from it, but the purpose of it is irrelevant. I needed it at the exact time I got it. - Erin R.

It's hard to just plow through and move onto the next essay after reading words like that.

So I am going to sit here and embrace procrastination. I am going to be okay with the fact that I will always be someone who pulls things out at the last minute. Because while I'm busy avoiding the task at hand, I'm also learning and growing and basking in the growth of my students. (And also screwing around.)

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My One Little Word for 2015 - My First Word

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Happy New Year to all! I hope you had a wonderful holiday season and that 2015 brings you many blessings.

I've never been one for New Year's resolutions. They're just a way to disappoint yourself and for places like gyms and sporting goods stores to feed on our lofty goals and make money. Still, I do like the idea and symbolism of a new year being about new beginnings. So I've been thinking a lot lately about  how I can improve myself without setting unrealistic goals that I will never fulfill.

As a result, Ruth Ayres got me thinking about the One Little Word challenge and that has been swimming around in my head lately. If you've never heard of the challenge before, the idea is to pick a word and live with it for an entire year.

The word I have chosen for 2015 has actually been a word I've been living with in my classroom with my students since September, but I feel the need to make a formal declaration and continue living with it for another 12 months.

Brave was my mantra as I returned to the piano after over a decade away from playing.

Brave was my mantra as I entered the classroom again after a year away from students.

Brave was my mantra as I challenged myself to come out of my turtle shell, stick my neck out and do things for the good of my students, consequences be damned.

So I will continue living with brave for the next 12 months and do so with more intention. I'm excited to see where Brave will take me. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

5 things I loved about last week

 It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Students owning their learning
My 8th graders are writing a reflective essay for their midterms and I'm having them use the comments feature in Google Docs to point out the skill-type things they learned like grammar, 6+1 Traits, etc. and in one period they pointed out to me things they had learned that I forgot to list on the requirements blog post or texts we had shared as a class. Apparently I missed an opportunity to create this assignment collaboratively since they were offering me things that I needed to add to the midterm. Note to self for the final exam.

2. Reading Epiphanies
I am going to pat myself on the back and say that I have been on my game as a writing teacher this year. But because I only teach writing, I haven't done so well motivating my students to read this semester. I want them to see the value of self-selected reading because I firmly believe it makes you a better writer, but having my classroom in a computer lab that is taking up precious bookshelf space (as well as precious space in my students' heads as to what they could be doing once they finish their work), I haven't been able to find a way to make books a part of our daily literacy diet.

Many of my students have said, "If books were actually about things I WANT to read then I would read them." A lot of them think that books aren't written with their issues in mind and clearly I haven't done a good job of communicating that there are lots of books out there for them. So I have decided that over Christmas break, I am going to reorganize my classroom library so that it is more appealing to my mature 8th grade readers. Clearly I am still in my 6th grade mindset and I need to move past that and appeal to my more mature readers.

3. But really, students are begging for books. I just need to pay better attention to their pleas.
To go along with #2, I have also been slacking on my read aloud this year. Students were so involved with NaNoWriMo for the month of November that we didn't read anything at all from Natalie Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic, and as December rolled around, we got busy doing things like preparing for midterms and having frank conversations about race through the lens of what is happening in Ferguson as well as the watermelon joke heard round the world at the National Book Awards that I lost track of our shared reading experience.

But on Friday, through the fervor of working on midterms, I mentioned that next week we would get back into the swing of our read aloud, when an unlikely student, one who rarely speaks and I often question his engagement said, "But you could just read to us for five minutes." Clearly I have been shirking my "literacy is everyone's job" responsibilities this semester.

4. Reason # I've-Lost-Count that I love Literati Bookstore
Last week, Literati posted this picture on their social media sites with the following description:

Since he was accidentally left behind at our store, Teddy has been acclimating to his new life. He alphabetizes books and keeps our typewriter filled with fresh paper. But he's secretly hoping for a holiday miracle to be reunited with his person. He asked me to put up one more post, just in case someone recognizes him.

I mean, how can you NOT want to shop at a bookstore like that?

5. Baby grand pianos have lots of practical uses. A Christmas tree stand, for example.

Is this not the perfect vehicle for a small Christmas tree and a place to put gifts? And I love even more that I don't have to move furniture around.

As you have probably surmised, I am still quite smitten with Tori, the baby grand. I love that now when I come downstairs, this is what greets me instead of a cluttered dining room table.

What did you love about last week? 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Walter Dean Myers Award: Challenge your students to read diverse books

Earlier this spring, a movement began on social media. Frustrated with the lack of diversity in children's literature and the fact that the organizers of the inaugural BookCon in New York City deemed “the world’s biggest children’s authors” to be all white males, authors Melinda Lo and Ellen Oh expressed their frustration via social media and shortly thereafter a hashtag was born: #WeNeedDiverseBooks, which was first tweeted by author Aisha Saeed and began trending on April 29th of this year. It created ripples all over the world of social media.

From this single hashtag, a movement began and now #WeNeedDiverseBooks has transformed beyond simple passive social media activism into something more tangible. Not long after the hashtag went viral, We Need Diverse Books was established as a nonprofit organization, and in October it was announced that they have created a new award: The Walter Dean Myers Award, which "will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing and '[allow] children to see themselves reflected back' in those works," (Publisher's Weekly).

The award is currently limited to young adult literature and winners will announced in 2015, but there are plans for adding middle grade and picture books to the award in the future.

In the wake of all the racial tension happening in our country right now, reading widely from diverse perspectives is more important than ever. As Matt de la Pena said recently in a panel at NCTE called Reshaping the Landscape of Story: Creating Space for Missing and Marginalized Voices, "The quickest way to create monsters in our inner cities is by never showing them mirrors of themselves in literature." We need to be giving kids positive portrayals of all cultural backgrounds, not just the voices of the privileged. As one contributor to the video above stated, "We need diverse books because they are the vehicles for empathy and empathy is the best weapon against hate."

So just like many teachers and librarians hold mock Newbery and Caldecott awards in their schools, I would encourage you to hold your own mock Walter Awards. Not only will this give your students an opportunity to read from a variety of cultural backgrounds, allowing them to not only look through windows but also into mirrors, it will also give teachers and librarians a chance to add more diverse books to their own classrooms and libraries.

Even though the Walter Award is starting in 2015 with only young adult literature, I would still encourage you to hold mock Walter Awards for middle grade and picture books as well. Encourage your students students to read from a variety of books with diverse characters and authors, and then create a ballot to vote for their favorites. Not sure how to dig in? Here is a list of 2014 titles to get you started. This is by no means an exhaustive list, mainly because my canon of diverse books needs to increase, and also because I don't know what the exact award criteria will be other than "published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing,"  but it's a good place to start so you can seek out further titles. And please let me know what 2014 titles I should add to this list.

Young Adult
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland
Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour
Knockout Games by G. Neri
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela and Elaine DePrince
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale

Middle Grade
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth
Wrinkles Wallace: Fighters of Foreclosure by Marquin Parks

Picture Books
Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by John Parra
The Hula-Hoopin'Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk,illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Ninja! by Aree Chung
Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated Renato Alarcao
Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez, illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Sugar Hill: Harlem's Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

In the interest of full-disclosure, book links take you to my Amazon Affiliate page. If you buy any of these books through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.  

Cross-posted to my book blog, A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust

Friday, December 5, 2014

Celebrating NaNoWriMo accomplishments and hard conversations

My 8th graders turned in their NaNoWriMo stories on Monday and they are STILL talking about how much they loved the experience. One girl said today, "I learned so much about writing from NaNoWriMo. I wish we were still doing it." Another said, "Now whenever we're asked to a short essay, I'll be like, 'this is a piece of cake' after going through NaNoWriMo." I've only had a couple students write and talk about it being a bad experience for them. Most of them said they really enjoyed it. So I'm still basking in the glow of their writing motivation. Clearly I need to do NaNoWriMo with my students every year.

In addition to celebrating their NaNoWriMo accomplishments, however, we also had some really tough conversations this week about race in the wake of all that is happening in our country right now. I was initially very hesitant to discuss such an emotionally-charged topic with my students, but overall, they were very mature and respectful, even if we didn't always agree. It was hard to hear some of the things they were saying, but I also know that sweeping this issue under the rug would have been a missed opportunity for a teachable moment. I'm glad I decided to stick my neck out, crawl out of my turtle shell, and talk about the tough stuff with them.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres