Friday, January 30, 2015

Who says picture books are just for little kids? Not me.

Today I am on my way to the ALA Midwinter conference to attend the ALA Youth Media Awards on Monday.

Yesterday my 8th graders delved into the world of examining and evaluating the merit of picture book illustration in anticipation of the Caldecott Award to being announced (along with the Newbery, Printz, Coretta Scott King et al.). While I am gone they are going to be writing essays the argue why their favorite should win the Caldecott Award.

I'm not gonna lie: as they were looking through the pile of picture books today, I may have had a couple 8th graders today help enlighten me about a few picture books that  I was totally confused about (Quest and Sam and Dave Dig a Hole). I love when students teach the teacher.

8th graders thinking about the Caldecott
Clockwise starting from the top left: Seth is dubious about Sam and Dave Dig a Hole, Zane and Austin prefer to make up their own stories that go with the illustrations, Lola and Haley admire The Noisy Paint Box, and Griffin takes careful notes about the artwork in Quest)

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.