Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Free Falling Into Your Imagination

Share your Slice of Life at Two Writing Teachers

I have been trying to get my son to "read" to me but, being the smart little four-year old he is, he stubbornly insists that "books are made of words, and words are made of letters, and I don't know all my letters yet!" I tell him that stories aren't just told with words; they are also told in pictures.

We then went on a picture walk of one of his favorite books, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore. We have read this story a bijillion times, so he's very familiar with the plot. When we took our picture walk, I pointed out how the pictures tell the same story that the words do. I though myself rather smart and persuasive, but he still insisted that since the page has words, we need to read the words, not the pictures :-(

Determined, I took my son to the library this morning in search of stories told in pictures and found two spectacular ones: Free Fall, by David Wiesner, and Journey, by Aaron Becker. These books will be part of my Reading Challenges so I will save my thoughts on the books for that blog post.

What I want to share as today's slice is my son's reaction to Free Fall. After convincing him that there were no words in the book, he reluctantly agreed to "read" the pictures with me. Finding a comfy seat to share in the YA section, we slowly meandered through the pages, stopping to talk about each stunningly detailed picture. I asked him what he saw, what caught is eye, and what he thought was happening. With each turn of a page, he became more animated and more engaged in "reading" this story! 

Before I tell you his interpretation, I will share the gist of this story as that of a young boy who falls asleep and embarks on an adventurous dream. Upon finishing our journey, I asked my son why he thought the book was called Free Fall, for which he triumphantly answered, "because he fell into his imagination!" 

As his mom, I know I'm supposed to marvel at everything he says and does (except those things that are not quite marvelous, like emptying his sand-filled shoes on our freshly vacuumed carpet :-)), but I thought his interpretation was rather endearing! It's one of those moments, those slices of life, that I never want to forget :-)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Reaching New "Heights" in Reading

I have always wanted to be one of those people who love reading classic literature! I tried my hand with Charles Dickens' David Copperfield and Homer's The Odyssey but could never get past the linguistic character and punctuation-laden wordiness of the sentences. I spent so much time trying to decode what was happening, that reading these titles just weren't enjoyable.

So, I gave up! I stuck with modern literature, enjoying many a book, spanning adult literature to YA to children's picture books.

But, always nagging at the back of my mind was the desire to read something from another era: Sense and Sensibility (no, I haven't read it, nor have I seen the move!) or Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, or Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities (yes, I'm ashamed to admit I haven't read this one, either :-).

When my sister presented me with a box of books that she was discarding (by discarding, I mean donating), I came across Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, another title on my Dream-to-Read list! I couldn't resist the urge to give it a try. After all, when books find me, I tend to obey!

After getting through the first couple of chapters, I was absolutely hooked! Heathcliff, though disturbingly wretched, drew me in; I wanted to know more about this man, which is what kept me going through Nelly's narrative. I have devoured this book and, with only one chapter left, am stalling my departure from Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange.

Reflecting on my journey to this classic is my Slice of Life today, and yet another excuse to put off reading the end! Once I am officially finished, I will reflect on my thoughts and feelings about the book in a blog post for the reading challenges in which I am participating.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reading Challenges for 2014

I'm joining these reading challenges a little late in the year, but I didn't want that to dissuade me from participating! So, here are the challenges I will be joining:

Must Read in 2014

CORL 2014

2014 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge

My approach will be to compile all the books, fiction and non-fiction, I have been wanting to read. My goal will be to read 15 to 20 books by the end of 2014, entitling me to be a "book savant". As I "check off" my "must read" list, I will also check off what letter each book represents in my bowl of "alphabet soup". The remaining letters will be met through picture books that my son and I read over the coming months.

Here are my picks for 2014:

I've already started Wuthering Heights, which is a book I have been wanting to read for years! It's one of those elusive titles that I can't remember if I've actually read it, or if I have wanted to read it so long that my mind has made its own memory of reading it! Well, pretty soon, I won't have to wonder :-)

I'm so grateful to have come across these online literary communities! They have inspired me to write more, read more, and take time to enjoy what I love to do! Thank you to everyone involved in these challenges!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Micsarriage #2: A Nostalgic Slice

Today's Slice of Life came as a memory. I was weeding through some of my old memory sticks (I have no idea why, since life as a single, working mom is very busy, and I should have been doing something else, something more productive), when I came across a Word file: miscarriage.doc. I opened it and, upon reading, found myself back in Taos, New Mexico.

Rather than try to summarize or reiterate this memory, I've decided to simply insert it in its entirety. I wrote this journal entry mere days after my miscarriage, so it is raw, and honest, and painful, and maybe a little too graphic towards the end, in case you don't want to read it all; but, it is my slice of life today:

August 26, 2007

My second pregnancy and I was terrified.  The first one had ended in a miscarriage, which was quite possibly the most excruciatingly painful experience, both physically and emotionally.  According to my calculations, my ovulation date, and therefore my conception date, was Monday, May 28th, Labor Day.  By the time I was able to take a pregnancy test, I was two weeks along.  Of course after trying for over a year and suffering one miscarriage, I couldn’t allow myself to believe I might be pregnant until the test came back positive.  I did have an inkling, though, because I had been experiencing the worst night sweats!  When I took the first test, the positive blue line appeared the instant my urine crossed through the window!  I couldn’t believe it!  With my first pregnancy, the line was so faint and took much longer to register but this one, this was a strong one.   Just to be sure, though, I waited until the next morning to take another one, which happened to be Tuesday, June 12th, the same day I was scheduled to take my comp exams at UCSB.  This one too returned a very strong, definite positive.  This time around, while I was ecstatic, I didn’t experience the same kind of na├»ve, innocent joy I felt with the first pregnancy.  This time, there was a tiny cloud of fear and doubt lingering over me.  I pushed it away though and told myself I was being paranoid.  I told Johnny by giving him a card I had bought a very long time ago.  He did a little cheer and we began discussing our future as parents and how we were going to tell our family and friends…we would wait though, seeing as I was still so early on.  I made myself a “positive thoughts” mantra card that I carried with me everywhere; I even slept with it under my pillow so that when I felt it I would remember to say it…”I have a strong, healthy pregnancy!  I will carry these babies full-term!  I will give birth to beautiful, healthy babies!”  I always spoke in the plural form because I want twins so badly!  I began instantly talking to my babies.  I told them over and over how much they were loved and wanted, and how ready I was for them.  I told them how precious they were!  So, we kept it a secret for the remainder of that week and then set off for our annual road trip vacation on Saturday, June 16th.  I’d had my doubts about going; I didn’t want to jeopardize my pregnancy but I was afraid Johnny would criticize my for being paranoid, so I kept quiet.  I had started to feel little twinges of sensation in my lower abdomen but my acupuncturist told me many women think they are starting their periods when they are pregnant and that I had nothing to worry about; she gave me a special tincture to take with me on my vacation just in case.  So, I ventured off on our road trip…happy as can be, but all the while fighting my fear.  I became so scared of miscarrying again that it began to take me over.  I was constantly checking to see if there was any blood when I would go to the restroom.  I was constantly analyzing the little pangs of sensation in my lower abdomen…”Yes, that one’s a cramp!” “No, that’s just a hunger pain”.  It was almost too much to bear.  I didn’t want to suffer like this through my entire pregnancy.  I wanted to be happy and enjoy every moment of this experience.  So, I would push those thoughts away and rejoice at being pregnant.  I enjoyed my ever-growing breasts.  I loved touching them and holding them…they were the only physical reminder that I was truly and joyfully pregnant.  Just as with the first pregnancy, I wasn’t experiencing morning sickness, which alarmed me because I had read somewhere that morning sickness is a good sign of the pregnancy hormone being strong.  I was also not fitting into my usual pants, which I loved!  Well, back to the vacation.  We took off on a Saturday and rolled into my favorite spot along the Colorado River across from Laughlin.  I love it there because there are very few people and I enjoy spending time just Johnny and I and the poops.  After a few days there, we decided to head east into Arizona and New Mexico, I had always wanted to go to Taos, New Mexico.  Once in Arizona, I got sick…I mean, chills, body aches, and fever sick.  I thought I had simply exhausted myself and knew I needed to rest, so Johnny took great care of me.  I began taking Cindy’s tincture, just to be on the safe side.  The next day I was, amazingly fine!  I was still a bit tired but all other symptoms were gone.  Johnny and I argued though over whether or not to go into New Mexico.  I had this dreadful feeling that we shouldn’t but he wanted to take me to make me happy…at the time I didn’t know that, I thought he just really wanted to go, so again, I went along with it.  I made a comfy bed with my blanket, pillow, and book in the back seat while Johnny drove us through Arizona and into New Mexico.  It was a bumpy ride and I kept thinking “this can’t be good for my babies” but I said nothing.  Somewhere on the road between the New Mexico border and Albuquerque, I began feeling definite cramps.  I kept telling myself no…no, no, no, no, no!  This was not happening…I wasn’t going to allow this to happen!  I held onto my green mantra card and repeated it over and over and over.  I spoke to my babies and told them they couldn’t leave me because they were meant to be.  I wanted, loved, adored them soooo much!  I held my stomach and silently cried.  I was terrified, desperate, 300-miles from home, and I felt so alone.  I finally told Johnny that I needed to get to a restroom desperately…and that’s when I saw it…the proof that my worst fears were coming true…blood on the toilet paper!  I sobbed.  I told Johnny but still didn’t ask him to take me home.  We were so far from home, it would have taken us a couple of days at least to get home; and having experienced a miscarriage before, I knew there was nothing anyone could do for me.  We had come so far, and I felt like I was being a big baby so I sucked it up and continued on our trip into New Mexico.  I still had hope…I continued taking the tincture that Cindy had given me and was determined not to let them go.  Johnny was really quiet…I don’t think he knew what to say or do but never once did he ask if I wanted to go home!  This saddened me.  I tried to “buck up” by sitting up front with him and enjoying the drive through the beautiful southwest.  As we approached Albuquerque there was an awesome thunderstorm raging.  Funny, that’s how I felt inside.  We marveled at its intensity.  We pulled into Santa Fe almost at dusk and, after driving around in circles, found this beautiful campground tucked away in the New Mexico Mountains.  It was so pristine, peaceful, and almost spiritual…I felt extremely comfortable here.  We spent our first night sitting outside and listening to nature’s symphony.  The next day we decided to go into Santa Fe, do some sightseeing and maybe a little laundry.  My bleeding and cramps continued but I tried to have a good time, knowing that nature was in charge at this point.  We found a Border’s near the laundry mat so we went in and bought a few books.  I got “The Birthday” and “Molokai” and Johnny got a book written by an Iraq war deserter.  When we tried to go to downtown Santa Fe, which is absolutely beautiful by the way, my cramps had intensified.  The streets were all blocked, something to do with Cardinals gathering from around the world, so we had to park a ways away.  We managed to make it to the heart of town when I couldn’t bear the pain anymore.  I finally spoke up and told Johnny I needed to go back to the trailer.  I could barely make it back to the truck; I was doubled up in pain.  Back in the truck, Johnny drove us as quickly as he could.  Driving through the picturesque mountains on our way to our trailer, I was writhing in the most intense pain!  I couldn’t find relief.  I squirmed, and twisted, and cried!  Johnny was distraught but said nothing.  I knew, right there, in the middle of the New Mexico Mountains, right there in our travel trailer, I was losing my babies.  As excruciating as the physical pain was, the emotional pain dwarfed it.  How? Why? I was so angry.  I stumbled into our trailer, went straight to the bathroom, and lost my babies.  This time, though, I saw them.  I believe there was just one baby there…my baby…my baby girl…Grace.  I wanted to hold her but there was nothing to hold.  I put her in a baggy in the freezer so I could take her to my doctor when we returned home.  I know my pain pales in comparison to others but it’s mine and I have to own it, acknowledge it, embrace it, and release it.  

Today's slice was a painful, rambling one, but I felt it deserved to be shared. Every year at Christmas, I pull out one of my most treasured ornaments, a Terra cotta ornament that I purchased earlier that day in Taos, with the name Grace written on the back. I'm able to remember this memory without too much pain now, because I have my son; but I still shed a tear for what I lost that day, and I still carry Grace in my heart!

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Celebrating Literacy: Developing my son's love for writing

Pretty much since he could talk, my son has been able to sing the ABC song. It's gone through a myriad of versions, though, each one closer to enunciating the letters more clearly. Now, as the older cousin, he helps his little cousin learn the ABC song:

When it came to identifying and writing his letters, though, my son refused! I had managed to get him to identify a few letters, such as S or O, while playing with our alphabet puzzles, but once he realized what I was doing, he would stubbornly stop.

As a teacher and a Mommy, this disheartened me. I found myself in a conundrum: I didn't want to force my young son to learn his ABCs for fear of tarnishing his desire to learn but I really wanted him to learn them! So, I began looking for engaging, authentic ways to help him identify and practice writing his letters.

From my research and reading on emergent writing, learning to write as a social activity was a common theme. As an educator, I already knew this! From my own experiences collaborating with peers and through my use of cooperative learning with my students, I know that we learn through our interactions with others. What I failed to realize with my son was that our daily interactions were ripe with opportunities for him to practice his writing!

I touched on some of these possibilities in an article written by Kelley Mayer (2007) titled "Emerging Knowledge About Emergent Writing". In her article, Mayer suggests children help their parents "construct grocery lists or writer letters or emails to distant family members" (p. 35). This was the spark I was looking for to ignite my own inspirations, and I began seeing our daily routine through a new perspective, that of opportunity :-)

One day, while thrift store shopping (one of my favorite past times), I came across a simple, wooden easel. On one side, it had a chalkboard and on the other, a white board. Seeing it from my new lens, I saw its potential as a Menu board....

The next morning, I made a huge production about our new Menu board, and how I was going to write our breakfast on it, just like we see at restaurants. Well, this intrigued my son so much that he wanted to help! I wrote the first letter of each breakfast item on a piece of paper. Using my paper as a model, my son wrote the letters on our Menu board: "W" for waffles and "S" for sausage...

A lover of silliness, my son likes to make silly faces for our pictures, but Mama loves his handsome smile; so we compromised and took one of each....

The next morning, without my prompting, my son asked if he could change our Menu board. Of course!! He erased yesterday's letters and, with my modeling, wrote a "T" for toast and an "E" for eggs....

Later that day, he was really inspired and wanted to write our lunch menu down: "N" for noodles and "C" for carrots...

I couldn't believe the reaction my simple thrift store Menu board got! In Classrooms That Work: They Can All Read and Write, the authors say, "children who are successful at becoming literate view reading and writing as authentic activities from which they get information and pleasure" (p. 2). This is what I want for my son; and, through activities such as our Menu Board, I think we are on the right track!

Certainly, a feat worthy of celebrating :-) Share your celebrations at Ruth Ayres Writes!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Re-purposing Our Students

I love to thrift store shop! The possibilities of finding some hidden treasure wells up inside of me as I enter a store! I scramble to my favorite sections, quickly scanning the shelves for my list of collectibles: book ends, globes, and bird cages. I then retrace my steps, taking time to discover any oddities, such as an antique cast-iron Mancala game board; at least, that's what I think it is :-)

My favorite thing to do with my second-hand store finds is to re-purpose a seemingly ordinary, mundane object into a completely unique, out-of-the-box item!

This morning, after dropping my son off with my mom, I decided to give myself just a few minutes of freedom before chaining myself to my computer. Upon entering one of my favorite thrift stores, my eyes instantly feel upon a dome-shaped, metal container. Initially, I thought it looked like a bread box, and I was right!

But, as I held it, another image crystallized in my mind! Since I don't need a bread box, I thought it might serve as a functional garage for my son's collection of cars:

This way, he could still have his cars out in the living room, but when not in use, they could be cleverly concealed inside a sleek parking garage:

The idea of re-purposing items I find at thrift stores made me think of some of my students. You know, the ones who come to us broken or beat-down by an education system that they just can't seem to conform to? When these students come to me, they have very little self-value. They have buried themselves beneath years of trouble and strife, forgetting that they, too, have a purpose!

When I look at these students, I try not to see the labels others have given them; I try to look beyond the troublesome category in which they have been placed. What I try to see in each one of these students is their potential: what they can become! These possibilities might not fit into the compartmentalized world of our public school system, but just as I discovered this morning, a bread box doesn't have to hold bread; it can hold cars!

Why can't our students be re-purposed, too? Rather than rows of "cookie-cutter" students who obligingly regurgitate the day's lesson, why can't we have classrooms and schools that think outside-the-box and embrace a student's potential? We can! And, more and more, I see it!

To provide my own personal experience, I received a 5th grade student one year that came with much baggage! He was notorious for being a "trouble-maker" and "class clown". In 4th grade, he had often been sent to my classroom just to give his teacher a break!

So, on our first day of 5th grade, I privately conferenced with this young man and told him he would start the year off with a clean slate. Knowing some of his background, as I had had his older brother two years prior, I knew that his parents placed a lot of pressure on him to be smart. Unfortunately, he spent most of his time fighting to get out of this box in which he had been placed because, in addition to his intelligence, he was quite funny!

Using this information to my advantage, I placed this student in charge of our Weekly Idiom. For this job, my student was responsible for choosing two students to be his assistants, one girl and one boy. The trio would pick an idiom from my "Scholastic Dictionary of Idioms", and then devote their free time over the coming days to creating a skit that they would perform in front of the class.

My student was spectacular at this job! He was able to expend his creative and hilarious energy on the Weekly Idiom that, for the most part, he was much more focused and attentive to his other studies! Of course, we weren't completely without incident, but his grades and behavior markedly improved.

In a way, I had helped re-purpose my student into a "studious comedian", in which both facets of his personality, his intelligence and his humor, were celebrated!

This was my little Slice of Life this week :-)