Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Apple Writing

From the Apple
I guess I've always been a writer, but as a young student I don't ever remember being taught to write or any teacher ever encouraging me to write. I do remember being in middle school and the teacher assigning a creative writing assignment. We had to write about "Red." I don't really remember what I wrote but I do remember the pieces that the teacher read out loud and I remember being blown away because they were so-o-o- good. None of the stuff that they wrote ever popped into MY head! I remember thinking that I could NEVER write like that!

Even as a young child, however, I liked to write. I had a diary. I remember writing long journal entries about everything in my life. I also remember destroying a couple of the diaries because I was afraid my mother would find them! As a young wife I wrote furiously in a journal trying to figure out how to learn to live with another person. I really didn't have a good role model for being a good wife so none of it came naturally for me. My husband used to call it my "hate" journal because I was more likely to be writing when things weren't going well or I was really upset! I still think I do my best writing when I'm fired up about something. It's easy to write with voice - with passion and emotion when I care deeply about an issue.

While I was home on maternity leave with Courtney, my writing took a dramatic turn. I had been leading a mixed group of teachers who had been meeting together once a week for a couple of years to share teaching ideas - I guess I understood collegiality way before it was the newest buzz word - and while I was out with Courtney I decided to finish the document that we had been working on for those two years. It was ideas around teaching a letter of the week to beginning readers. I had been keeping notes on all of our ideas so I decided to complete the research that we never seemed to have time to finish as a gift to the teachers when I returned. It was their idea that I try to have it published after they realized how much additional work I had put into our original ideas. I thought it was lark but decided to send the manuscript off to six publishers. I knew so little about publishing but within two weeks I had a contract for my first book. However, there were many delays and it was not published until five years later in 1991, A is Amazing. I just happened to submit a manuscript that a particular publisher was looking for at that particular time so the contract was immediate, but the publisher was going through some editorial changes that caused many delays and frustrations. Now, of course, the idea of "letter of the week" has fallen out of favor and of course, the book is out of print, but at the time it became a best seller for the company and within 6 months I had a contract for another book and so it went. I published 10 books with that company over the next few years.

In the meantime I had been publishing ideas in The Mailbox and they invited me to a Summer Writing Institute where I joined eight other authors from across the country that were all doing freelance work for the The Education Center which publishes The Mailbox Magazines. I went to Greensboro, NC for two summers to learn to write the "Mailbox" way and it was both intimidating and awesome. At the summer retreat I met three other teacher-writer-moms who lived in different parts of the country. We decided to propose a series of books to The Education Center while we were there and to our surprise, they accepted our proposal. For the next four years the four of us wrote books using e-mail. It was before Google Docs or any of the on-line pieces that make cooperative writing so easy. It was cumbersome but it was the first time The Education Center had a completed manuscript that was done outside of their offices that didn't require major revision. Those three women were funny, creative, and wonderful co-writers and I am richer for having known and worked with each one of them. Just remembering that time in my life puts a smile on my face!

During those ten years I wrote or co-authored 19 books for teachers. When I think about it, I am awed by how prolific I was and I am proud of that accomplishment. I could not have done it if my husband had not been so willing to take up the slack. He learned to wash clothes and dishes during those years as I often wrote through the night to meet a deadline while I taught full time. I tried for my writing not to take time away from my children and so I wrote late at night, very early in the mornings, and while they were away with friends. I loved it, but there came a time when I felt it was taking too much of my time... so before Courtney left home, I decided to put down the pen and spend time with her. It was a good decision.

In the meantime, I joined a new faculty and began a steep learning curve into a new chapter in my life. I haven't really been moved to take on a book project or at least, when I thought maybe I wanted to, things just didn't seem to piece together easily so that I really felt it was what I was suppose to do. I usually get very clear messages about what I am suppose to be doing - nothing like the burning bush, of course, but still pretty clear! Today I write on a more immediate level. I have written about the work I'm doing now in magazines and for some on-line publications, when asked, and I love blogging about my work. I work with incredible teachers. I've written some units for and with the teachers I work with now and then have sent them out to anyone that wanted them. That actually has been very gratifying.

I am not, nor will I ever be, the world's greatest writer. I don't write deep pieces with great thoughts that will change the world. I don't write "funny," because actually I'm not really a very funny person. I just write about the world as I see it and hope that something I say might resonate and make a difference...

I do believe that the varied experiences that I have had have made me a better writing teacher. I think I understand many of the reasons that people write and I realize that children need to learn to write for many different reasons. It is my job to release the inner writer's voice that is in each of my children so that whatever it is that they will need to do, they will be equipped to do it - whether it's texting or therapy or writing the next great novel. Here's to that writer in each of us!

Monday, November 29, 2010


From the Star
I have found over the years that, much to my surprise, I love to write. I find peace when I write and find that it is often easier to share my thoughts and feelings through my pen. If you know me you may be saying that all I do is talk, and that would be a fact, but the thing that a lot of people don't know about me is I don't like to talk about my deepest feelings. While I can talk to you for hours about random things and I can mope and groan and complain for hours on end, but when it comes to sharing my true feelings, I hit a block. I find that writing helps me to open up and also relieves stress. Over the years I have written many poems and letters to friends and loved ones and now recently I have started enjoying writing this blog with my mother. I feel that writing gives me a chance to show my true colors while sharing my feelings and thoughts with others. I also find that writing gives me a chance to be creative and imaginative. I can loose myself for a while and get lost in a story in my mind. I love sharing stories and talking with friends, but I find a true passion when it comes to writing.

I hope that being a writer will make me a better writing teacher...

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Small Moments from the Apple

From the Apple

As we wrap up the day. I sometimes play the "Skittles quiz" with the class. The quiz is simply me asking questions that review the day and kids get a single Skittle if they answer correctly. As I was reviewing the afternoon before our Mem Fox Celebration, I asked the kids what we would be doing first thing in the morning. To open our Mem Fox Celebration, we were going to be Skyping a first grade teacher in Australia. It would be the middle of the night for her! We were very excited in anticipation, but the students were not really familiar with Skype so most of them didn't really know what to expect. When I asked them, "Who remembers what we will be doing in the morning?" one of the kiddos piped up, "We're gonna be skyping the fox!" I would love to see the picture in his mind! It made me smile.

Last week we were stamping on fake "tatoos" of pumpkins and bats. We were using wooden stamps and acrylic paint and asking the children if they wanted the stamps on their face or on their arms. As one of the little girls sat down, she pulled the collar of her dress down to show the space right over her breast and said, "Can I have mine right here?" We said, "Absolutely not!" but it still made me smile! My day is full of those small moments that make me smile for I know from experience that I’ll look back and realize all of these funny little moments add up to something special, something important, something irreplaceable.

Small Moments

From the Star
Every day as a teacher we face challenges that either make us or break us. When I teach I can say that some days I feel like I could just give up, but then I remember why I choose to teach. It's those small moments that make it so worthwhile. I can not choose just one moment because I feel that every day offers so many - new learning experiences. Every day my children bring joy to my life. Every difficult challenge is matched by two or more good small moments - chances to grow as a person and an educator.

Over this last year I have learned that every child is different and that each child learns at his own pace. I have learned a lot of patience. I have learned how to deal with those students that are called "difficult." I like to look at those students as my chance to learn. I think the bond that I make with the child that might not be the easiest will be remembered and cherished. I know that if I can find that bond with them that we will be able to work and learn together. It's about relationships. At least I have found this to be true this year with one student in particular. While my days with him are very challenging, he has taught me that there is much more to life then just teaching. It is finding the connection with a child and building off of his strengths that makes the difference. It is understanding where he is coming from and why he sometimes acts the way he does. It is about never giving up and pushing that child. It is opening your heart to a child. Those are the moments that stay in my memory.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The book that made the Biggest Impact

From the Apple

Wow - this was really a difficult post to write. There are so many books that I have loved - so many that I have read that have left an impression or that have taught me about life. I really struggled with which book had the greatest impact.

I finally settled on a series of books. When I was in the 3rd-4th grade I was introduced to a series of books called The Dana Sisters written by Carolyn Keene. She was probably more famous for the Nancy Drew series. Of course now I know Carolyn Keene was a pseudonym for several different writers who wrote under the Carolyn Keene name. The Dana Sisters were a cross between the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew but those books really hooked me. Each story was a
mystery that was solved by the two sisters. It was the first series of books that I ever read - books with strong independent young women - the first time I got so hooked on books. At the time I got an allowance - my lunch money plus a dollar a week. The books cost a dollar and I spent my allowance on the books for many weeks. The books were actually being written during that time and I remember I would go to the bookstore every single week to see if a new book had been published. A new book was like a golden prize.

I guess the reason I think those books made the biggest impact is because they opened up a whole new world - the world of being entertained by a book - a habit that would become such an enjoyable part of my life. If I could do one thing for each child in my class it would be to give them that gift of a love for reading. Not only is reading for information a critical skill, the ability to lose yourself in the story of a good book or the ability to cry at a true story that touches your heart or the ability to search the Bible for answers in times of great struggle or the simple ability to enjoy a picture book with your child, add such depth and dimension to your life. May that seed be planted in every child that walks through the door...

reposted from http://timmonstimes.blogspot.com

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Star's Favorite Childhood Book

From the Star
So, as a child I was read many books aloud and the one that I remember the most is Matilda. I heard this book read aloud by my third grade teacher Ms. Handler. I remember this book the most because it was about a girl who grew up with many obstacles in her family and found faith and enjoyment in reading. I am not sure if this book made such an impact on my life because Matilda always overcame her fears and lived in a positive world or if it was because she was such an amazing reader. From my older blogs you know that I was not always a great reader but the book Matilda really boosted my self esteem and showed me that if Matilda could overcome so much then maybe I could one day overcome my struggles in reading. I read this book many times as a child and watched the movie when it came out and still enjoy the book today. I have recommended this book to many of my students.

It is amazing the things you remember as a child and the impacts that they have on your adult life. I try to remember that lesson teach my students. So when you think about those students that seem so lost and feel that they have already slipped too far under, I remember that I can be the one to make the difference.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Apple Mathematician?

From the Apple

There is no question that math is an important part of my day from balancing my checkbook to figuring out how to convert a recipe to appropriate Weight Watcher measurements to figuring out how many days until my niece's wedding. And of course, teaching is run on data these days so there is hardly ever a day when I'm not trying to interpret some sort of assessment information! I guess I am fortunate that Math has always come very easy for me. I grew up in a Southern county that had an excellent math prep program and I actually tested out of all Math in college. It will surprise most of my friends to know that I actually started my freshman year of college as a math major! However, it didn't last long. It was the start of a long list of majors that included Religion, Psychology, and Social Work before I finally settled on Special Education as a Senior! I had especially loved Algebra in middle school when I first started advanced Math. It came really easy and I loved my teacher. I actually went back to teach in that same middle school many years later and taught in the classroom beside her! She was as outstanding then as she had been when I was a student.

I'm not sure that any of that prepared me to be a Math teacher. As I have begun to teach an inquiry-based Math program, I have felt as unsettled as some of my students. I have really had to dig to remember the HOW I know something works. I just know the answer but I don't always know how I know it. It's a lot like reading comprehension. You know the answer because you have learned to use strategies automatically. It took a while for me to break through HOW I knew the answer and to identify the strategies and proof when I first starting taking reading comprehension apart. I think it will work that same way with Math. I know the answer automatically, but I will have to really search for the strategies and proof of how I got the answer. I am thinking that it may take as much creativity and depth of research in Math as it has in Reading! I do think Math strategies are more straight forward which I think will make them a little easier to teach. We'll see!

repost from http://timmonstimes.blogspot.com

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Apple's Class Poll

From the Apple
We are deep in the midst of a Mem Fox Author Study. This is our third week and the children are digging deeper as they are comparing and contrasting books, retelling the stories in pictures and words, and are talking about the descriptive way in which Mem Fox describes her characters. For this week's survey, I thought I'd ask each student which was their favorite Mem Fox character and why. We discussed the characters and then each child joined a table group and wrote characteristics of one of the characters. We shared out the results. Then they each took a index card and and drew a picture of their favorite character on one side and on the other side wrote why that particular character was their favorite. Finally we graphed the results. Looks like little Hush from Mem Fox' Possum Magic is the class favorite. I'm not surprised. He started out as invisible so the snakes couldn't see and harm him and when he wanted to become visible so he could see himself, Grandma Poss traveled with him all over Australia trying native foods until she figured out exactly what would break the spell. Hush is adorable, knows what he wants, and loves an adventure. Hmmmm...sounds a lot like the kids who voted for him!
repost from http://timonstimes.blogspot.com

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Poll and Math Blog Challenge

So... I have decided to take on the blog challenge which means that I write about a different topic each week that is posted on our blog. Since I missed last week I am just going to do an all-in-one kind of blog this week. I will start with the class poll. Asked my student who was their favorite author. No surprise - Mary Pope Osborne won by a landslide with 10 out of 13 students voting for her as their favorite. My students can't get enough of those Magic Tree House books. It is so crazy to think that last year when I had a combo class of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders that not one of my students chose those books. they often called them primary, but now that I am teaching 3rd grade only my students love them. Trying to get them to read something else is like pulling teeth. So, I would find it very interesting if they did a study to find out if 3rd graders in a multi-aged setting feel intimidated by the other students. Are multi-age classes a good or a bad thing. Another thing that I have noticed this year is that I am having behavior issues with some of the 3rd graders but in a multi-aged setting you find that there are no behavior issues with the 3rd graders and very few of the 4th graders. 5th graders rule! Would love to hear anyone's thoughts about this.

Okay so back to my second topic - all about math. I talked last time about how I was a struggling reader. I have a little bit more of a happy story when it comes to math. Let's just say without my math skills and my higher testing in math, I may have never made it to college because my reading scores were burying me fast. But, do I consider myself a mathematician? No. I can say that I always loved math and that it came easy to me, especially when it came to number crunching and equations. I can honestly say that if I would have grown up with the math series that we are teaching with now I probably would have hated math because it is all based on reading! Is it really fair to take away kids love for a subject by making it almost impossible for them to do it? I mean students are already being tested in reading and I understand the need for critical thinking skills, but everything is now critical thinking skills. All those students who are good in math, but are struggling readers, are now struggling in math too. I fear they will hate school, if they don't find anything where they excel. I think that is why it is so important that as teachers we continually point out students' strengths and find things that they are good at.

With so much emphasis on reading these days it is also important as teachers that we are teaching reading strategies to our students as early as we possibly can so that they have time to learn and practice the skills so that they can be successful in all areas.

Back to math- I can say that there is a lot of things that we learn in math that I have never used as an adult. But, I can also say that I use basic math skills everyday. In fact my ability to crunch numbers comes as more of a burden than a good thing as an adult. Now instead of enjoying the money that I make I just stress about the money that I don't have... which leads to no sleep! If money only grew on trees! Well I'll leave you with this - may each day and its challenges come as a blessing and not a burden.