Halloween Memories

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I entered a meeting the other day feeling slightly harried when a teacher suggested we have a little fun for a moment and think about a halloween costume from when we were little.  Memories came back to me like a flash and since then I can’t help but thinking about my mom and her halloween talents.

Mom & Dad celebrating their
anniversary in costume!

My mom was an expert seamstress.  Not in the traditional sense of the word, rather a seamstress that could fashion a halloween costume out of almost anything.  Each year my mom would create costumes for me and each of my six siblings.  She sewed for hours on end, working on her sewing machine and creating something wonderful using some old discarded dress, shirt, or small piece of fabric that was found around the house. I was always surprised with her ideas and recall outfits to make me feel as if I were Mary Poppins or even the flying nun. I can feel confident in saying that she was the best halloween costume designer because each year most of the seven of us would walk home with the silver dollar prize in the local halloween parade.  
And if that were not enough, once she finished creating the seven costumes for us, she began on hers and dad’s costume!  Since they were married on Halloween they typically celebrated the event in masquerade style!   
I am not sure how my mom found the energy and stamina to get all these costumes done but she did so every year and with grace and style.  I probably never really thanked you for those costumes, so today I say to you in heaven, thanks for making halloween memorable mom!

Learning – and Teaching – From My Mistakes

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Learning – and Teaching – From My Mistakes

My social media feed was blowing up with its glowing reviews of After the Fall by Dan Santat. Kirkus Reviews said it was “A validating and breathtaking next chapter of a Mother Goose favorite,”  The School Library Journal called it “A terrific redemptive read-aloud for story time and classroom sharing,” and The Horn Book stated it was “luminous.”  These reviews encouraged me to pre-order this masterpiece. I couldn’t wait to read and share this new version of the story, thinking it would be a good fit for the many classrooms that were working on the power of persistence.
The book arrived on a Tuesday afternoon.  I was so excited to read the story that I quickly tore open the box even before taking off my jacket. I stood in the kitchen, school bags at my feet, reading the book aloud to my adult daughter, feverishly turning the pages, anxious to get to the ending.  I read so quickly and without thought that once I got to the last page I was lost, baffled and I stood there wondering what had just happened.  I realized that in my haste to get to the end, I had word-called my way through the book, not taking any time to stop and think. I felt like many of my students that simply read the book and can’t recall a single detail.  I knew I had to go back and re-read the book, this time slowly reading the words and pictures, trying to capture all that I missed. 
When I got to the end of the book I quickly understood why it was called luminous, a breathtaking next chapter, and a redemptive read aloud, that is as long as the reader stops and notices along the way! I was now so in love with the book that I wanted to share it with everyone, but I also decided to make my mistake into a teaching opportunity.  After all, how many times have we seen our students read so quickly they missed the main point?  I needed to use this luminous book to share my mistakes with students so that they could learn how not to read the book or any book for that matter.
To help me model reading is thinking, I decided to use a technique known as the know / wonder chart. I first heard about using this format to make thinking visible during my summer #cyberpd study of Vicki Vinton’s book: Dynamic Teaching for Deeper Reading, and I knew I wanted to try it out.  My visits to classrooms began by telling my story of reading quickly and getting to the end and being confused by the story.  I asked the students if this had ever happened to them.  Most hands went up. It was then that I shared how the second time I read After the Fall, I spent more time looking at the pictures, and stopping to think about what happened,  and changing my predictions along the way.  All of these strategies helped me to truly understand the story.  Finally, I shared the importance of stopping and thinking when reading a book using the know / wonder chart as a tool to help with this thinking.  As we read the book we stopped at key locations to think, change our predictions and wonder a little more.  When we finally reached the end of the story the children’s expression showed me that real thinking and deep understanding had taken place.  Their surprise and astonishment of what had happened “after the great fall”  was unmistakably a sign of deep comprehension, and more importantly joy in understanding a great story.  

Our know / wonder charts were messy, filled with cross-outs and arrows and ideas, but as we reflected on our learning, I knew that making our thinking visible through the charting led the students to a greater understanding of the story.  More importantly I was thrilled that my mistake, my first quick read of the words in the story, created an important comprehension opportunity for all.

Oh, and the book: After the Fall?  You HAVE TO READ IT!  It’s brilliant!

Oh No! Not Yet!

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Oh No! Not Yet!

I was running late for work when I looked out the window to see my car covered once again in dew.
Oh No! Not Yet!

I checked the thermometer – 39 degrees.
Oh No! Not Yet!

I opened my car door and decided I should put on my gloves.
Oh No! Not Yet!

I started the car and turned on the wipers – frost?
Oh No! Not Yet!

I opened the trunk and dug it out.
Oh No! Not Yet!

Scrape, scrape, scrape.
Oh No! Not Yet!

But Wait – didn’t I post about the glorious weather last week?
But still…
Oh No! Not Yet!

I am not ready for winter to arrive.
Oh No! Not Yet!

One More Time

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One More Time

The beautiful, summer-like weather we have been experiencing in New England this October has allowed me to capture a few more stolen moments of summertime. This month I found myself saying over and again “just one more time.”

Just one more time to…
    watch the sunset on the boat
    kayak across the lake
    swim to the rocks
    jump off the dock
    float on the tube
    eat on the deck
    read on the lounge chair
    splash in the water

Just one more time… 

until next summer.


You Can Do It!

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You Can Do It!

My brother in law Joe, stopped by last Saturday while I was cleaning my garage.  He was commenting on the recent repairs made to the roof and siding of the garage. I lamented that I still had to solve the issue of the water dripping down from the gutter.  “That’s a simple fix  Chris!” At which point he quickly and excitedly described the steps I needed to take to get the downspout into place. He even offered to cut the gutter for me once I got home, knowing that I probably didn’t own the right tool.  There was no hesitation in his voice.  He had confidence in my ability to get the job done.  After listening to his enthusiastic directions I wanted to jump into the car and drive right to my nearby home center to get started on the task. 

Later I thought about this interaction as a great teaching move.  Joe had laid out the installation in simple steps that were easy to follow.  His enthusiasm was contagious and encouraged me to get started NOW.  What I most appreciated was his enthusiastic and  encouraging way that gave me the sense that I could do this repair job on my own. I felt confident!  His offer to cut the gutter, was that little assistance that could be put in place once I got started.  I know that Joe could have easily said he would do the job for me, but he encouraged me to do it on my own.  He had faith in my ability and gave me the tools and where-with-all to get the job done.  

The teaching moves I want to emulate are: giving simple steps, talking with enough enthusiasm and  encouragement to bring about confidence, and finally providing assistance when using new and special tools.  Thanks Joe, for providing me with the tools, know-how, and can do attitude to get the job done.  You provided me with that reminder of how I should approach my students when they encounter difficulties.  

By the way, I’ll be down next weekend to get that piece of downspout cut!