Slice of Life, Chapter 12

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

It was all about praise in my classroom yesterday. Our school is part of the Peacebuilder’s network and The Responsive Classroom, which means that we work on a social curriculum designed to foster positive peer interaction. I’m not always sure how much my students buy into it, though. They seem to just drone out our morning Peacebuilder’s Pledge that asks them to seek out wise friends, notice the hurts they cause and make ammends,etc.

It has become just words rolling off their lips. I can tell and it bothers me. It’s not that I am all into Peacebuilders program, per se, but I am into peace and the cooperative nature of my classrooms. I know that not every student is going to get along with every other student every day of the week, but I certainly expect them to respect each other as individuals.

Yesterday, I tried to move them into a place where such ideas make sense to them in a meaningful way. We began converting some of the walls of my classroom into a Praise Wall. We use colored sheets of paper where students can write notes in praise of each other. This is not about telling your friend that you like them. It’s not about false praise. It’s not a contest to see who gets the most praise. It’s about recognizing the actions of others by identifying them as people, explaining the things that make them noticed, and then signing off on the note.

As you can imagine, this is a mixed bag of messages for my 11 and 12 year olds, but most of them got it, I think. Each of my four classes spent time building the wall with their words and even those kids who seem to fall outside of the traditional circles of friends were being praised. Such things warm my heart, I don’t mind saying.

Here are a few of the words that now don my wall. They all begin with praise for an individual:

  • for being there when I feel bad. You are always a pal.
  • for helping me in math when the teacher is busy.
  • for picking up those pencils in library when nobody else was watching.
  • for always asking me if I am OK.
  • for standing by me through thick and thin.
  • for helping me up when I fell down into that deep puddle.

I was helping a student with some writing when another of my students tapped me on the shoulder.

“Mr. H,” she said, holding up a pink Praise Note. “I wrote something for you.”

I took the paper. She was praising me “for caring about the people of Darfur and working to help people other than himself.” I smiled and thanked her, but what I really wanted to do was give her a warm hug (not allowed, of course). She made my day.

Peace (everywhere and all the time),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Eleven

( I seem to have been off a day with my chapters, so I am skipping Chapter 10 and moving right into Chapter 11).

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

The sun was bright so the older boys were out — one on a bike ride around the neighborhood and the other on a walk with a friend. Neither went out the door with a jacket, so I almost yelled at them to get back in here and bundle up. Then, I figured: what’s the use? There’s freedom in being able to abandon your jacket for the fresh air. I let it go. There’s too much snow on the ground, though, and there was a biting nip left in the air. But still … still … Spring is inching its way closer, I can tell.

I thought about this as I went out in the backyard to put some rotting veggies and fruits in the compost bin (our little effort to cut down on the landfill and create some black gold). I came upon what remains of our Christmas tree poking up through a pile of ice and snow. I felt the urge to dangle an angel on the top, just as a way of angling my faith for warmer weather. My youngest son spied the Christmas tree out the window and he demanded to know what it is doing there. He doesn’t understand that it has been there for months and only now, with the thaw, is it coming back into view. (We had to remove the tree from the house in the dead of the night to avoid separation anxiety. It was like a spy operation, although more like Maxwell Smart than James Bond.).

I told him that we will soon burn the Christmas tree and use the darkened ash for our garden, bringing its spirit into our world in a different way. He is alarmed at this, however. He doesn’t understand how fire can be something that is good since fire is so hot. Later, he back at the window. A little bit more of the tree was now visible, thanks to the emerging Spring. And the wreath wasn’t far away.

“Christmas tree. The wreath,” he whispers to himself. Standing behind him, I give him a hug and, together, at the window, we wait for the spring melt to continue in our yard and wonder what other treasures might reappear from beneath the white cover of snow.

Peace (in the backyard),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Nine

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

I’m going to call this The Story of the Magical Manicotti Mood Swing.

Let me set the stage: Three year old boy. Daylight Savings Time has ripped an hour from the clock. Lunch was little more than a nibble of humus and crackers and strawberries. Long hours of playing with dad. Forgotten snacktime. Van ride over the river is just enough time to doze off but not enough time to nap. Suddenly, starvation and tiredness sinks in.

It’s tantrum time.

Get situated at the dining room table and slide a plate of spinach manicotti in front of him. Calms down enough to be interested. Wipes tears from eyes. Stops screaming. Begins eating like there is no tomorrow. Then, raises the index finger of left hand high up in the air, forcing his body upward towards the ceiling.

Me: What are you doing?

Him: My finger is a potato (giggles)

Me: A potato?

Him: (ignores the question) My name is …. Apple.

Me (now confused): Apple?

Him (laughing, with manicotti sauce on his lips): My name is … Banana.

Me: Oh.

Laughing, laughing, laughing. That manicotti was working its magic last night.

Peace (in the ups and downs of the day),
Kevin

Your Days as a Couplet

You know, you are an amazing group of writers. Here I am, throwing out the concept of boiling your days down into a couplet and you don’t blink an eye. You get down to it and start writing and start sharing and you blow me away every week. I am thankful for everyone who participated again this week. I am thankful to know all of you through your writing.

Thank you.

Here are your couplets:

I got a chuckle out of Saras, as I know she has a birthday coming up (or has it come and gone?).

where did the years go from 6th grade ’til now?
the last birthday in the twenties, coming up – ka-pow!

Mary brought us into her classroom. Mary is part of a new technology team that I have put together.

digital stories all about fractions
Posters made to show all the actions!

Anne H. has long been looking at how technology is both used and mis-used and she is a colleague at the Western Massachusetts Writing Project.

A computerized tutorial program that responds to emotions–
What brave new world brings such notions?

Kathryn answered my call on Twitter (yeah!)

Bad time management and should have gone home
Instead distracted by twitter not work and writing this poem

Nothing like a load of grading to weigh you down, right, Cynthia? She writes:

Doth not it seem yon English teacher is just a bit uptight?
Perhaps grading those darn research papers hath kept her up all night.

Jane is part of the Slice of Life blog project that I discovered and jumped into, and I am happy that that she posted for this project. But I am sad she is in a bit of pain.

The train of my life has gone off the track
Derailed by the pain in my sore lower back.

Karen (who may have also ventured here from the Twitter world?)first informs us, “This is my week, so far, in a nutshell (or nuthouse, as the case may be)”:

Grading! Grading! Report cards are due!
Teacher is wishing she had the flu.

Elona crams a lot into her two lines. First, she writes: My week? What can I say except,

Anxious, confused, frustrated my students and I are
Research projects, tag clouds, wiki, Voki avatar

The weather impinged upon Barbara, and she isn’t so happy about it.

Old man winter, plaguing us with rain, wind, and snow
Closed school? ) tacking snow days to the end, ( OH NO!

Ben B. once again weaves wit with words.

Much food and few people was I then with
At a free seminar on one Adam Smith.

Karen prefaces her poem with the following thought: This couplet is about something that’s been on my mind for a few days.

If March comes in with wind that will blow
Is it a lion or lamb, and how will it go?

And Aram made a discovery of the unpleasant kind.

Her poem surprised me, so deep, so gifted.
One google later, I found it was lifted.

Aram adds: That’s how it goes, lately, Kevin.

Sue is waiting for the tube to catch her class.

This week was exciting, and the students can’t wait to see
if our local news station will be covering their podcasting on TV!

And, she adds: “Yes, This can become addicting…”

Larry, Larry, Larry. You did fine. Here is his note: “As you read this couplet, be aware that in college my poetry instructor wrote this in my final class evaluation: `Larry did write one good poem this semester.’”

At school and at the gym, at basketball I’m trying harder,
but no matter what I do, I stay at mediocre.

Jo got inspired by one of her students. She explains, “this is a bit ironic when you know that the student in question spends most of his class time, once he finally arrives, trying to covertly text message. With the number of zeros he’s accumulated, he’s doing pretty well to have as high a failing grade as he does. ;)

Her couplet:

“You’re the hardest teacher here!” said a student.
I smiled and said, “I take that as a compliment.

And Bonnie was the reluctant poet this week. Reluctant, but brave.

Snowstorms last weekend, floods today.
And Mother Nature just keeps on laughing away.

Next week, the host of the roving Day in a Sentence will be Anne M. from Australia, so be on the look-out for that announcement and join Anne on another writing adventure.

Peace (in verse),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Eight

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Last night, I was accused of being a “Northampton Nationalist.” I accept that label, with pride. Northampton is the city where I live and it is a wonderful little place, with a vibrant downtown full of the arts and restaurants and music clubs. The outskirts where I own a home is a peaceful place. It is a neighborhood of giving and supportive people. I love that we are raising our family here.

The comment about my nationalism came following a Letter to the Editor that I wrote to the local newspaper on the topic of our city’s Poet Laureate program. It was published yesterday morning. This is the second time the city has chosen someone who does not live within our city for the post and it completely befuddles me. I know the reason — they want a higher profile — but I can’t fathom why we can’t have someone who lives here representing poetry for our residents. (The two Poet Laureates who are the outsiders are this year’s Leslee Newman — a talented writer and educator — and Martin Espada — a fantastic political poet). We even have a very active Poet Society that puts on shows and readings and events.

The playful accusation came during a large block party called The Spring Blues, in which more than 150 neighbors, complete with hordes of kids, gathered together to eat 35 pizzas and try to win an assortment of prizes (ie, junk) in a fun-filled raffle that also raises money for our neighborhood civic association. We did not want the cast-iron potbelly stove nor the doggy shade tent, but we came home with a box of baseball cards, 15 small rubber duckies, a large fire truck (the catch of the night for the three year old), a white stuffed bear and a potato gun (there’s gonna be trouble, I can tell).

Eight people at the party pulled me aside to agree with my letter to the newspaper, so I guess I was on to something.

Here is my letter:

I am writing to both praise and question the city’s Poet Laureate program. I heap plenty of kudos on the initiative because, as a writer and as a teacher of young writers, I think the role of a City Poet is such a wonderful concept. I love that we as a city can celebrate writing and poems in this way and that the Poet Laureate is designated to act as a sort of ambassador into the world of rhythm and rhyme and verse. What I don’t understand is how we can be choosing Poet Laureates who don’t actually live in Northampton and then call them the Northampton Poet Laureate. This is not to be considered criticism about Leslee Newman, who is a fantastic writer and who works diligently with others to promote the power of writing. (I also understand she used to live here but no longer does). I know there may be a desire for a higher-profile person on the part of the selection committee. But I believe that we have such talent in Northampton itself and such a diverse group of writers that we should be able to choose someone who is now living in the city and who is part of our city life to be the designee. It strikes me as wrong that we need to seek talent from outside our community. I would rather have our poets come from within the city itself.

Peace (in pizza and life slices),
Kevin

Slice of Life, Chapter Seven

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

Not more than four years ago, I could barely turn on a computer and use anything other than MS Word. Today, my home seems littered with technological debris. It’s amazing how quickly the Revolution takes place.

This was brought to my mind last night as our older sons pitted my wife and I against each other in some tangled version of “Are you smarter than your spouse.” The boys were asking us trivia questions and my wife and I were expected to shout out the answer — the quickest answer got the point. My wife is much smarter than I am and quick on the draw, too, so I was down in the points column for some time (ie, forgot that the capital of Illinois is Springfield and I shouted out Thomas Edison for discovery of electricity — doh — too much pressure, I tell ya).

At one point, we were all unclear about a question and answer, and my wife told the boys to get a dictionary and look it up. Now, we have dictionaries all over the place (when both of your parents are educators, that will happen). But they looked at us as if we were some oddities from another planet.

“Let’s just Google it,” the older one said.

“No, get a dictionary,” my wife insisted.

They went into the other room and ostensibly came back with the dictionary, but later, I found my computer screen on Google, with information to the answer we were seeking. I guess they could not resist. The technology is there, so why not use it? (I imagine they thought if it this way and, well, why not?)

That’s when I glanced around my house and thought about all of the technology that we have and the world they are growing up in. What are we exposing them to?

So here is my Household Technology Inventory:

  • One Dell desktop computer (about 5 years old now but still running smooth)
  • One Dell laptop (mostly used for movie editing and for workshop presentations)
  • One XO laptop (my little green machine)
  • One Canon digital videocam
  • One Pure Digital flash video camera (the pocket-sized one)
  • Two digital cameras
  • Four MP3 Players (don’t ask)
  • One digital voice recorder
  • An assortment of flash drives
  • Plus, the usual array of microphones and speakers, etc

What about you?

Peace (in too much cool stuff),
Kevin

PS — I made a strong comeback in the trivia game, correctly getting the capital of Puerto Rico and the years that Franklin Pierce was president (pure guess). We celebrated by having the boys put away laundry. Mom and Dad were both winners!

Slice of Life, Chapter Six

(This is part of the Slice of Life Project)

It’s pothole season and I feel it in my teeth. Here is my dilemma: there is long way to get to school that is boring and non-descipt and there is a short way to school that is quite a lovely road. I, of course, want to go the short way, and not just for the time saved. It wanders through the open fields and pastures of some local farms, moving through quiet residential neighborhoods. At one point, the road opens up onto the top of the hill with a fantastic view of a local mountain and a sloping farm with horses. I get some comfort saying a silent hello to Mr. Ed out in the fields.

So, you say, what’s the problem? Take the short scenic route.

The problem is that this time of year, after all of the snow and ice and rainfall, the entire road comes alive with car-killing potholes. Due to ts relative quiet, the road is barely on the local public works map. Driving to school becomes a death sport, swerving to avoid the holes that were not there the say before and cringing at every dip in the road. If if were safe to close your eyes, you would do it.

And so, my teeth hurt from every bump and bang in the road that jars the car into submission. It’s already at the point where I am considering the long way to school, if only to avoid a costly trip to the local garage for an alignment. Remember? It was me wishing for Spring? Yeah. I just don’t remember putting in an order for the potholes that come along with. I guess I had a classic case of New England Amnesia.

Peace (in dips and holes),
Kevin

My Darfur-ian Day: blogs, podcasting, social action

My students were so excited to be part of the Many Voices for Darfur project. They were writing and then blogging and then podcasting and then reading the blog posts of other students and we even attempted a Skype call with the students from The Blurb (didn’t quite work out but excitement generated was worth the attempt)

At last count, I saw more than 450 comments on the Many Voices for Darfur blog. Wow.

One of my students really wanted to make a slideshow about Darfur:

christdarfur

briDarfur

briDarfur (5)

christdarfur (1)

christdarfur (2)

christdarfur (3)

And here are the class podcasts (they are a bit long):

The kids are now talking about ways to raise some money to help the Darfur relief agencies and we are bouncing around some ideas. I love that the writing and blogging is moving into social action.

Peace (in the world),
Kevin

Twitter — explained

Wanna know about Twitter?
The folks at Common Craft have done it again.

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/ddO9idmax0o" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

@Peace (in the twitterverse),
Kevin

Darfur Project: An overview and a launch

The Many Voices for Darfur was the focus of a recent Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast in which students and teachers talk about the blogging social action project that launches today and tomorrow to gather many posts from young people around the world.

Listen to the TTT episode.

If you want to learn more, or if you want to get your students involved, you can head to the Many Voices for Darfur Project.

Peace (with students taking action),
Kevin