If I Could Write to a Book Character –

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Dear Miss Rumphius,

Thank you for giving our world more flowers. You are so sweet. I love the lupines you gave to our world. You are like the nicest person ever. You are a wonderful citizen. If you were alive today, I bet there would be lupines everywhere. Because of what you did to our earth to make it more beautiful, I think you are beautiful. All because of you. You have a very big heart and I think you should be a gardener.,

Love you dearest,

Emerson – 3rd grader at  Shafer Elementary

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Forget Prepositions, Let’s Just Read…

For those of you who do not know, I am teaching the language arts portion to two home-school children this year. Today’s post is a result of my time spent with my third grader, Lorenzo, this morning. I had intended on spending about an hour on grammar this morning… but as I’ve said before, sometimes the best lessons come when you least expect them. We worked so hard yesterday on grammar that I wanted to begin today’s lesson with just a simple picture book. I had intended to simply read the book to Lorenzo and move on to the all important task of crossing out those prepositional phrases. However, as I began reading, Lorenzo began opening up. He began smiling. He began sharing his thoughts and feelings and opinions. I absolutely love this book and knew that it had the possibility to open up the lines of communication. But Lorenzo, took the bull by the horns and led us away from grammar today. He had so much to say about this book, that I just decided to let him say it. So without further ado, I give you Lorenzo’s guest appearance on my blog today…. Take it away, Lorenzo.

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The Book that Makes My Feelings Happy: by Lorenzo

The  picture book the fantastic flying books of mr. Morris lessmore shows us how books can be great. In the begining mr morris was writing his own story. But then a storm came and blew all of his pages away. Because of his unhappiness a book angel drops a book that leads him to a library. While he is there he becomes happy again and finishes his story. In the end mr moress goes to heaven and a girl reads his book that he left behind.my faverate part is when he takes care of the books the way they took care of him.This story makes me happy and sad at the same time because he dies but the books have been changed by him and he was changed by the books. this story shows how the way we live our lives is important because it can change other people around us and our lives can also be memories for them once we are gone.

 

Homeschool: Week 1

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Jacob and his mom, Olga, picking up a copy of the book we are reading together! Book Club for two.

“The heart of human excellence often begins to beat when you discover a pursuit that absorbs you, frees you, challenges you, and gives you a sense of meaning, joy and passion.” My students always become like family to me… I get caught calling them my kids and on more than one occasion I’ve overheard a couple of them call me mom. Where I am lacking in numbers for a group discussion, Jacob has shown in just two days that he will pull the extra weight. I have spent two days with this young man who is not shy about expressing his opinions and view points. I say to him, “Let’s talk about the personal narrative.” He replies, “Well, can I write a personal narrative in poetry form?” I told him I loved that idea. He recalled a past time in school where he wanted to do just that but was discouraged. That is the difference in having to meet state standards and having to teach a child according to their needs and passions. Let the journey begin.

 

 

Can’t Find the Words

indexI’m staring at the keyboard, not really knowing what to say… but having so much to say. Thirteen times. I’ve read The Giver thirteen times now. Knowing the story so well and having such a strong vision of what this story was, tainted my ability to be open minded while watching it come to life on screen. I had many students contact me through various social media outlets. Their words were strong and harsh…awful. horrible. what the heck was that? Those are the words they chose to describe what they saw. And I can’t say I blame them.

Honestly, I have such mixed feelings. I found myself wanting to feel something powerful much more than I actually felt something powerful.

Rushed. I kept leaning over and whispering to Dustin… This is rushed. Too rushed. In the book Lowry does an impeccable job of allowing the sensations to linger…writing with such conviction and awe inspiring passion that the reader doesn’t just read the words. The reader gets to actually experience what Jonas experiences. It was such a disappointment to have those experiences skimmed over with a one or two minute flash on the screen. Lowry spends entire chapters describing what it feels like to experience snow and downhill and rainbows and war and connections and love. Tragedy and Joy are written so eloquently that the reader is left with a heaviness of having gone through it with Jonas. I was left feeling a little jipped. I was left feeling sad for the people sitting around me who hadn’t read the book. I asked them all. Most had not read it. 

With so much to say and not even having the words… I’ll just list. A bit ironic to list when I needed so much more depth tonight. But that seems to be the best way to make sense of it all. I was jotting down words and phrases in the dark…on a notepad… with an itty bitty golf pencil… because Dustin was afraid I’d get us kicked out if I typed notes on my phone all night. So, I give you my scribbles:

1. Drone pilot? – Asher’s not a drone pilot! He is chosen to work as an instructor of recreation!

2. “Knowing what something is is not the same as knowing how it feels” – spoken in the film by Jeff Bridges (The Giver) but not present in the book. This made me laugh because it was exactly how I was feeling at the time he said it. It would appear to me that the screen play writers knew what this story was but not how it felt.

3. Why are they showing the house this soon? It doesn’t make sense to show the house this soon. – The Giver gives Jonas a memory in the book where Jonas first comes to the realization of what love is. He experiences it in a house in winter time. There are grandparents and gifts and hugs and laughter. But all we see is a house in the movie…and way too soon! The experience is left out.

4. Keep the music! – The Giver tells Jonas in the book that it came differently to him in the beginning. It wasn’t seeing beyond. It was hearing beyond. It was music, not colors. Jonas selflessly tells the Giver to keep it for himself and not give it away. This was a strong display of Jonas’s love for the Giver. But in the movie, music is given away so haphazardly without any regard. I didn’t like it.

5. I keep missing the experience.

6.Jonas’s mother and father seem to know. – In the book they are carefree because they do NOT know. The film’s tone and mood was one of secrecy, danger, rebellion. In the book, I am sad for the characters surrounding Jonas and the Giver because they do not know what they are missing. In the book, I am angry at the characters surrounding Jonas and the Giver because they seem to be working hard to withhold truth from Jonas.

7. They entered the Annex! – It felt like a huge invasion. Lowry magnificently sets that annex room, where the Giver lives, apart. It is almost holy. But they just tear the walls down with no respect and no understanding in the movie. It didn’t feel right.

Now…Here at the end is where my notes change. The number one reason my attitude changed at the end was because the ending was new and fresh.. it wasn’t the book. It was different and untainted. Clean from what I knew.

8. Jonas’s realization that he is responsible for the lack of emotions is crucial to the new ending.

9. Jonas now has a specific purpose for wanting to make it past the boundary. In the book, Jonas is escaping to bring back joy. But in the movie, Jonas is escaping to free Fiona from death. He is escaping to free the Giver from his punishment as well. There is a sense of purpose. No ambiguity whatsoever. He NEEDS to break that boundary.

10. Fiona’s plea to Jonas’s mother is beautiful. It is also not part of the book, which is why I could see the beauty in it. It hadn’t been tainted.

11. The Giver’s plea to the elders was just as breathtaking. He throws caution to the wind and allows it all to escape. His heart is right there for them all to see and hear…. and he does that knowing that it’s gone on far too long, keeping it all inside.

12. That baby! – Oh did that sweet little boy steal the show

That’s all I’ve got. I don’t know how to eloquently write my feelings on this one because they are so mixed and jumbled up. I will end by saying that I’m pretty sure I’ll be sticking with books. You just can’t cram all that emotion into an hour and a half long film.

My Heart’s Eyes

deltaWhen I look at the South with my heart’s eyes, it’s like standing in the pages of a great book. I stand here and imagine myself in the middle of a beautiful story… Maybe a story written by Faulkner, Welty, Williams, or the like. This place has a story to tell. Some people open the pages of this place and read a story of depravity. Some read a story of racial turmoil. Some read the story of poverty and ruin. Some see an uneducated people through these pages. But then there’s the few faithful who pick up this book and read the story of tragedy AND triumph, beauty IN THE MIDST of the stereotypes, nostalgia, and loyalty IN SPITE OF the naysayers, and wisdom BEYOND what any school can afford. Opportunity is here. It may not jump out at you. You might even need to be a dreamer to discover it. Maybe that’s what this place is to me. A place for dreamers. A place to discover and dream. When you can see the forest through the trees, you’ve made it. When you can distinguish history and culture from dusty and dilapidated, you’ve arrived. If that’s you, be proud. There are few of us who remain. Mississippi needs the dreamers and the visionaries. It is they who breathe life into her ruins. I know some of these dreamers. They aren’t just entrepreneurs who are looking for the most profitable site for their new business. They are the creators, the painters, the story tellers who end up bringing success to the chapters of this great southern book. It’s an amazing book. You should read it for yourself!

  The Mississippi Delta.

Listing My Trees

“Statistically, if you’re reading this sentence, you’re an oddball. The average American spends three minutes a day reading a book. At this moment, you and I are engaged in an essentially antiquated interaction. Welcome, fellow Neanderthal!”
Dick Meyer, Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium

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My last year as a classroom teacher was by far the best in terms of seeing children not just grow academically but mature in ways that you just can’t accomplish through tests and worksheets. No piece of paper or list of skills or set of standards could have prepared me for what my students needed that particular year in that particular setting. And I owe it all to two things: passion and literature.

I write today to remind myself, as I embark on a new journey of homeschooling (not my own children), to let the process take precedence… to allow the journey to mean more than the end result. For in that journey, the intended end result will be accomplished.

When we (as teachers, or just humans for that matter) allow ourselves to get bogged down in the details, we miss out on the big picture. I’ve always been one who sees the forest, rather than the trees. I’ve always been more of a “let’s look at what we want them to get out of this instead of how we’ll get there” type of gal. And for that reason, I have seen the rewards: a child who never read a book on their own suddenly wanted more books, a child who couldn’t understand why an author would choose such tragedy rather than comedy becomes keenly aware of our need to see tragedy in order to preserve the comedy.

Because I know the forest well… today I am making a list (against my usual beginnings) of all the trees. I’m making this list to remind myself of which trees produced that beautiful forest. Forgive me for speaking so metaphorically. I just see it no other way.

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1. I will begin the year teaching and cramming in as many skills as I can so that my students can use those skills through the remainder of the year. – When the crux of the information is given first, then those elements can be drawn upon and discussed as I enter my literature. For example, if I’ve already given a foundation of what irony is, we can then look to literature to find the irony. We can stop reading and discuss when we see it happening.

2. I will begin the year teaching how to properly write a summary. – I feel that summary writing is crucial and paramount… Before diving into essays, I need to help my student(s) develop confidence in understanding a story well enough to write a catching summary. I have never been fond of the summary written to just tell the main points. I favor the summaries that give away the moral, lesson learned, theme. I favor summaries that force the writer to really ponder and stew over what the author is trying to say to their reader. I have found a formula that works well in teaching great summary writing. And although I tend to stay very far away from formulaic writing, I have come to realize that this formula forms the foundation for deep analysis.

3. READ, WRITE, READ, WRITE. – Hand in hand these two go. You can’t have one without the other. I will remember to read ALOUD and write TOGETHER until it is mastered. Every skill I want to teach, every social issue I want to discuss, every historical time I want to explain, every life lesson I want to impart can be found through story. But I can’t end with just story. I must allow my student(s) the opportunity to voice their beliefs, opinions, agreements, and disagreements. I want my student(s) to argue with me. I want them to be filled with enough passion after reading a life changing story to stand up and tell me they see it differently. I want their minds to be bursting forth with so much thought, they have to let it explode onto paper.

4. I will let the process take over. – I must remember that when a lesson takes longer than I want, or a discussion happens more hesitantly than I’m expecting, or a topic sentence just can’t be created, that these times are for pause and reflection rather than haste. I must remember to allow my student(s) to set the pace. I’m not teaching myself… I’m teaching them.

5. Most importantly, I will be present. – I will rejoice and grieve with the characters in my stories and with my student(s) so that empathy can be seen. Students know the difference between a leader who is really there with them, and one who simply needs to get that skill or topic checked off for the day. The best lessons I’ve ever taught are the ones that weren’t planned…They were the ones that were a result of student led discussion. I will wait with anticipation for those conversations to happen.

One final reminder to myself comes from the words of Jim Trelease, a guru in the world of reading aloud:

“People do not learn by information. Story is the basic fabric for intelligence because it determines how we think and behave. Stories give life to past experiences. Stories make the events in memory memorable to others and to ourselves. It is story that focuses our attention, helps us make sense out of the world around us. The politician or preacher who stands before an audience and says, ‘That reminds me of a story,’ has its attention immediately. If all we are doing in school is teaching students how to answer the calls they’ll someday get on their beepers [dating my book, here] or emails, then the curriculum is wasted. The most important calls will not come on beepers; instead they will be the daily calls for love, justice, courage, compassion. IQ and HQ (heart quotient) are both important. When we begin to focus exclusively on paper scores, we need to be reminded that the most educated nation in two thousand years led the world in math and science in 1930. It also produced the Third Reich. The Holocaust could never have happened if the German heart had been as well educated as the German mind. Science and math are important but they only address the IQ, not the HQ. Have you ever heard of a child crying over the end of a math book? I rest my case.” – Jim Trelease, author of The Read Aloud Handbook

A Year Later

Contentedness came to me. I wasn’t looking for it. In fact, I was looking for the opposite. Bitterness could have come and stayed. Resentment could have made a place in my heart and remained. Grief might have won. But contentedness came.

imagesA year’s worth of roller coaster emotions have finally leveled out. Moving to Texas was hard. Leaving weighed heavily. At times, the sadness was so heavy I could hardly catch my breath. I left a job I adored, friends that made me feel important and valued and funny and needed, family who fed us on the weekends and babysat my children and went antiquing with me in the summers, a back porch that was filled with the “supper club” crew at least once a month. All those things are going on without me now. And for the first time in a year, I am okay with that. The job is still there and I see it moving on and forward without me. The friends are still there and I see many of them moving forward. The family is still there and I see them too having dinner out or birthday parties or day trips to visit other family members. Supper club still moves on and I see that too. My life there didn’t stop to grieve me. It didn’t stop and wait for me to return. It didn’t grow bitter or resentful. train carLOFT2WH

Gradually and slowly yet all at once, contentedness came to me. And somehow, that contentedness even became joy and happiness and gratitude. This place I call my home now actually feels like home. And although I am still very much Mississippi, I too am now Texas. Not sure if I’ll ever be enough Texas to enjoy the smoked barbeque (and when I say smoked, I mean it lingers… for days…relentlessly). But I am home. and I quite like it.