Thursday, May 29, 2008

Grammar Girl

Grammar Girl here.” is the opening of each episode of the most clever, useful podcast on the Internet.

Can you end a sentence with a preposition? Does the word “writers” get an apostrophe when used in “writers strike?” Is the serial comma required? Is it, “I feel bad.” or “I feel badly.”? How do I decipher the proper use of “affect” and “effect?”

These four-to-six minute lessons are perfect for any English class and are an excellent way to help young writers understand the peculiarities of our language. Before the Internet, I always had my Warriner’s English Composition and Grammar: Complete Course near by when I had a grammar question. Now, there is “Grammar Girl.”

Also, “Grammar Girl” is good about helping listeners understand that there is a difference between what is grammatically correct and what is common, acceptable usage. Meet GG on YouTube.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on the Brain

If you are looking for a little inspiration in your life first read the NYTimes SundayStyles article "A Superhighway to Bliss" by Leslie Kaufman, then click to Jill Bolte Taylor's TED (Technology, Education, Design) Talk. Not unlike Daniel Pink's take on left brain/right brain ideas, Taylor's 18-minute, February 2008 TED Talk speaks to the differences between the two hemispheres in a way that is fascinating and inspirational.

Or, read about Dr. Taylor's work, but do try to see the TED Talk.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Introduce Classical Music to Children

It wasn’t until college that I began appreciating classical music. From that time on, I’ve always been intrigued with classical music, in particular, those compositions that musically paint vivid pictures. I distinctly remember Vivaldi's Four Seasons (Spring), Mendelssohn ’s “Overature to a Midsummer Night's Dream” and Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overature.” Each one captured my imagination and helped me to hold on to music that for my first 18 years was boring, foreign, and did not hold a candle to the Beatles, Jim Croce, Carol King . . . As my ear became more discrete, I moved on to Saint Saens “Carnival of the Animals” (Cuckoo in the woods), Berlioz's "The March to the Scaffold," and Mossorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition."

The love and appreciation for music would eventually provide an entrĂ©e for my serving as president of a local symphony board. In this position I became intimate with the conductor’s work, the beauty of a symphony orchestra, and the exquisite sound of individual instruments.

Try playing the selections above to children and see the pictures they paint for them and for you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Diversity in Six Words

As our faculty and staff learn more about diversity, we are exploring what it means to us as individuals through workshops and a summer reading. At a recent faculty and staff meeting I asked everyone to write in six words what diversity means to each of them. Here are some of our six-word descriptions:
• BHMS values, nurtures, and supports diversity
• People unafraid to be themselves together
• Pride and confidence for all children
• A warm community: a global family
• Thoughtful meaning of life without class
• BHMS eliminates bias and fosters peace

Look at my May 1, "Writing in Six Words" post to get a better understanding of the exercise of writing in six words.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Importance of Listening

In my work with children, I often monitor how much parents, children, and teachers talk and how much they listen.

On my iPod, I have an oldie tune that I love, because it has such a powerful, urgent message . . . "You can listen as well as you hear. It's too late when we die to admit we don't see eye to eye." You must click on this beautiful 5-minute video to see images, hear The Living Years by Mike and the Mechanics, and capture the importance of listening before it is too late.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Internet Booster Shot

When I wrote the article "Internet Abuse" for the summer 2002 Independent School magazine, I never realized at that time technology would become so incredibly sophisticated for students, parents, and teachers.

Before the end of this school year, our school will be offering an Internet Booster Shot class to our parents. Based on excerpts form "Growing Up Online," a PBS special, and student survey data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project (please take some time to review both of these fabulous resources) and our own students, the librarian, Director of Technology, Program Director, and teachers hope to convey a message of understanding and perspective for our parents.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Dropping the Ball – Part 2

. . . in a matter of a minute, I watched one child pick up one ball in her left hand and run and drop it into the bag. Another child ran to a cluster of balls, captured one with her left hand, another with her right hand and ran back to the bag. And yet, I saw a different child pick up one ball in his right hand, cradle his left arm into a basket and gather five more balls. He was working intently, making sure none dropped on his precarious walk to the bag.

I saw a little three-year old dragging a plastic milk crate she found in the corner of the gym. She was pulling it along, collecting balls as if they were cotton during harvest time. Her efforts netted her 11 balls in one trip.

Finally, out of the corner of my eye, I could see a little tyke on the edge of the gym picking up balls and winging them aimlessly away from the ball bag. I laughed to myself and wondered.

The joy I gained in watching this class of three-year olds was short-lived. I immediately began a reverie analyzing and evaluating the worth of each child’s efforts and abilities. Wasn’t it amazing how one child was dutifully gathering just one ball, content and fulfilled with her work, while another child was collecting a multitude using a crooked arm or an available plastic crate? Is that a difference in ability? Is that an example of nurture versus nature? Or is it how giftedness is assigned? And what the heck was the little guy thinking about when he was throwing balls away from the bag?

Calling on my experience as a teacher and parent gave me pause but assurance that, in fact, these were children at play, enjoying a task, intent on pleasing themselves and their teacher.

After lunch, while sitting in the faculty room, the physical education teacher and the classroom teacher of the three-year olds walked in, and I commented on how much I enjoyed the parachute class. I asked if either teacher noticed the differences in the abilities of each child.

The classroom teacher asked me, “What do you mean?” I said, “Well, you know—the one girl who picked up just one ball; the other girl who gathered one in each hand; the boy who used his arm like a basket; and the one who dragged the crate around. And finally, what was with the boy who was throwing the balls like a major league pitcher? What a difference in abilities. I guess that’s the beginning of what distinguishes the most able from the children who struggle in their work.”

Her response was rapid fire, startling and direct. “Claire, the girl who collected one ball at a time is extremely careful in all that she does. You should see the way she keeps her cubby and how she carefully prepares her rug for nap. The boy, Ben, who used his arm like a basket, tripped and chipped his tooth later this morning because he was pressing to carry too many things back to his desk—trying to avoid making two trips. Lisa, who grabbed the crate, knows that she is not supposed to use that because of its sharp edges; and as for Ricky, the boy who was winging balls away from the parachute, he was eliminating the red balls. He knew that they did not belong in the collection of yellow balls. The red balls are always used by the older students and are stored in the corner of the gym.”

Embarrassed, I silently admonished myself for not looking beyond what I initially saw and for not giving this class of three-year old children a “whole” evaluation. My own children, as they grew up, often surprised me with their insights, perseverance, and accomplishments; they still do.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Dropping the Ball – Part 1

(This story originally appeared in the Spring 2003 Independent School magazine and the Parents League Review 2004)

How often do you look beyond what you see in your child? Whether at home, at school or on the playing field, do you wonder how far she can reach? Do you settle for a first impression when you initially meet your son’s best friend? Have you been caught underestimating your child’s abilities?

Recently, I had an opportunity to visit a school and observe a physical education class of three-year olds. I was standing in the balcony of the gym, out of sight with a view of the entire room. The teacher positioned the class of twelve around the circumference of a flattened parachute. She instructed the students to grab the edge and in unison ruffle the light, colorful fabric. You could see the children were fascinated by the motion of the cloth as it rippled from the pulls and tugs of little grasping hands.

The teacher then introduced a large bag of foam rubber balls about the size of apples. While the parachute was resting on the floor, she assisted several children as they dumped the bag of balls onto the center of the orange and yellow silk circle. Her next instruction was, “Let’s make popcorn. Grab the parachute and make your arms move up and down. . . faster. . . faster.” I was watching the balls fly in the air, and on the last command of faster, the balls began flying out of the confines of the parachute. The teacher then said, “Now, let’s shake all of the balls out of the parachute.” And they did—every last one.

There must have been 50 balls strewn over the entire gym floor. I waited to see what the teacher would do next. “Okay, let’s gather all of the balls and put them back into the bag” was her next direction. With hysteria-like enthusiasm, the students scattered about collecting the balls.

This is the part that really caught my attention. . . (to be continued)

Saturday, May 17, 2008


I attended a powerful talk Thursday night by Kevin Jennings, Founder and Executive Director of GLSEN (Gay Lesbian and Straight Education Network) at the Caedmon School. "GLSEN is the leading national education organization focused on ensuring safe schools for ALL students." His research-based information helped the assembled group understand how children discover and better understand their own sexuality. Click over to their website and learn more. I would encourage schools to have him speak to faculty and parents.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Case of the Mistaken Lemonade

Whenever Saturday morning rolls around, I try to plan my 8:00 to 10:00 time listening to Scott Simon on NPR's "Weekend Edition Saturday." Recently he aired a story about professor Ratte, his 7-year old son and what happened to them when they were enjoying a Detroit Tigers baseball game and got thirsty. If you have 3 minutes, listen to "Music Cue: The Case of Mistaken Lemonade."

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Dr. Angeline Lillard's Podcast

Click on The Parent Journal and scroll to "The Parents Journal-198-Angeline Stoll Lillard, May 12, 2008." Professor Lillard brings over 20-years of experience and research talking about her work and book Montessori: The Science Behind the Genius. She opens this 21-minute session by citing work she is doing with her University of Virginia students and continues to link her research to the 100-year old method. This podcast is especially good to share with parents. Dr. Lillard will speak to BHMS parents and teachers next fall.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Hitting the Curveball

Take a minute to read Doug Glanville's piece, "Hitting Curves (of All Sorts)." His use of the metaphor is an exquisite look at anticipating life's uncertainties.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Lahiri a Big Hit at BHMS Reading

Speaking to over 250 people at BHMS, Jhumpa Lahiri mesmerized everyone with a reading from her newest book of short stories, "Unaccustomed Earth." As she read from one of the stories, "Year's End" I could not help but think of how this must be autobiographical, and yet, during the Q&A session, she let those assembled know that [as it applied to this story] she does not have a brother and that most of her stories are composed from her imagination.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Race is on - Thinking Mixed

It's not just the presidential race that is causing healthy thought on race. Of the eight cultural identifiers - ethnicity, race, gender, religion, age, ability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status - race will help us understand the benefits of seeing each other as human beings. The children we have, raise, and teach will lead the way for the future assimilation of cultures. Sunday's NYTimes "Week in Review" article "Stopping Traffic in the People's Republic" was a timely, telling article . . . as was the video clip posted in the March 31 article, "Who Are We? New Dialogue on Mixed Race." After reading the article, scroll to the middle that page and click on the four-and-a-half-minute video, "Being Multiracial in America" found on the left-side of the article.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Just a Story - Part 2

. . . medical insurance held him to teaching, but financial necessity forced him to explore other avenues. Technology, art, and part-time working opportunities lead him to work evenings at a small art gallery. The hours were flexible, the owner loved his children, and a creative side of Paul emerged quite unexpectedly. Here is where he began to develop his love of art and incorporate his appreciation of good child qualities and a desire to help parents see how beautiful children can be if nurtured and taught with love, care, and structure.

During ensuing years, his art, which was presented in sound, video, and still images, depicted children extending themselves in ways that captured the viewer - ways that told the story of just how beautiful children are. Paul’s exhibits were especially appreciated by parents who were in the throes of a particularly difficult time with their children. Repeatedly, Paul's patrons were captured by the beauty children exhibit in their innocence juxtaposed to their desire to imitate their parents. The power held by parents over children was readily seen in an image of a child's eyes looking for approval, or a questioning voice looking for an answer, or a joyful smile offering love.

It was no surprise when one evening, as he was exiting the gallery, Paul noticed a young girl holding the hand of a lost soul who was sitting on a shiny brass standpipe. How proud Paul beamed to eventually see that it was his daughter who was giving comfort to the stranger.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Just a Story - Part 1

As he made his way around the corner, Paul reached into his pocket for spare change to drop into the paper cup of the beckoning street person. Where the money went, Paul did not care; he was happy to help someone less fortunate.

Paul was a contributing artist at an odd but well respected gallery in the City. People often viewed his video/CD-based installations with wonderment and invariably walked away feeling inspired, hopeful, and reaffirmed. A former teacher of 16 years, Paul developed a sense of what made up a good child. Over those years he came to appreciate the characteristics in a child that caused him to stay in the classroom as long as he did. Kind, hard working, thoughtful of the needs of others, and honest described the child he envisioned as the perfect child. Paul felt obliged to help parents see this in their children.

When his wife passed away and he had to raise his own two children by himself, he struggled to find ways to make ends meet financially and at the same time hold his own son and daughter to the values about children in which he believed so passionately. (to be continued . . . )

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Classical Children

The other day I had the good fortune of accompanying the Lower Elementary class on a trip to the Brooklyn Philharmonic for a performance, which included works from Beethoven and Haydn.  The 40-minute performance was a perfect introduction to classical music for these six through nine-year old students.  I could not help watching them as the music played; they were mesmerized.

I've always been in love with classical music that paints pictures through music.  Vivaldi's "Four Seasons," Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," and Bizet's "Carmen Overture" help any listener - young and old - understand  that music is vivid and picturesque.  My favorite is Modesto Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" for painting images with music.  First read what Mussorgsky accomplished with his music then listen to the composition . . . and do it with your child.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Writing in Six Words

I discovered from a colleague that writing using only six words can be very effective.  The book "Not Quite What I Was Planning" is a compilation of six-word memoirs of writers famous and obscure.  I have always been a big fan of author William Zinsser.  His book, "On Writing Well," is a must read for anyone who values good writing.

Recently, I asked our Middle School students to write "Your thoughts about your BHMS years. "  What they produced was terrific.  Here are a few: 
1) BHMS has let me think independently   
2) Fun and education for ten years  
3) BHMS has given me long friendships
4) So many years so many memories

Here is a "New Yorker" article that speaks to this great concept in writing.