Friday, November 27, 2009

Reading to Middle Schoolers

Once a month I have the privilege and joy of being able to meet with and read to our seventh and eighth grade students during their morning meeting. Drawing from fiction and non-fiction, I can usually capture their interest by varying topics that pertain to their lives, classes, and culture. Some short stories I read are abridged versions, since time is limited.  Here are some of the selections I use:

The Lottery by Shirely Jackson
The Necklace by Guy deMaupassant
Gift of the Magi by O'Henry
• Selections from Growing Up by Russel Baker
"How to Be Popular" by Diedre Dolan
• excerpt from Travels with Charlie by John Steinbech
• excerpts from The Jungle by Sinclair Lewis with excerpts from Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser
The Feud by Saki (H. H. Munroe) adapted from The Interlopers
The Monkey's Paw by W. W. Jacobs (see my November 4, 2009 post)
The Ink Drinker by Eric Sanvoisin
• "Ralph Corlis, the Man Who Played to Lose" chapter from The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank by Erma Bombeck
The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe
• Song and lyrics from "Another Day in Paradise" by Phil Collins
• The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell
• How Much Land Does a Man Need by Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

F.A.T. City Revisited

“It’s the leading selling educational video in the world.” was the claim author Rick Lavoie made during his recent talk at Mary McDowell Center for Learning, a K-8 (soon to be K-12) school in Brooklyn, NY with a mission of working with students who have learning disabilities.  The video F.A.T. City (Frustration Anxiety Tension) never fails to inspire its viewers to become sensitized to the challenges LD students experience. Here is a clip from the video where Lavoie talks about the difficulties the LD child has distinguishing among the letters d, b, q, and p.

Lavoie presented his F.A.T City workshop for ten years before he made it into a video in 1988.  The many stories he told that evening at MMCL were entertaining and gave cogent insights into the lives of LD students.  Here were several quotes that inspired me to take pen to paper while listening:

“Positive feedback changes behavior.  Negative feedback only stops behavior.”
“The middle school child is managed by the moment.”
“Adolescent prayer: Dear God, don’t let me be humiliated today.”
“Children go to school for a living.  To prove my point, when you see a kid on the street, what do you always ask her/him? . . .  How’s school?”

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Nine-year Old's Story

Have you tapped into StoryCorps yet?  Here is a touching StoryCorps story about Brian, a nine-year old boy.  You can read about the story, "A Son's Premonition, And Final Baseball Game" but take four minutes and listen to his story as told by his mother and father.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Early Email

I sent an email to a friend of mine, a former faculty member.  Instead of addressing my email to him, I decided to address it to his two-month old daughter.  Here is my original email to her and her reply!

Hey Genie,

I just wanted to check in with you to see how your first 2 months with your Mom and Dad have been.  I'll bet you are exploring everything in sight.  I'm always talking to little ones whenever they are in the lobby at Dad's old school.  You're kinda neat people, fun to be with.

If you are here over the holidays, Genie, make sure you stop by to see Chris and me.  Maybe we can have a bottle together.

Your friend,

Dear Dane,

In a sure sign that my Mom and Dad are never supposed to sleep again, I started teething at 9 weeks old.  I just felt like they were getting kind of soft, getting more than 4 hours sleep a night and all, and it was time to step up their training as my puppets.  So, now I am wicked angry all the time because I have a tooth breaking through the gum-flesh on my lower lip.

That said, I keep Mom and Dad happy with some serious cuteness and smiles and flirty eyes whenever I am well-rested and full of milk.  That keeps them going though the poopy blow-outs and teething madness that I bring to the table.  They tell me I am pretty amazing when I throw a big smile their way, so I do it from time to time, just so they don't go totally insane.

I have heard them talk about a new download of pics to be emailed out to people in celebration of my third month of life (that's today!!) so I'll bet you will get a fun email sometime soon, with me making flirty eyes right at you big guy.

Anyway, gotta go because I have not eaten in 15 minutes.  I hope that everything is great with you and your family.

Your new friend,

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Summer Professional & Curriculum Development Benefit All

As schools build their 2010-11 budgets, now is a good time to think about how to enhance professional development programs. Several years ago, on the heels of the curriculum mapping frenzy, we wanted to review, solidify, and enhance our curriculum . . . but in a way that would not tax teachers’ already busy schedules and not invest thousands of dollars in mapping instruction, software, and related support services. My school’s administrative team collaborated on building a Summer Curriculum Grants Program. Now entering its third summer, the program and direct benefits to the curriculum, teacher professional development, and classroom support are significant. Here is the program as it is presented in our Faculty and Staff Manual:
Curriculum Development Grants
     Brooklyn Heights Montessori School recognizes the importance of ongoing curriculum review and development and has established a procedure to accomplish this goal.
     Each summer a committee of faculty members — one each from Preschool, The Little Room, Lower Elementary, Upper Elementary, Middle School, and the Interdisciplinary Program — will be formed under the leadership of one of the program heads. The committee will meet for one week during the summer recess, and will be charged with reviewing, developing, enhancing, and articulating curriculum in one specific academic area or discipline, using the current curriculum map as a starting point. At the end of the week, the committee will produce its final work which will then be incorporated into the School’s curriculum map.
     Each committee member will be given a stipend of $100 per diem for the work completed. Each summer a different academic curriculum will be explored and new faculty members will be selected for the committee.
     Faculty members interested in working on a curriculum committee should notify his/her Program Head by the beginning of the spring break each year. Selection of committee members will be made by Program Heads in consultation with the Head of School.
     Details of the grant:
• Work must be accomplished over a one week period after school ends
• Participants will act as ambassadors to their teams to inform colleagues of the committee’s findings and implement their recommendations
• A Program Head will provide oversight of the summer project
• The committee will address curriculum in the following order:
2008 – Mathematics
2009 – Mathematics II
2010 – Language Arts and Reading
2011 – Cultural, Social Studies and Science
2012 – Wellness and the Arts
• Beginning in 2013, the cycle will begin again with Mathematics.
• Grants will be based on a per diem rate of $100, not to exceed $500 per person.
• Grant money will be awarded upon completion of the work

Friday, November 13, 2009

Listening Leaders

In an interview with Drew Gilpin Faust, the Harvard president talks about leadership, changes she made at the University of Pennsylvania where she gained her early leadership legs. In a Sunday Times interview she has with reporter Adam Bryant, listening is one of the qualities that she attributes to her success as a leader.

She says, "I spend a huge amount of time reaching out to people, either literally or digitally . . . An enormous amount of my job is listening to people, to understand where they are, how they see the world so I can understand how to mobilize their understanding of themselves in service of the institution."

The part of the interview I appreciate the most is her answer to a follow-up prompt "But you can't make everybody happy." She responds with "No, you don't make everybody happy, but if people feel they were listened to, they're going to be much more likely to go along with a decision."

Excellent advice.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The Currency of Language

While greeting children and parents one morning, I had the occasion to talk with a mother of a six-year old boy, Jonas. She and I talked about using appropriate language around children when she said, “I had a surprise the other morning. Jonas asked me, 'Mom, so long as I am not angry, can I use a swear word to explain something?'”

The mother, with some trepidation, was curious as to what was on her son’s mind, and said, “Jonas, it’s okay to use it with me when you have to explain something.”

You could just see the wheels turning in his head; this was the passport Jonas needed to begin to clarify what was on his mind, and before Mom could encourage him further, Jonas said, “Dad said f---.”

“Oh, that's not good.” was her immediate reply, with raised eyebrows.

She went on to explain to me that they have a system in place in their house that when Jonas says a word like “whatever” or “fine” with a bit of attitude, he has to pay her 25¢ out of his bank. Knowing this, Jonas pursued his ultimate point, “I guess that we should charge Dad $2.00 for what he said, huh.”

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Bit by Bit

The heads of school for the New York State Association of Independent Schools (NYSAIS) had the opportunity to hear Mark Hurst at its annual conference. This post originally appeared on June 21, 2008. Mark was well received, entertaining, and immensely informative.

Who would have known that those magical zeros and ones that I taught in earlier math classes would power our economy, vehicles, communication, and lives. The bits that make up the basic binary number system confounds the most technologically literate when you realize that computers and programming are about switches either being on (1) or off (0).

Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload by Mark Hurst is both basic and helpful to those who readily use computers and the Internet. Hurst's book defines bit overload, i.e. too much information, and gives solutions and methods for managing and avoiding overload. This includes working your email efficiently, managing your to do list, and keeping your computer desktop and files clean and orderly. Have you heard of the Dvorak keyboard map, QuicKeys, or a bit lever? Fascinating answers are part of Bit Literacy.

Get to know the author better by reading an interview with Mark at Argus Center for Information Architecture; you get a good idea of what makes Mark tick, and the site is loaded with related links.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Middle School Spooky Read

The day before Halloween, I had the occasion to read to our middle schoolers. With the help of their teachers, I thought it might be fun to read William Wymark Jacobs's (1863-1943) "The Monkey's Paw." This short story is a classic.

To heighten the atmosphere we turned out the lights, lit a candle and placed it in the center of our group circle. Spooky, really spooky.

You may have seen The Simpson's version in a Halloween special. Here is a 13-minute modern version; it's not bad.

The best part was that our seventh and eighth grade students appreciated and enjoyed the story.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Family Dynamics

I had the good fortune to see Neil Simon’s “Brighton Beach Memoirs” this past weekend on Broadway. Set in Brooklyn in the late 1930s, the beautiful set is the inside of the Jerome home, first and second floors. Only Neil Simon can capture the comedy and drama of family struggles and joys of parents working hard to raise their children. Seen through the eyes of 15-year old Eugene Jerome; avid Yankees fan, Eugene reveals all aspects of his adolescence through his diary with the audience. You’ll inevitably compare his youthful innocence and family’s life with your own.

If you can’t get to see BBM on stage, you can click over to hulu and see the full-length movie. Sometime on a Saturday night when you’re looking for family fun, gather around the computer and compare Simon’s family dynamics with your own.