Sunday, September 20, 2015

First Impressions

The school year is underway and we are off to a wonderful start. Each year I wonder about the dynamic of the class.  How will the class inhale and exhale as we find new life together?  What adjectives will describe the interplay of our shared experience?

The gestalt is more than my individual interactions with each student.  Individually they bustle about with their own stories but when a group of children are asked to coexist in one space it isn't always easy to predict the outcome.  In years past we've characterized a class as "deep thinkers" "learners who need a lot of visual support and repetition" "inquisitive and high energy" and "fun and best suited to learning through exploratory play or games".

Our feeling this year - after only 6 days together - is that the makeup of our class is strongly defined by the sweet nature of our students and their desire to be good.  This means they clearly want to please us even as they push boundaries a bit.  I remember wanting to please my teachers too.  I wanted that recognition of a job well done or acknowledgement of my effort.   I saw this as what was meant by being fair. My intrinsic motivation was somehow intertwined with the extrinsic.

The goodness of our children can be seen in the way a little boy enters the room and after putting his things away, sits on the rug to wait for the morning to begin.  How another boy carefully arranges the superhero book bin so all the covers are facing out.  We see it when 2 girls decide they shouldn't sit together because they distract one another or when another child picks up a crumpled piece of paper that has been sitting under a table and throws it in the garbage.

Our first impressions will change and grow throughout the year but I do believe we are off to a good start.  I see that my smiles, words of encouragement, subtle forms of acknowledgement and fairness will impact these children perhaps more than they have other classes.

I will be careful to remember the impact of my role as their teacher. Teachers - and all adults - can make a situation fun or a horror show depending on our reaction to a given situation.  We can choose to become upset and dismissive or understanding and laugh off the inevitable mess children create.  I choose to laugh.  The trick is to follow through on these good intentions even when I am exhausted or sick or stressed out.

First impressions!  I wonder how we - the teachers - did.  How will this class characterize or define us?

Saturday, September 19, 2015


The website for my new literacy project Broadway Books First Class is now LIVE!

Building a website is a breeze these days.  I am grateful for the hours I spent creating this blog. Follow Your Bliss gave me a strong background in the finer points of editing, placement and design.

It also helped that I had a clear vision for the Broadway Books First Class site.  I knew what I wanted to include and how I wanted it to look before I started.

I am excited to build content with each visit to showcase the fact that educators can fight against the lack of funding for the arts in small ways.  We can make a difference.  All it takes is an idea and the right people will find you.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

The Road to Adorable

The curtain opens to reveal a very theatrical book hoofing it to promote literacy.
Artist: Heather DiDomenico
I am always interested in how an idea develops and changes over time to become something tangible and complete.  The creative process seems somehow magical when it is removed from our personal experience but becomes demystified when seen as a step-by-step journey.

As I wrote my dissertation I imaged all of the other doctoral students out there breezing along with the luxury of uninterrupted time and boundless energy.  It was only in discussion with others that I realized research and writing is not "easy" for anyone.  Creativity takes planning.  Planning takes time. Time allows for error.  Error eventually produces results.

The creative process is a process.  Although moments of inspiration and creativity appear along the way it all begins with a vision.  The vision is then shaped and worked on until a (hopefully) satisfying result is produced.

And sometimes the vision needs a little help from others before it can manifest. This was certainly true when I had the notion to create an image for my new literacy project called Broadway Books First Class.  I saw the image very clearly in my mind but lacked the artistic ability to execute it.

I sent out a few feelers to some talented individuals but did not find a match until my mom suggested asking my young niece, Heather, to create the image.  Heather was agreeable so I gave her a detailed account of what I wanted.

However, she was unfamiliar with my references - "The hat should be on an angle like Liza's in Cabaret when she is singing Mein Heir" "The book should look somewhat like a dancer in motion from A Chorus Line" "I want a cane and top hat similar to that of Fred Astaire" "Bold, dark lines like the Broadway poster for Beauty and the Beast"

Heather's First Sketch
To her credit this did not deter her.  She did her research and sent me a rough sketch almost immediately. We had some back and forth to adjust things (e.g. getting rid of the floorboards, adding detail to the curtains, changing the lettering).

The final result is a dream.  She created an adorable image that makes me want to cuddle up with a book and become lost in the entertainment it offers.  From the expressive "Spongebob" style eyes to the banana-shaped mouth the image is absolute perfection.

So, meet the face of Broadway Books First Class.

Thank you Heather!!!!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Defending the Early Years

CCSS 1.OA.D.8:
"Determine the unknown whole
number in an addition or subtraction
equation relating to three whole numbers."
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) provide fodder for debate amongst educators, researchers, administrators and the political machine that drives the incessant cycle of instruction and assessment.

We all go 'round and 'round but what are the main concerns?

This week I read an article released by the folks at Defending the Early Years (DEY) detailing Constance Kamii's critical examination of the K-3 CCSS for math. The piece clarified some of the issues.

The article states that DEY is "an organization of early childhood professionals dedicated to speaking out with well-reasoned arguments against inappropriate standards, assessments, and classroom practices.  We are concerned about the rising emphasis on academic skills in early childhood today.  Increasing teacher-directed instruction is leading to the erosion of play-based, experiential learning that we know children need from decades of theory and research in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience" (Emphasis is mine)

The issue Kamii has with the CCSS seems to rest with the fact that educators are now being forced to replace child-centered experiential learning - through play and inquiry - with developmentally inappropriate instruction. This is huge. In essence, she argues we are teaching skills in first grade that children will master without instruction in second grade (and so on).  Why the rush? Why are we wasting the child's time? More importantly, is the sacrifice worth the price when you consider what is lost?

As an educator, I am not resistant to the CCSS. My experience with implementation has been mostly positive.  The majority of my first grade students - with the exception of my English language learners - excel at math. They enjoy tackling the challenging material and using different strategies to solve complex word problems and equations.  I had trouble understanding the hubbub and derision surrounding the practical application and value of the CCSS.

The take away from Kamii's article seems to be a matter of could vs. should.  Just because children are capable of doing the work, is it in the child's best interest to do so?  Is the "forced" and "inappropriate" learning merely surface level "verbalisms" lacking depth of understanding?  I cannot answer that or fight the machine to alter that expectation.

What I can do is remain diligent and strive to achieve a well-rounded curriculum for my students while operating within the confines of the CCSS.  One that includes time for the arts and allows for child-centered learning through blocks, dramatic play and student-led social interactions.

As the CCSS are tweaked (or eventually thrown out) I can provide children with daily, meaningful learning experiences.  Teachers can still make a difference.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Les enfants à Paris

"Paris Plages" transforming Paris
into a series of themed beaches
New York City encourages children to take a cultural bite out of The Big Apple but offerings in The City of Lights (La Ville-Lumiére) shine just as brightly. 

I was first struck by this as I strolled along the right bank of the Seine River and stumbled upon the inviting golden sand and blue umbrellas of the annual summer event, Paris Plages (Paris Beach). 

Children can frolic in the floating pool while enjoying live music or lounge on a beach chair with a book from the mobile library. We also witnessed bike safety lessons for the wee ones, pet stations/stops and booths selling food, beverages and trinkets.  

Later, I entered the Place du Carrousel located near the open end of the courtyard of the Musée du Louvre.  Nestled within the covered arches before the Rue de Rivoli were framed posters promoting "Les Ateliers Enfants".

This program resembles those of my beloved Met Museum with tours and activities to spark an interest in French culture, art and history.

La Petite Academie, Paris
At every turn I saw child-centered activities peeking out from windows and doorways (La Petite Academie, P'tit Vélib') or advertised on billboards (Les Minions!, Vice-Versa - the French title for Pixar's Inside Out - and the newly released Le Petit Prince).

It made me think that early childhood educators in Paris had it pretty good too.

When I returned home I discovered a blog posting about taking a group of children to visit museums and landmarks in Paris.  The photographs of children eating lunch and posing in front of The Eiffel Tower and the Louvre is reminiscent of the class pictures I took of my students outside The Statue of Liberty and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The post even includes some children's drawings.

I may have found my Parisian counterpart and definitely see new experiences unfolding in my future. There must be openings at the Institut National de Jeunes Sourds de Paris.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

New York City is our Classroom

New York City!

I cannot imagine a better place to teach.  The Big Apple offers school children culture, history and a sense of wonder.

It breaths life into the words we read in books and helps children connect to the lessons in tangible ways through visual, tactile and kinesthetic modalities.

NYC lets kids get their hands dirty.  She encourages them to question and explore and offers a great many oohs and ahhs.

New York City is a great teacher.

This year we expanded the walls of our classroom with trips to Liberty Island and The Statue of Liberty, Governor's Island Learning Garden, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rockefeller CenterTop of the Rock, The Fire Zone, The New Victory Theater, Children's Museum of the Arts, Central Park, The Staten Island Ferry,  Green Meadow Farm Festival of Cultures and Lincoln Center.

Students gathering greens at Governor's Island Learning Garden
During our travels the children learned about nutrition, gardening, healthy habits, history, art, design, color, shape, geography, world cultures, perspective, transportation modes, performance styles, mythology, respect, rules, cooperation, fire safety, creativity, plants, life cycles and themselves.

Thankfully our principal is very supportive of field trips for the elementary grades and recognizes their value. For many of our students class trips are the only opportunity they have to experience first-hand the treasures that NYC has to offer.  That is true for me as well.  I had never visited Liberty Island before this year!

Next year we will continue to open our doors to venture out while continuing to invite New York into our classrooms through children's book author visits, theatrical performances and Broadway Books First Class.

With all this it is easy to sing out, "I love New York!"


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