Category Archives: READING

My Screen-Free Bedroom (And the 4 Best Ways It Has Changed My Life)

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About a year ago I was reading an article in the Atlantic that quoted Arianna Huffington recommending that the bedroom to be a device-free zone. It was one of those moments in life when you’re brought up short. A time when you watch your excuses for why you live your life the way you do turn to colanders, no longer holding any water. Because if Arianna Huffington, creator of Huffington Post and Forbe’s Most Influential Woman in media can unplug before going to bed, what’s my excuse?

It was a little like the moment when I was talking to my dad and off-handedly mentioned that it has been hard to find time in the mornings or evenings to pray like I would like to, especially now that I have a kid. I said it fishing for some commiseration and empathy. Instead, my dad said, “What do you mean? Susanna Wesley had ten children and a ne’er do well husband, and everyday she would sit in the corner, throw her apron over her head, and pray. And she’s the mother of John and Charles Wesley, the mother of Methodists.”

In other words, “What’s your excuse?”

Anecdote noted. (And, while I may act kind of crusty about it, I have been finding more time for prayer since that conversation.)

In any case, life is full of solicited and unsolicited advice and interjections, and yet I’ve found that it behooves me not to be overly fast in dismissing these little (or big) nudges.

So it’s been percolating, this idea of giving up screens in the bedroom. We don’t own a TV, preferring instead to ingest our media via laptop computer and Netflix, and therefore we have reason to be quite smug in the comparison contest about media intake. But it turns out that you can consume just as much media on your computer as you can on your TV.

Anyway, I off-handedly wrote in a previous blog that maybe one of my New Year’s Resolutions would be to have a screen-free bedroom. It had been on my mind for a year, so I decided it might be time to put the guilt into action. But I decided in a, “I’m gonna write about this on my blog” kind of way, not a, “I’m gonna make a lifestyle change” kind of way.

And then a commenter went ahead and told me that it was essential, nay imperative that I make this one simple change. This change= the answer to all my problems.

OK, that might be an exaggeration.

But she did speak about it with an enthusiasm only the truly converted, born again evangelists can muster, and I was intrigued.

I broached the subject with my husband and he was immediately on board. I didn’t even have to tell him about the blog comment, or her guarantee that this would mean more snuggle time in the bedroom. (If you know what I mean and I am pretty sure you do.)

The first couple weeks were a little tricky since our cell phones were also our alarm clocks. It had me yearning for my High School CD alarm clock that I had begged my parents to get for my birthday. (They did, and I set it to blast Contemporary Christian Music every morning. Those were the days.)

We worked around it, leaving cell phones in the next room over, set to top volume. While snooze isn’t nearly as effective when you have to walk fifty feet to press the button, it does help start the morning earlier.

So here’s that moment in the blog when I tell you how it has dramatically changed my life, my marriage, my family, and me. (AKA, here is where the list starts, you can stop scrolling past the frivolous opening paragraphs.)

The 4 Ways My Life Is Better Because I Have A Screen-Free Bedroom

1. Better sleep

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Since starting this, I have found that I go to bed earlier than I otherwise would have, and probably more importantly, I don’t pick up my phone and check Facebook when my son wakes me up in the middle of the night. Yeah. I was doing that. Also, I don’t scroll through Facebook, promising myself I will only read one more article, and then go to bed. I just go to bed. Imagine that.

2. More reading

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With no Candy Crush Saga level to beat and no Lorelai Gilmore quote to listen to, I pick up the nearest book to read in the moments before bed. And not surprisingly, reading has this incredible calming effect on me, making it easier to fall asleep. (See above: better sleep)

3. Easier waking

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This one has come as a surprise, not only because it coincides with our eighteen month old’s most recent sleep strike, but also because I didn’t think it was possible for waking up to be considered anything in the family of easy. But miracles do exist.

Not having the phone next to me in the morning means that I can wake up, wander around my room, cuddle with my son, start making breakfast, pack a nutritious lunch, take a shower, blow dry my hair, brush my teeth, etc, etc, etc, and NOT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WORK! I had no idea how quickly the hounds of the day nip at my feet.

And while it may disappoint a few people to not get an email response from me at one in the morning, somehow I think we will all survive.

4. More cuddling

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I’m not going to go into a lot of details here, but when I say this I’m not just talking about sex. I’m talking about how this has forced my husband and me to be intentional about having time together, not just deciding that binge watching “How I Met Your Mother” counts as a date night. Suddenly we have started to talk about if we want to watch a show, or if we want to talk about our days. And often if the choice is to watch a show while sitting on the couch, or talk to each other while lying snuggly under covers… it isn’t hard to choose snuggles.

There you have it. World peace has not yet been achieved, but I have a lot more inner peace. I gotta agree with my blog commenting friend, I don’t regret it. This is one resolution I think we’ll keep.

(And maybe not looking at my phone or laptop at night is a little like Susanna Wesley throwing an apron over her head. Sometimes you just have to unplug.)

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Daring Greatly to be an Imperfect “Good Enoughist…”

Pure Barre 100 club Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage.
Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness. 

Back in February, I set this small goal for myself:  before Easter, I would attend 100 Pure Barre® classes at the studio here in Naples.  And I did – I attended my 100th class on Good Friday, with two days to spare.  For me, this is no small achievement.  I am still in disbelief that I managed to accomplish this tiny feat (not to mention I got these “100 club” sticky socks for my feet).

As I have hit my mid-50s (in only a few short months I will be closer to 60), my listing of body trouble spots has grown to an impressive catalog –with bone spurs, herniated discs, menopause and osteoarthritis to name a few.  I would love to say that these practical signs of aging are the reason I’ve been out of shape, lost my core strength, and gained a few pounds.  And, when I’m practicing the art of self-compassion, I believe there is some truth to that.

But until recently, I haven’t been that compassionate towards myself, especially my body.  Over the past 50-odd years, whenever I do think about my body, it generally is with strong feelings of shame and remorse.  If only I was more perfect, was more athletic, ate the right foods, I would look better and be a better person.  I’ve had shame-free moments, of course.  Some even lasted for a few months.  But, overall, when I think about it (and I hate thinking about it), I generally have been totally ashamed of my body for most of my life.

I won’t bore you with the litany of sins that my body reflects or its countless flaws.  I often thought I learned about my body’s many shortcomings when it was too late to really do anything permanent about fixing them.  I learned about these many defects through interaction with a variety of sources, including messages from family and friends, as well as mass media (including but not limited to: Noxzema commercials, the cover of Seventeen Magazine, the Sears Catalog and TV in general).

As it happens, I’ve spent the bulk of my life (well, since 1971) focused on my diet: I’m starting a diet Monday, I’m on a diet, I need to diet, I can’t thinking about a diet right now.  I was always hesitant to be physically active as I had been teased (sometimes people can be unthinking) about how I looked (fat and/or stupid) when I rode my bike, ran, jumped or danced.  Many felt the need to instruct me on what I should eat and exactly how I should exercise – because whatever I was doing was wrong, in their eyes.  And I burned within from the shame of it all.  I also hid – a lot.  The scrutiny sucked the energy from me.

I had fleeting moments of “success” at different stages of my life and deep panic as I struggled in vain to maintain a certain weight.  But, overall, the idea of “healthy striving” was foreign to me and the goal was always unachievable:  perfection.  Judgment, shame, and blame framed my view of my body.  Despite the fact that I gave birth to a healthy son, finished college, law school, made partner at the firm, finished grad school, and managed to teach for 5 years, my body (which houses my mind, heart and spirit) was disgraceful, loathsome, vile.  I have pretty much talked to myself using these words on a daily basis for more than 40 years.

The two men in my life – my husband and son – are the antithesis of me.  My husband, despite his years, is an adept tennis player, swimmer, biker and hitter of groundballs. My son is a certified personal trainer who fields ground balls and played soccer and baseball in high school.  In fact, I don’t believe there are many sports my son doesn’t like, except maybe curling.  These two can get me on a tennis court (if no one else is playing) but I usually try to wiggle out of it somehow.  I’m petrified at anyone watching me swing a tennis racket, despite my husband’s encouraging words and shouts of, “great hit.”  My husband and son find me beautiful.  But I don’t believe them most of the time.

I am still slightly shocked that I ever walked into the Pure Barre® studio.

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Upon reflection, I think it has something to do with this work I started doing (imperfectly) on perfectionism, thanks to Brene’ Brown (check out The Gifts of Imperfection – it is a goldmine!).  I picked the book up in Target to give as a gift – and kept it.  As I have aged, I have grown so cynical about the “self help” books and theories as I find it all a bit self-absorbed.  But what is more self-centered than the human who spends so much time seeking the unattainable?  The idea that my flaws could be viewed as gifts was the hook. So I’ve read the book.  And for me, it has been so helpful.  Brown provides “ten guideposts” to help cultivate what she describes as a whole-hearted life.  The book is pragmatic, short, to the point, and full of resources and ideas that can help us change how we live our lives.  Not overnight, mind you.  Like Brown’s book “Daring Greatly,” The Gifts of Imperfection focuses on the power of being authentic and vulnerable.

 God, I hate not to be invulnerable.  Really.  I must be indomitable.  A badass.  Goes with my big ass. Vulnerability is not intuitive, let alone the concept that perfectionism is anything but the ideal.  And authenticity?  As Brene’ admits, it is not always the safe option.  For me, a daunting choice.  So much risk when I put myself out there.  The pursuit of perfection is the “perfect” suit of armor.  Who can criticize me when I already am criticizing myself?

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I have come to believe that, as Brene’ so wisely points out, seeking perfection is soul-sucking and obstructive and self-destructive.  Perfection is unattainable, but if it is our primary goal, it leads to self-blame (and self-centeredness):  “I’m not good enough.”  Brown makes perfect sense to me when she writes that we need to embrace our imperfections to find our “truest gifts:  courage, compassion and connection.”

So I’ve started to work on overcoming my desire to be perfect and to become a “good enoughist.”  And I started in my most vulnerable, imperfect place:  my body.

I’d done the BMI calculations and checked out the weight/height charts and knew that I was hovering on being unhealthy.  I needed to exercise and eat a healthy diet.  I worked to incorporate some fruits and veggies and more protein into my diet.  I added regular exercise: I rode my bike (wore dark sunglasses) and took Pilates (small or private classes so no one could see me) but had to stop Pilates because of bone spurs in my right shoulder.  Honestly?  I think I was hiding out in these forms of exercise and I wasn’t being “self-compassionate.”  In a way, I was still suffering from total perfection paralysis.

But one morning, after refusing to play tennis (again – worried about what the real players would think), I stared in the mirror at my aging 50-something face (artfully lined by life’s unalterable progression) and thought, “why do I work so hard at not working out rather than work hard at working out?”  So, rather than just agreeing philosophically with the guideposts in The Gifts of Imperfection, I actually began to deliberately and intentionally practice Brene’ Brown’s formula (she doesn’t say it this way exactly but it helps me to think of it this way) for letting go of perfection: (1) engaging in self-kindness (“I am trying my best”), (2) understanding that feelings of personal inadequacy are part of the human experience (“I am never alone in my struggles”) and (3) being mindful of, but not exaggerating my “painfail” emotions (I recognize my feelings but I try not to be “swept away by negative reactivity.”).  Practice is the key word here – some days are better than others, and I often am reminded of that phrase “fake it ‘til you make it.”

So – I walked into Pure Barre® Naples last November.  It was risky and I felt ever so vulnerable. I chose Pure Barre® because I love to dance (it is a low-impact, full body workout based in part on ballet) and I love losing myself in music. Of course, I took the introductory class first (the one that teaches you the basics so you can move precisely and perfectly (ahem – I added those “p” words) when you actually take a regular class…) but then signed up for ten classes. And then for a month of unlimited classes…every month.  I loved it but I really had to work hard at self-kindness (you do look in the mirror a lot and I had been hiding not just from others but myself – lord, my butt is huge – but booty’s are in, right?).   The studio set up is about a common humanity – the group classes are about a community working toward strength, energy and good health, all to the beat of the music.  The instructors are all incredible, supportive and encouraging (every time I hear an instructor call out: “great form, Karen,” it still takes a minute to realize they are talking to me).  The idea is that the 55 minutes at the Barre is a “time for you.”  It is not about comparing my body or my ability to someone else’s.  It is not about reaching some impossible standard.  It is about my physical well-being and me.  What a magical gift.   I even began to dress differently for class after the first month – hiding in baggy clothes didn’t help my form.  And yes, my body is still imperfect and flawed. But it is getting stronger and it feels healthier every day. And I’m not hiding it so much anymore.

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And sure, a few people in my life have freely offered some negative critique of my new-found joy in working out at Pure Barre®  (and yes, they are poking at my vulnerability) and I’ve had to work hard on my “shame-resilience.”  But, after attending 100 classes, I realize I own this piece of my life.  And somehow, through a daily (sometimes hourly) practice of self-compassion, I achieved a minor milestone. I am looking forward to more moments like these, but I am savoring and celebrating this moment. Because many days I might still feel afraid, but still, more and more days I feel grateful and joyous – and very brave and very alive.  Maybe I can be a courageous and vulnerable badass.

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The Silver Lining: An Insightful & Supportive Guide to Breast Cancer, By Hollye Jacobs, RN, MS, MSW

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“Cancer.” Loathsome and foul.  Relentless. The treatment is brutal.  My most immediate experiences with Cancer have been as an outsider: daughter, sister, friend of patient.  Over the years, I’ve read everything I could get my hands on about breast, colon and liver cancers*, stumbling through complex medical jargon.

And I searched high and low for something resembling a handbook that addressed, in “people-speak,” a patient’s day-to-day realities of dealing with “Cancer.”  My search has ended, thanks to Hollye Jacobs, an RN, licensed clinical social worker and  palliative care provider, who was diagnosed with Breast Cancer at the age of 39.  Hollye has published an insightful, compassionate, practical, graceful, honest, and humorous guide to dealing with breast cancer titled:  The Silver Lining.

The book is drawn, in part, from Hollye’s blog,  The Silver Pen which, like her book, looks to serve as a guide and inspiration to “navigating the realities of cancer.” The chapters center around Jacobs’ own life journey with cancer (she writes a heartfelt explanation of why she does not personally view cancer as a battle) and each includes a memoir portion, a section on “practical matters” (key clinical details about managing the patient experience), and some silver linings.

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Hollye’s narrative is accompanied by beautiful, uplifting and elegant photographs taken by her friend and gifted professional photographer, Elizabeth Messina, whose words in the introduction resonated with me:

“The day that Hollye told me that she had breast cancer, I felt haunted with helplessness. I wanted to hug her, to bring her flowers.  I wanted to do something, but nothing seemed quite right.  I did not want to burden her with my fear and sadness.  I also knew that I could not eliminate the intensity of the path that lay in front of her.”

I’ve felt this way – with my mom, sister, dad, and my dear friend, Nancy – after they were diagnosed with Cancer and during their treatment and recovery.  You do what you know how to do to help them, and it never ever seems quite right. Messina offered to take photographs to help Jacobs record the journey. The photos were initially intended as a personal gift of love.  The two of them only began to envision the book a year after Hollye’s diagnosis.  An inspiring collaboration of healing and friendship.

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Jacobs’ guide in the early pages of the book of  what to do when facing a cancer diagnosis is invaluable, in my own experience, as there is a mental fog that envelops patients and families during these initial weeks.  She offers  a primer on medical tests and types of breast cancer/staging,  a list of coping mechanisms for needle phobias, questions to ask during tests and questions to ask at the time of diagnosis. And that’s just Chapter 1.

The subsequent chapters cover:

  1. communicating with children about your cancer diagnosis,
  2. navigating the surgical experience (Jacobs had a double mastectomy),
  3. and the unique experiences of chemotherapy and radiation.

Her humor is ever present (the chemotherapy chapter is titled “Chemo Sobby”) and she doesn’t sugarcoat the side effects of treatment, reporting that she had all listed side effects except seizures, with details on vomiting, pernicious diarrhea, mouth sores, and constipation.  Jacobs offers practical advice as to how to deal with these and other treatment side effects and, in her eternal optimism, views them as a “silver lining” as she is able to write about her experience with them and offer guidance to others as to how to navigate them.  Her chapter on the emotional impact of cancer treatment is also a must-read for cancer patients and families.

The final chapters of The Silver Lining include a list of comprehensive resources and address the ebb and flow of recovery once treatment ends and what life after cancer looks like. I think Jacobs’ focus on her marriage and working her way back to intimacy with her HOTY (Husband of the Year) make for compelling  and inspiring reading.

I love the “Lifelines” set in the margins of each chapter in The Silver Lining. These brief notes offer worthwhile, thoughtful and practical advice or encouragement:

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Many of these “Lifelines,” and much of Jacobs’ practical advice about chemo and radiation, could be applicable to other forms of cancer as well, despite the books focus on breast cancer.

I follow Hollye’s blog and I was thrilled to win an advanced copy of the book from the publisher (Atria Books) in a giveaway on Goodreads.  But, honestly?  Before reading it, I was pretty skeptical about the “silver linings” bit.  I’ve witnessed Cancer from a variety of angles and I struggled with the idea that there are any silver linings to be found in the living with  all that comes with it.  Here are some of Jacobs’ personal silver linings:

  • seeing a hummingbird outside her window when she was wretchedly ill from chemotherapy
  • vile tasting medicine managed pain
  • feeling isolated from the world helped her tap into her “inner resources”

To me, these “silver linings” made sense – they  gave Jacobs a focal point (and some days she had to look really hard to find the silver lining) and helped her endure a painful, rotten Herculean journey. Jacobs is no Pollyanna – she is emphatic in stating that CANCER IS NOT A GIFT.  But she writes that she had two choices about how to handle her diagnosis:  from a place of fear or a place of optimism.  I admire her courage and her resilience.

This is a practical and hopeful book for anyone with breast cancer, especially those in the initial stages of diagnosis, undergoing treatment or in the early days of post-treatment. There isn’t much specific information for those faced with a recurrence of breast cancer (and I pray Jacobs never has to walk that path), but I do think there is a great deal of supportive material in the book for patients who experience recurrence, especially in her chapter on “Sustenance & Soulfulness,” which describes nutritional and complementary therapies to help with cancer treatment.

The-Silver-Lining-Maureen-Abood-1024x768My personal “silver lining” or “lifeline” in the book was the section for friends and family, Being With, where Jacobs compassionately sets forth the “practical ways TO BE:

  •  PRESENT
  • PATIENT
  • CALM
  • A GOOD LISTENER
  • HONEST & COMMUNICATIVE
  • NORMAL
  • PERSISTENT….and
  • DON’T TAKE THINGS PERSONALLY!  

No, not all of us are wired to look for “silver linings” in hard times and individual personalities have to find their own coping mechanisms for dealing with Cancer. Nonetheless, even for those with different approaches, The Silver Lining offers practical, insightful “lifelines” for people impacted by Cancer.

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*A great book that discusses Cancer  from a medical/scientific/historical perspective is The Emperor of all Maladies: A Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee.  Accessible to the non-scientist, it lays out how society has dealt with Cancer through the ages.  Fascinating read.

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April is National Poetry Month – Celebrate!

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“Poetry is everywhere – it just needs editing.”        –James Tate

I have had a heck of a time writing this week’s teaching tip.  I had it planned out in my head (sort of) and had begun to collect resources to support teaching that centered around National Poetry Month.  And then I wrote a first draft – it took me nearly 6 hours to write and reflected my ADD.  And, as Rachel kindly and gently noted, “it was pretty long and maybe we needed to divide it into 3 parts.”  In truth, it was not only long, but it was everywhere.  And it needed a lot of editing.  James Tate’s quote about poetry is making me feel a little bit better about it.

So this week’s teaching tip is #1 in a series about teaching poetry, with a focus on “go to” resources for your classroom (or at home) to plan at least a little bit ahead for a month of poetry everywhere.  And parents?  There are some poetry ideas in here for you as well!

April is the perfect time to celebrate American Poets and Poetry!  It has been a long winter and celebrations are great ways to rejuvenate weary students and teachers.  There are countless ways to celebrate:  Collect and read poetry, respond to poetry in writing or art, write poetry or perform poetry.  You can write to poets.  You can make recordings of kids reading poetry.

Poetry is my favorite genre to teach: it teaches kids about good writing, the crucial importance of language, and how to read and think critically and carefully. Moreover, poetry gives kids the opportunity to reflect on the people they are and the world they inhabit, and to imagine the people they wish to be and the world they hope to create.  Remember: Poetry is a worthwhile genre across the academic spectrum: Language Arts (reading and writing), STEM, Social Science and Performing Arts.  


Click on the underlined links to check out these resources firsthand to create poetry units or to weave into previously planned lessons:

The American Academy of Poetspoets.org

This is the place to go for poems, interdisciplinary lessons (many aligned with the common core standards) to teach poetry, and ideas for celebrating poetry in your school or classroom.  Click on the “For Educators” menu to find tips for teaching poetry, poetry resources for teens, curriculum and lesson plans, great poems to teach, essays on teaching, and a teacher resources center.  Check out The Listening Booth.  Other highlights include:

  • 30 ways to celebrate National Poetry MonthTons of ideas to weave into your classroom or school or at home to celebrate poetry!  Put poetry in an unexpected place!  Write a letter to a poet!
  • A POEM IN YOUR POCKET: Share a poem with everyone you meet on “National Poem in Your Pocket Day” which is Thursday, April 24, 2014.  Select a poem or compose an original work and carry it with you in your pocket all day, sharing the poem and the fun of National Poetry Month wherever you go. The site has poems to download (.pdf format) ready to share in your classroom or school or with your friends and neighbors.
  • The 2014 Poet-to-Poet Project:  This is a special multimedia educational project for students in grades 3-12 to write poems in response to the poems of living poets (classrooms can watch YouTube videos of the poets reading and explaining the creation of their poem) and send them to the American Academy of Poets.  Students have until April 30, 2014 to submit their poems. The American Academy of Poets worked with a curriculum specialist to design a series of standards – based lesson plans, with Science connections, together with activities and resources to support students who participate in this project:
  • The Literature of War (Grades 10-12)Students develop a poetic vocabulary and pursue an examination of the effects of war on those involved in the fighting and those they leave behind, moving chronologically through time.  The unit concludes by looking at the world’s most recent acts of war, the effects and ramifications of the events on and following September 11, through the reading of poems written since that date. As a culminating activity, students are asked to respond with a poem of their own that they illustrate with relevant images found on the web.

Poetry-Foundation-Logo-horizThe Poetry Foundation

This is an awesome website with thousands of poems and short bios of poets.  It is easily searchable for specifics.  It also has a wide variety of resources with ideas for teaching poetry across the spectrum:

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Poetry Out Loud

The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation partnered with U.S. state arts agencies to support Poetry Out Loud, a contest that encourages the nation’s youth to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about their literary heritage.  The site has suggested lessons and class schedules.

Although the official contest is designed for high schoolers, the materials could be adapted for classroom use in younger grades.  Here is a link to a downloadable .pdf of the 2014 Poetry Out Loud Teacher’s Guide.


PBS NewsHour Poetry Page

A compendium of PBS features on contemporary poets and poetry that might be relevant to the previously planned lessons you are teaching in your classroom (a simple way to weave poetry celebration into your current instruction).   

In particular, take a look at the project of the current Poet Laureate, Natasha Tretheway, called “Where Poetry Lives, “which focuses on “issues that matter to Americans through the framework of poetry.”  Some interesting pieces for parents and teachers alike that are certain to generate meaningful discussion.


ReadWriteThink

A comprehensive list of resources and ideas for lesson plans and assessments focused on National Poetry Month.

 

shel silversteinShel Silverstein

This page contains teaching and learning materials using the poetry of the late, but forever beloved children’s poet Shel Silverstein.  Who doesn’t love The Giving Tree? Here is a  link to the downloadable .pdf of Shelebrate National Poetry Month 2012, which is representative of the engaging curriculum found on this website.  Shel’s poems are accessible, meaningful and so much fun.  Parents should  might want to check out Shel’s website to access Shel’s poetry (samples), animations and activities and for a list of his poetry books.


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NY Times Learning Network

Here are thirty, easy, quick and engaging ideas for ways to respond to and appreciate,  create,  and perform poetry, all with connections to the larger world.  With links to specific teaching resources.  Designed with teachers in mind!

 

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The Poetry Archive

I couldn’t leave this site off this list even though it seems to be a UK site.  It contains a wealth of materials about poems, poets and the art of poetry,  with online recordings of poets from around the world reading their own work.  There is a menu of teacher resources with materials for teaching students at all ages starting at age 5, with ideas about how to incorporate listening into a lesson.  It also houses “The Children’s Poetry Archive” which allows a search by “poetic form.”   Here are some Tips for getting the best out of the Archive.


More next week!

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Tweet, Tweet, Tweet…

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This week’s teaching tip focuses on Twitter and its use as a teacher resource.  It’s a great source for professional development and it supports collaboration among teachers within a school, a district, a country, and yes, the world.  It is also a wonderful social medium to practice writing.  Really. 

Twitter tweets rock.  Honestly, I never thought I’d say this – 140 characters?  Are you kidding me? What can anyone say that’s worth reading in 140… but wait.  It takes a lot of writing prowess to write a meaningful and coherent thought in 140 characters.  True sentences, often, are whittled down to the pith (think Ernest Hemingway).

In A Moveable Feast, Hemingway revealed his struggle with writer’s block: “I would stand and look out over the roofs of Paris and think, ‘Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’ So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say.”

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Twitter can be a good place to practice writing — and also search for — that “one true sentence.” It is chock full of sentences (okay, “tweets”) that can lead the reader to knowledge, personal/professional support, and often, the truth (always be on the look out for trolls, political ax grinders and The Onion, among other Twitter accounts, that can lead you astray).  And yes, Twitter is full of digital noise (think about the notes or texts you confiscate during instruction).

In fact, teachers can use the power of Twitter to build a one-of-a-kind, fully-customized, digital network that permits them to quickly share resources, voice concerns about educational policy, and lend or seek support from other teachers. Differentiated teaching & learning? Yes.  Twitter can be utilized as differentiated professional development (who has not yearned for this in the teaching profession?)

If you haven’t created a twitter account, and aren’t sure how it would work, here are some examples of teachers on twitter.  Then, go to twitter.com and create your free account. Remember, it’s public so put up a nice photo of yourself and take some time to set up your profile.   And then, tweet!

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Twitter is NOISY! Determine which accounts you should follow.

Twitter can feel like being in the middle of Grand Central Station during rush hour and being hard of hearing.  People, ideas, music, videos, are flying around all over the place.  OVERWHELMING.

BUT, the user (that’s you) has total control of the accounts he or she follows (and unfollow).  You decide what you want to read and hear.  So,  begin by following educators you know or have worked with.  Twitter helps you:

  • connect and converse with those other teachers who attended professional development with you last week
  • lend support to one of your colleagues who is struggling with classroom engagement.

It makes sense to follow the established “experts” – these tweets will often have timely information relevant to your teaching practice, and can help you hone your craft.

twitter books

Here are a few of the twitter accounts which provide valuable teaching resources/guidance that Rachel and I both follow:

  1.  @edutopia:  Inspiration and Information for what works in education.  This account and its companion website (www.edutopia.org) have tons of research-based teaching ideas with an eye on the looming common core standards.  Love this.
  2. @DiscoveryEd: This is a global account that focuses on all aspects of classroom teaching and technology.  Companion website: www.discoveryeducation.com.
  3. @pbsteachers: PBS loves teachers!  Free digital resources and loads of great content for your classroom in all subject areas.
  4. @USATeducation: Resources from USA Today to connect student learning to the world around them.
  5. @NCTM: Tweets about Math teaching  from the the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (Also take a look at their companion website Illuminations for additional teaching resources).
  6. @Tolerance_org and @Facing History:  A plug for my most favorite teaching resources as a social science, history and literature teacher. Teaching Tolerance provides teachers with phenomenal free teaching materials and Facing History provides meaningful curriculum (and supportive, ongoing, reflective professional development from amazing people) geared toward promoting tolerance and combatting racism across the globe.
  7. @NCTE:  The National Council of Teachers of English tweet information on teaching (resources), common core and educational policy for pre-k to HS educators.  (Also check out www.NCTE.org and www.readwritethink.org for great teaching materials and ideas).
  8. @rethinkschools: Rethinking Schools focuses on teaching for social justice, anti-racist education & equity in public education policy & practice.  Tweets provide information, links to resources and thoughtful education policy discussion.
  9. @NSTA: The account of the National Science Teacher Association with a focus on all things STEM!
  10. @NEA:  The twitter account of the National Education Association which covers happenings and discussions on teaching and educational policy.  Here’s a place to help you stay in touch with what’s happening in terms of common core and teacher evaluation, along with other issues in education, even if you don’t have time to read the paper or watch the news!

twitter dude

Tweet: but don’t forget the #hashtag#

Compose tweets – talk about your teaching, your thoughts about educational policy, what is happening in your classroom, and concerns about assessment, lesson planning, common core or classroom management.  Post links, post multimedia.  Post what has meaning to you – what you wish to have a conversation about.  Tweet once or twice a day.  And respond to the tweets of others. And use:

twitter-hashtags

What’s a hashtag?  It is a word or phrase that is preceded by a # or hashtag.  In the noisy tweeting world of twitter, the hashtag categorizes tweets.   Use hashtags when you tweet and want your message to be part of a larger conversation beyond your followers.

There are standard hashtags (that the tweeter professionals all know and monitor) that will pull your tweet into a larger conversation beyond your immediate followers.  Make sure you use a relevant hashtag and you will reach others who are talking (whoops, tweeting) about the same topic.  Use more than one hashtag if your tweet applies to more than one topic, but choose wisely. If you want that hashtag’s community to value your input, take care to keep that twitter stream relevant and meaningful.  

Here is a long list of the Educational Hashtags which will allow you to place your words (tweet) within the purview of others monitoring those hashtags.  Use this list to monitor other conversations that might be meaningful to you (just type it in the search box on your twitter page).

A worldwide Twitter conversation known as #edchat takes place every Tuesday at 12 p.m. Eastern time and 7 p.m. Eastern time.  It’s worth monitoring and any educator can join in to discuss and learn about current teaching trends, how to integrate technology, transform their teaching, and connect with inspiring educators worldwide. Click here: #edchat  to learn more.  Discussions here also focus on education policy and education reform.

Try it!

Twitter-leader

Practice and read and learn.  It’s cool.

And, in conclusion, take a look at these wonderful teacher: Painful Hashtags.  Some might look woefully familiar!

In Their Own Words (A Book Review)

When I was about ten, I spent a full year checking out, then renewing, my favorite book from the library. Finally for my birthday my mom and dad gave me a gift certificate to my favorite bookstore, The Red Balloon, who special ordered the book for me. What was the name of the book? My Prairie Year, based on the diary of Elenore Plaisted.

my prairie year

The book was put together by Elenore’s granddaughter. I made my mom read the book to me over and over again. I loved hearing about the different tasks involved in living out in the prairie. I imagined running through the sheets drying on the clothes line. I was thankful I didn’t have to warm the irons up on the stove before pressing my clothes. I loved reading about how Father tied a string from the barn to the house so that he wouldn’t get lost when he went to the barn to milk the cows during the winter blizzard. (I thought about tying a string from my house to my garage several times this winter, just in case.)

The book made homesteading in the Dakotas in the late 1800s come alive for me. And the pencil drawn illustrations are beautiful.

When I started teaching, I came across another book that I loved almost as much. It has become a “sacred text” in my classroom, which means that we read it again and again. This book, also a memoir, is called When I Was Young In The Mountains by Cynthia Rylant.

when

Though the setting is in the mountains of Appalachia, there are many obvious comparisons. Rylant uses incredible imagery as she tells of visiting her grandparents home in the mountains. In prose so lyrical it almost reads as poetry, she illuminates everyday events, such as eating so much okra that she makes herself sick, warming up water for the evening bath in the old wood stove, being baptized in the local pond, and killing a snake as long as a room.

My love of memoir has grown with me as I have gotten older. The stories we tell of our lives are some of the most precious gifts we can give. Both these women have given incredible gifts of time, place, and adventure. In continuing the Women’s History Month theme, I wanted to highlight their voices and their stories.

In my own classroom, I use these books as “mentor texts” to highlight personal narratives in writing. In my home, I can’t wait to read stories to my little boy that tell of women like these two, strong and courageous. (Because it’s important to grow strong daughters, but it’s just as important to grow sons who respect strong daughters.)

My hope is that they will be well loved books in many others’ libraries.

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Intended Audience: All ages

Book Review: The Strong Women Who Lead the Way

She’s relatively well known at this point, but I stumbled upon Jeanette Winter’s book The Librarian of Basra at the closing of an art show featuring the silk road. It was my first year of teaching, and they were selling huge bolts of satin fabric, perfect for my bulletin boards. There, in the middle of the room, was a copy of the Librarian of Basra. No dust jacket. On sale for $5.

That was a little more than I would usually pay for a used book, but something about the book grabbed me, and I added it to the mounds of fabric and brought it to check out. I didn’t know it at time, but I had just found my new favorite picture book author and illustrator.

Jeanette Winter has written and illustrated many books. My favorite of her books are biographies about various women of note. In honor of Women’s History Month, here are a few of my favorite titles, featuring three brave women:

The_Librarian_of_BasraThe Librarian of Basra: This book was my first introduction to Jeanette Winter. In it, she tells the story of Alia Muhammad Baker, a librarian in Iraq. When the Iraq war started, Alia could not get the officials in her city to approve the relocation of the library. With incredible bravery, she took matters into her own hands. This story tells of one woman’s courage to fight for what she knew was right. The pictures show some very important images of war, which always capture my students’ attention, and leads to meaningful discussion.

indexWangari’s Trees of Peace: Not knowing my budding appreciation of Winter, my mother bought this book for my students after reading about Wangari Matthai’s incredible testimony of bringing back green to her homeland of Kenya with the simple and powerful act of planting trees. Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, this book tells her story, and like Alia Muhammad Baker, details the bravery and courage it takes to stand up for change. Along with the book, my mother sent a package of dates, since many of the trees planted were date trees. Not all of my students were convinced, but it was fun to try something new.

georgiaoGeorgia:  In Georgia, Winter tells the story of Georgia O’Keefe, starting from when she was a small child, and going through until her death. Though her story of bravery is somewhat different from Alia’s and Wangari’s, Winter explains how she was willing to stay true to who she knew she was, despite that necessitating going against the grain. “When my sisters wore sashes-I didn’t. When my sisters wore stockings-I wore none.” This is an excellent book to use to celebrate the beautiful creations that come from being willing to leave the crowd and march to the beat of your own drum.

Like I said, Winter has many, many books. I get excited each time I see a new hardcover picture book with her name printed on the spine. They are well worth making a trip to the local library or bookstore to check out.

Intended ages: 8 and up

261755_10150290602379874_2436766_nRachel