“Ballad” Adaptation of Smooth Operator (Sade)

So calm, cool and collected,
but oh so unconnected;
you are the shadow in my sunshine,
umbrella over joy.
I tasted sweet delight when
we met and on that night I
could tell or so I thought that
we were truly right.
You danced so smooth and softly
your warmth was all I sought but
it wasn’t what I thought, no
you tied the loosest knot.
So calm, cool and collected,
but oh so unconnected;
you are the shadow in my sunshine,
umbrella over joy.
It’s possible I knew, yeah
that what you did was certain
that my surprise was foolish
my disillusion sure
It’s not the money, honey
I fell and you just smiled
It’s all about the best deal
nothing else is as real for sue
not what I so feel
but what is done is done.
So calm, cool and collected,
but oh so unconnected;
you are the shadow in my sunshine,
umbrella over joy.

Thanks, Chris Belt, for choosing this “ballad”.   For the record, I selected “Annie’s Song” by John Denver.  No surprise as I can’t think without music and color and every room in my house contains plants.  It’s all about senses.

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Reading Reflection: “The Pine Cone Wars: Writing in a Community of Children” by Anne Haas Dyson

Preface:  This article appeared in the Language Arts Journal; Dyson is working on a book that will incorporate it.  I thought she might have already written that tome, and so I went to images for Pine Cone Wars to see if I could import the cover.  I discovered a book image: Where Wizards Stay Up Late.  I believe Professor Dyson would appreciate that.

What a gift to the University of Illinois Anne Dyson is.  Just in her talk over lunch she made a world for us teachers to give us a glimpse of her application of children’s world-making play to their creative writing process.

In all three of the articles I read (and I plan to purchase a couple of Dyson’s books–stay tuned), Dyson explores the unofficial community of children and how it differs  from the official world their teachers (and the academic hierarchy) inhabit. We recognize the differences shaped by socioeconomic status, ethnicity, religion and location.  But we often fail to take into account that when combined with age and the perspective of emerging comprehension and manipulation, children live in another world in creative terms that include their tastes, preferences and sense of humor.

Dyson recognized that she is throwing down a gauntlet (wizard worlds are full of gauntlets) to those who would dictate the direction of public education in the U.S.  There are many challenges involved if one accepts communicative play as a necessary (and wonderful) step to true literacy.  Only one is that such a process of discovery must find its own pace, requiring a degree of individualization and imprecision that flies in the face of standardized-test wisdom.  However, concludes Dyson, “…at least potentially, … unofficial practices may inform and even transform official possibilities.”

In “The Pine Cone Wars” Dyson quotes Rosemary Zumwalt, a folklorist of childhood who writes that, “The fluid world of the child eludes the static state of the printed word.  In the same way, the rapidly evolving creative writing process of the child defies standardized testing.

In the Pine Cone Wars she follows, Dyson discovers and elucidates children’s use of networking, their incorporation of societal and even global information (informed also by television, fiction, movies and imagination) and their combination of images and print.  “Finally,” writes Dyson, “when writing time became situated in children’s worlds, it became all wound up with issues… like getting to play the role of gender, the nature of power, and even the suitability of “war” as a source of fun.” This last was very difficult for a very well-meaning classroom teacher to accept.  Not accepting the profound differences between “fake” (the children’s word) and real war “rendered invisible” the “children’s symbolic astuteness.”  Such a basic misunderstanding is especially applicable to the curricula envisioned for children “at risk.”

“Educators,” Dyson concludes (and cautions) “are not in sole control of children’s learning; as agents children act on their own interpretations of what is…  Their actions are always situated in multiple worlds.  A mutually influential relationship–a dialogue–between the official and unofficial world would seem critical.”

So it would seem.

The readings I have done for the Writing Project share some common themes, especially those I selected (Readercide and Inviting Parents into the Classroom).  All emphasize the need for community.  All emphasize the need for children–including those in high school–to rediscover reading and writing as a joy, a pleasure and to develop the communicative power to control their future as part of a wider community.  We teachers KNOW this.  It has been the bass line beneath every demonstration, the background of every discussion.

We, as teachers of literacy need to build our own community in order to hold an effective dialogue with those who observe our experience only from the outside.  However well-intentioned they are, most administrators and college professors of education and politicians do not have classroom experience: listening experience.  We need to find the incredible power that is our united voice.

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Reading Reflection: Readicide, by Kelly Gallagher.

I appreciated this book. I knew going in that I would agree with Mr. Gallagher’s contention that we as a national education system are ”engaged in the systematic killing of the love of reading,” but I found his working through some key argument points tremendously helpful.

He explores why we should NOT demonize the media—and that works in nicely with demos by fellows that incorporated pop culture creatively and effectively. He contends that we are wrong to reduce the amount of reading in order to concentrate on reading tests, likening such thinking to an Olympic swimmer. Who, asks Gallagher, would compete at that level having not trained for thousands of hours? Then how do we expect students to read intelligently if they have not read a considerable amount?

Gallagher’s approach in his high school classes is to allow students to take a 50/50 approach-half academic, half pleasure reading—in order to underscore the importance of reading for enjoyment. Citing the 2007 NPR study To Read or Not to Read and a study by Professor of education Yong Zhao (2006) Gallagher suggests that our reduction in reading nationwide is beginning to cost us our last remnant of super power: our creative edge. He makes an excellent case for the correlation between its decrease and “readicide.”

Together with numerous warnings there are calls to action and some practical classroom suggestions; but this is a book that should be read and well digested by those who make the decisions about how to turn the public schools around.

Consider asking the active teachers? Gee. In a recent NY Times article the journalist noted that the top voices in public education transformation are all private-school educated—and they sent their children to private schools too. This disconnect is also prevalent among administrators and college/university education departments as well. Their “expertise” and status consistently trumps that of teachers who only deal problem solve and juggle every day, day after day. My husband is an engineer. While it is not always the case, more often than not his bosses are experienced engineers too: it makes it a lot easier to make one’s case.

So I would not suggest this book for teachers, but rather for professors and lecturers who have taught very little except at the college level. I would make it required reading for administrators, And I would make politicians eat it one page at a time.

I currently teach in a school where there is ever an undercurrent of “Whew! Not our problem!” But it is. As we face a majority minority society and a rapidly altering balance of powers, we need all the creativity and deep thinking we can wrap our minds, and our students’ minds around.

So I ended with a preposition. I read the book.


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Inviting Families into the Classroom: Reading Reflection

While Lynne Yermanock Strieb spent 31 years as a K-2 teacher in urban schools–an entirely different experience from my own–I was interested in reading what another teacher had to say about families and schools.  In the foreword  Joseph Featherstone refers to a number of other books and studies.  I want to follow up on some studies by Annette Lareau  of social class, families and schools.  But he considers Strieb’s book exceptional, describing it as “the story of the development of a systematic practice of communication with parents on the part of a classroom teacher of young children over a long span of time.

Ideas for more reading are inevitable, if a hazard to my limited free time, but in her Notes on Chaper 7 Strieb mentions one book I plan to find and digest: Con Respeto: Bridging the Distances between Culturally Diverse Families and Schools.  In a former position I used t struggle mightily to get the parents of my Hispanic students to consider a conference-not part of their experience.  Currently I see the same inability to make connections occurring between well-intentioned Hispanics who are entirely part of the academic and professional culture and “new” Hispanics such as my Mexican gardener–who I located by posting a message in Spanish at the Mexican grocery store.  I see a lack of understanding of the connection that must be made between communication and community.  You cannot build the latter without establishing the former; and by communication I do not mean delivering brochures, but rather going and introducing yourself to the baker at the Mexican grocery store.  As teachers we so often write the report and neglect the phone call; if our students come from similar academic and professional backgrounds, their parents will respond.  But.

In a world where communication is pervasive, but increasingly impersonal, I think we face increasing growing divisions between those who understand the system and those who do not.  To have students of both kinds in the classroom forces us to either adapt–and broaden our teaching to include families–or to admit that we cannot

Yermanock addresses the increased difficulty in establishing a sense of community that standardization has caused.  My own school is profoundly privileged in not having to be that obsessive.  Because we are highly selective achieving high test scores is simply the norm.  (At my school we do, in my opinion, have a tendency to take credit for this front-loading.  I think we do a good job, but I also think we fail to realize how much we can learn from colleagues who fight much more of an uphill battle.)  Strieb does not pretend she always gets it right, especially where race and social class are concerned; I find her modesty refreshingly honest, and it makes her ideas even more meaningful to me.

The teachers and administrators I appreciate most are those who so honestly and openly assume and admit they have much to learn from others ( in very unexpected walks of life.

The book’s last chapter, which I just finished, divides what Strieb learned.  Her headings are as follows: Authority and Trust; What I Learned or Might Have Done Differently; Principals, Administrator, and a Welcoming Atmosphere; Teachers and Parents; Some Further Concerns; Final Thoughts.

Strieb draws on all her life experience: She moves from her own parenting suggested to how it helped her learn about her students’ parents’ interests and concerns.  (At the end of the book in a ‘Notes” section Strieb quotes Kagan’s work on professional identity). She goes on to discuss homework and behavior issues including how she informed parents of her actions and feelings and how they reacted.  Finally she opens her classroom to parents–although not all come in–and she gives examples of her newsletter and work in the class.  Above all she lays out her practice which Featherstone describes as deeply, profoundly participatory.  He says, “(her) constant dialogue…is … an essential part of her approach to teaching children… and how the teacher connects to the parents.”  Samples of those dialogues–letters and more–abound.

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Writing Group Poem

When I write I think I eventually reinvent.  Often, I know, I decide what I think only when I am satisfied with how I’ve expressed myself on paper.  Sometimes I write to let things go.  I write poems only when a poem is all that will do, and I rarely share them.  But everything I write–and I do compulsively write–changes me.  As I define this irritation that conflict, this question, that fear, this hope, that deep love, I define myself.  I come into clearer focus, if only one tny piece of me.  That facet is polished.  On to the next million or so.

In the Writing Group (just three of us; one absent) I brought this poem which I had re-worked somewhat (sometimes I can’t even find poems I wrote; I just write them).  I may go back to it again.  But I don’t write with publication or even sharing in mind, so I may just let it be. I do thank my two writing buddies for being kind and intelligent about it! It was that that made me decide I could expand my meager blog collection by amplifying the audience for it.

It is not necessary
to know all the answers,
but I do wonder
what kind of cheese
is the moon made of?
Green cheese?  Blue?
Is this a piece of the sky
or a piece of the sea?
It’s a puzzle, isn’t it?
Who said, “In mathematics
you don’t understand things
you just get used to them.” ?
I am used to quite a lot,
but not to everything.
I do wonder how Pluto is doing.
Who says the sky was the limit?
I don’t know that.  Is it?
They say writers are divided
between those who ask the questions
they think they already know
the answers to,
and those who ask
what they don’t know.
I know quite a lot,
but not why I can’t count
my age by rings.
And another thing,
How many really old trees are left?
I wonder how Earth is doing.
On his day-long journey into night
O’Neill asked
“The past is really the present,
isn’t it?  But he already knew
the answer.  He said,
“It’s the future too.”
I wonder how many days are left.
“We have always wondered,”
humphed the grumpy old men,
“how many angels can dance
on the head of a pin.”
It all depends.
But tonight I know
the light of the moon
is a pale bright green,
the exact color of a luna moth.

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What’s Left To Do

I have the pictures. I have the video–not a lot of that as I wobble more than I thought. Lowering revelation. I have the voice-over–one bleagh. I will need Patrick to show me how to edit that out. I left pauses to fill in with very brief bits of “Caracoles” as a musical interlude. Caracoles means snails–the mot juste, n’est ce pas? Jawohl. A snail’s pace.
I need to find out how, on a Mac, I layer the audio and video so I can see the timing and edit accordingly. I already have the titles and credits…

The videos have been great. Everyone’s so different, and all so personal.

And then a net file. Really?

I’m pretty sure my net will require a safety net.

Tomorrow, guys. I love ya, tomorrow–even though you’re only a day away.

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Ellen, Jenna, Gene & Extended Extension

This was our small group’s response to an article used by Caleb in his demonstration.  I really appreciated his use of something local–right down to the connection with Unit 4 in Champaign, and to something that requires students to consider multiple aspects of social justice.

It has impressed me that for all our widely differing backgrounds, curricula and  age groups the importance of either (or both) a social justice or a global perspective on teaching.  Certainly I have always considered it very pertinent.  I would love to see an expansion of this into a cross-curricular approach.  I wonder… with all the discussion about charter schools and meaningful curricular change, especially at the high-school level, are there models that take an overarching theme and make connections to that theme the centerpiece of every subject taught?  So that when, say, the Spanish teacher (gee, why would that come to mind?) wanted to discuss the Caribbean, Art could bring her information on the ways Che Guevara is presented (and many of his actual goals mis-represented) or talk about Oscar de la Renta’s designs, and History could bring in a discussion of Puerto Rico and issues of representation and the biology teacher could discuss Che’s experience with lepers in South America and what leprosy is and Music could talk about ‘son’ in jazz and counselors could discuss how a blind Cuban ballerina took on New York and English could compare Julia de Burgos and Sylvia Plath and Math could look at the prodigious complexity that is the Maya calendar system.

This is what I would love to see in education, allowing every student a way in–through art, writing, science, math, languages, psychology, history…

It has distressed me for years to watch even the brightest students getting caught up in creating a academic resume rather than learning how to learn for life.  Exploration has been replaced by ever-earlier specialization with a desire to make of every gifted child a prodigy; to aim him or her rather than support their need to roam.  Many times these carefully targeted students do succeed as professors, or engineers, but I do wonder if anyone has tracked their creativity.  Do they learn later in life, after blasting through and earning the MA or PhD, to look at things from a hundred angles rather than a magnifying glass?

I was born on the other side of the binoculars, always wanting to look beyond, beyond, beyond; to trace astonishing and unexpected lines that were invisible farther in.  It’s why I read National Geographic and books about zero and the Geography of Bliss (recommended) and the Dante Club (recommended) all at the same time.

I won’t ever make a lot of money or publish anything definitive about anything, but I will have lived a meaningful life because I believe it is every person’s purpose to discover the of being human and living in community–and therefore to do good if at all possible.  As a teacher I want to provide a classroom in which students can find was to connect what I teach to their ongoing discovery of their individual life.

This all sounds so very lofty…  I should add that it is my innermost desire to come back to earth as an otter.  I am convinced that they have found joy.  I’m fine with not thinking for a life or two.

The three of us arrived at some sort of consensus about the underlying importance of choice. How much choice does a woman have who had no effective childhood education? Do we have an effective way in our system of making up for the omissions suffered by neglected children? When making choices–beyond escape–how realistic is society’s belief that public schools give all kids access to good decision-making skills? Pregnancy and contraception?
How realistic is the social response to the realities faced by millions?

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