Building Bridges

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#sol- Building Bridges

September 27, 2016

Today was the first of two days for first semester parent-teacher conference. I know we are really lucky to have two full days for this! Our school made the decision to include students this year (yahoo!) and conferences were about two weeks earlier than usual, so there was a bit of frenzied preparation to get this all to be a positive reporting experience.

Today I had 14 conferences scheduled, so a busy day indeed. Tonight I am tired, but so very happy. Today was truly a learning celebration. It was great to see our students sharing their growth and goals with their parents. The third graders had a clear understanding of their strengths and needs as they talked their parents through their lives in third grade. Students excitedly shared their stories, their reading life, their progress in math. I saw more than one parent wipe away a stray tear of pride. It was humbling to watch students translate for parents. It was fun to share stories of successes and hear tales of how learning is carried over at home. Some of the students receive direct support from our EAL coteacher and the look of awe from the students when she shared thinking prompts for their parents in their home language was moving. We are asking all of our students to do so much as learners and our EAL students have the extra challenge of doing this all in a language they do not speak at home. While preparing for conferences is a lot of work and the days are long I appreciate this opportunity to help build bridges with families. It is important to have the time for parents to share in their child’s schooling and opportunities like this make this happen.

Tomorrow I will finish up this round of conferences but I know that the bridges we built today will benefit our learning community throughout the rest of the year and beyond.

The Power of Read Alouds

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The Power of Read Alouds

#sol- September 20, 2016

I prepared myself for all the emotion of reading the last chapter of Stone Fox. “I have read the book before, even read it to last year’s class, ” I told myself. “I don’t need to cry this time. I know what is going to happen. I can brace myself for the shock,” I tried to convince myself. There I sat with my class of third graders gathered around me. There was an audible gasp when it came to the line where Searchlight’s heart burst. The buzz started, “You mean she died?” a few asked.  “Is that real, did she really die?” another voice called out. And then it happened, I could feel the hot tears brighten my eyes and seep out the edges. “Are you crying?” a small voice asked. “Look, she is crying,” two students in the back were shocked. Somehow I got through the rest of the chapter after tearing up a few more times. After a minute for us all to recuperate a bit we began to reflect.

Somehow I got through the rest of the chapter after tearing up a few more times. After a minute for us all to recuperate a bit we began to reflect. As we discussed author’s purpose we wondered why the author had the story end this way. The students recalled that the book had been based on a true story the author had been told, so we reread the author’s note. “Things don’t always turn out how you expected,” one wise student shared. “Maybe the author knew that we are used to happy endings and he wanted us to know that not every ending is happy,” another student added. “He wanted to show how kind people can be,” another student shared.

I love to read aloud with my students and I choose stories run the gamut of silly to serious. I do not always take the time to have them share as much of their thinking as we do today, but it was impressive to hear how in the space of a few weeks these third graders have grown as learners. Reading their reflections afterward about the kind of readers they are and the kind of readers they want to be made me glad that we are building our community of readers day by day. We closed the day, later with The Not So Quiet Library and here we shared the laughs. A different feeling book, but building our reading community book by book.

Thank you, authors!

Progress?

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Progress?

#sol September 13, 2016

Yesterday I had the day off (yes, another holiday in Malaysia), so I scurried off to pick up some groceries. When deciding where to live two years ago I planned to be car free. I had just come from years in Berlin, where not having a car was easy as the public transport was so excellent. Coming here everyone insisted, “You’ll change your mind.” “It’s impossible to live without a car in KL.” Truthfully the thought of me driving on the other side of the road with all of the traffic jams here and motorcyclists dashing aboout helped make me decide that me not driving was better for my sanity and everyone else’s safety. After being in the city for a few days and seeing the frequent traffic woes I knew that driving in that traffic would stress me out too much!

I decided I would live near public transport and amenities I wanted. I chose my apartment because it was not right in the heart of the city, but was still close by. There is  a bus stop right out front and a light rail line stop within walking distance. Without traffic, it would be only a 15-minute drive to school (taxis are cheap and plentiful, so that would be my car choice when public transport was not possible). It was also right next to a small mall with a grocery store, Starbucks, a hair dresser and more- the fact that several of my colleagues were also going to live there was a bit of a bonus too. There was a small wooded lot between the apartment and the mall, so in spite of being on a busy road, it seemed quiet enough.

Flash forward- they are building an overpass right between my building and the mall. It will ease the crazy traffic there (maybe), but in the meantime it is a big construction site. I love being able to walk to get things done, but yesterday was hard.

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As I exit the apartment complex there is this “walkway”. The frequent rains flood it, but some kind soul laid a path yesterday. Without groceries, I made the leaps, with groceries I ended up muddy and wet.

 

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Safety issues?

 

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This area used to be a deserted lot with a few trees.

 

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The front building is where I live. The open area between the two apartment buildings is where the pool is. 

 

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The continuation of my “path”. 

 

According to the information in my apartment building this project has another two years to go. I am hopeful that they will keep in mind that there are many of us in the neighborhood who walk to and from the mall, but here pedestrians are not so common, so I am afraid it may get worse before it gets better.

I like where I live and am not likely to make a move, but yesterday made it hard to believe that living next door to the grocery store did not necessarily mean that i could run out to the store on a whim. My car free plan is still in place, but…

Lazy School Lunch #sol Sept. 6, 2016

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Lazy School Lunch

#sol Sept. 6, 2016

This summer I fell in love with jars! I stayed with a friend in Berlin who introduced me to overnight oatmeal. You put together ingredients (oats, yogurt, milk, chia seeds, fruit, nuts) and shake the jar well. The jar sits in the fridge overnight and then in the morning you can eat it as is, or warm the jar. She mentioned that she had consulted a website  to get her started. I gobbled up her oatmeal happily on many days and as my summer progressed I shared the idea at other homes.

Upon returning to KL I finally looked at the website and saw so many recipes. There were also recipes for salads in a jar and I was intrigued. I told a few friends about my new interest and we were on the hunt for quart size jars for lunch. Eventually we all found our jars and we were off to a good start. Once each week is my “assembly day”. The salad is layered in the jar, with dressing at the bottom (my current favorite is roasted sesame). Next in is the protein and/or grain. Small, light items are next, followed by your larger items. To top it all off, add your greens. I put all of  the jars in the fridge and grab one on my way out the door each morning- voila, an easy lunch I can dump in a bowl at school. Because I can vary it in an endless variety of ways I am keeping it interesting. For years the majority of my lunches have school lunch, but so far this year I am glad to have made a switch. I am lazy by nature and do not like leftovers, so putting together a lunch always slipped off my “to do” list. With this new system lunch assembly is quick and easy- even I can manage it! Something that has surprised me is how long the salads stay fresh in a jar- wahoo!

Now that most of my breakfasts and lunches are automated, maybe I should move on to dinner. If you have ideas for me to try, please let me know!

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This jar is sideways, sorry!

 

Here’s to a Tuesday…

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#sol- Here’s to a Tuesday (that felt like a Friday)

August 30. 2016

Today was our fourth Tuesday of the school year, but it felt a bit like a Friday. There were reasons both good and not so good for this. The not so good includes that the haze is back (haze is what they call the terrible pollution here that is mostly the result of the seasonal burning of land in the palm plantation areas of Indonesia. The smoke drifts here and makes the air TERRIBLE). The hazy weather makes everyone feel sick-symptoms range from sinus infections, to sore throats, wheezing, and more. It makes us feel sooooo sleepy! Yesterday the air was bad enough that the students were not allowed out for lunch recess. Today it was worse, so for the playtime that students usually have before school they were sent to their classrooms. Starting with students 20 minutes earlier than usual was hard when I had a parent conference scheduled for that same time. So my day began with a hurried conference in our team area while I kept an eye on my students as they started their day.  No snack recess or lunch recess outside later either, which made for some disappointed students (and maybe some teachers too). Did I mention the grade level assistant was out, as well, so we all had extra duties? As it is so early in the year we had not really prepared the students for what indoor recess entailed, so it was (a bit) chaotic and things were left (in a bit of) a mess overall.

The good reasons today felt like a Friday? We have the day off tomorrow since it is Merdeka Day (the public holiday commemorating the independence of the Federation of Malaya from British colonial rule in 1957). There have been many military planes flying overhead the last few days as they practice for the big day, and I will be glad to have the skies a bit quieter. So, after a mid-week

So, after a mid-week holiday we will be back at school on Thursday before we have our next Friday. This sounds nice in theory, but in practice it is early in the year and it is hard to disrupt our routine. Our 6-day rotating schedule is confusing enough! Thursday will be Day 5. Our calendar has other mid-week days off in the future. This country that has people from many different cultures seems to almost always be preparing for a celebration!

We will be glad for the extra day of rest next week when Open House is on Monday night (why a Monday I ask myself- Thursday night is my favorite night for late at school evenings). Busy, busy, busy!

Writing Like a Third Grader

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#sol- Writing Like a Third Grader

August 23, 2016

Today I was humbled (again). We are in the part of the writing unit where I am supposed to introduce the grade three narrative writing checklist to the students. We looked at a sample third grade piece of writing and we discussed which parts should be rated “not yet”, “starting to”, or “yes!”. It was easy to go through and find proof of our assessment. Then came the hard part. We were each to turn to our most recent writing and self-assess it. We looked critically at our writing and searched for proof of our ratings.

As their teacher, I felt it only fair to look at my own writing through this lens. Keep in mind that I am many years past third grade. There are 12 criteria, yet in only three areas did I rate a “yes!” (and they were in punctuation and spelling). While I talked with my students about the need to set high standards for ourselves, and not talk ourselves into overrating, it was still humbling. Okay, so this piece in my school writing notebook was written for this unit, it was not writing I did for myself or for my blog, but still… I am asking them to do hard work!

It is in moments like this that I remember the reasons that I am a teacher who writes. Today’s lesson filled me with empathy for the writers who have so many goals they do not know what to work on most or first. I also understand the writers who see the end goal as being so far away from where they are today. I also face the challenge of continuing to work hard to improve a piece, even though the first draft was what you may have considered your best, or good enough. I love being able to talk honestly with my students about how hard it is to be a writer and today they got a close look at my checklist, to see firsthand that their teacher is working on goals too.

Tuesday Treats- Some Change Is Hard to Accept

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#sol- Tuesday Treats- Some Change Is Hard to Accept

August 16, 2016

Almost a year and a half ago I decided I had to make a change to be a better teacher. I knew that as a teacher of writers I should be a writer, but my efforts until then had been haphazard at best. March 2015 I finally joined in the March Slice of  Life Challenge, even though I had been reading and commenting before. After that crazy month I decided I would continue and slice weekly, and I have. Some writing is better than none I decided. In the summers I have participated in Teachers Write (since its inception) and the summer is when I often make better use of a writer’s notebook too. Last January Kathleen Sokolowski wrote a great post on TWT calling on us all to be leading the way to raise the profile of teachers as writers. I joined the Voxer group, wrote some more, led a PD about teacher-writers, but still- find writing hard! In March I sliced again for 31 days. I am not a quick writer (and let’s not even talk about my lack of keyboarding skills). I am not a creative writer. I do not feel particularly called to be a writer. I enjoy it well enough, but to be honest I often write because I know I should, not because I really feel the need. But still I write (not every day- I did when it was a sticky note’s worth, so I should at least return to that).

Here’s the thing- I love reading other people’s writing, so I make deals with myself. I tell myself I can not read any slices until I have written my own. I reward myself on Tuesdays to keep going. One way I have rewarded myself is with a delicious dinner on “Slice Night”. Last year it became a habit to stop off at the nearby Japanese restaurant for sushi on Tuesdays. Sometimes  I would eat there and start to think about my post while munching away. Other times I would bring the sushi home and get a start while devouring the tasty treats. Last spring I found out the restaurant would be relocating in August. Sadly, when I returned to Kuala Lumpur on July 22nd it was already gone- no last celebratory meal for me. Somehow now I need to start a new tradition for Tuesdays, so tonight I am brewing a cup of cammomile tea as a reward for writing and a treat to savor as I read the words of others.