Posts Tagged ‘teaching’


Geno Delafosse

Geno Delafosse

La Poussiere means “the dust.”  The dance hall by this name in Breaux Bridge, LA was so named because the original floor was dirt, so when Cajuns danced a jig, the dust would fly.

Geno Delafose and the French Rocking Boogie sing a song entitled “She Makes the Dust Fly.”

Last night, my husband and I were Zydeco dancing to Geno at La Poussiere.

Twenty years ago, Geno would not have been welcome in La Poussiere.  There were strict unwritten rules against black people entering the club.  In 1996, The New York Times featured an article about a lawsuit that required La Poussiere to drop its policy and open its doors to black patrons, even on Saturday night.  Comments from locals stated that this was the way it’s always been.  There was an undercurrent of acceptance of racial discrimination.  However, as Breaux Bridge became more of a tourist area, these traditions came in to question.

Today, blacks and whites not only dance at La Poussiere, they often dance together. The cultures are becoming mixed and more accepting.  Last night, there was a Cajun man playing the triangle on stage with the all black band.

Yesterday, my friend Tara Smith posted about addressing civil rights issues with her students.  She teaches in an affluent, mostly white area.  She said, “As I have found in years past, none of my students had ever heard of Emmett Till, a boy not much older than they are, who lost his life to hatred and racism.   Few history text books seem to mention Emmett Till, and we can now add the names of Travon Martin and Tamir Rice (to name just two) to our country’s long legacy of racism and the heartbreaking violence it breeds.  But, teaching history demands that we seek the truth so that we can do better.”

Teaching demands that we do better.  We all need to do better.   We need to look at our neighbors as persons worthy of respect and honor whether we are dancing, having a meal, going to church, or driving on the highway.

Dancing and music are great equalizers. We are all comrades enjoying the parade.  Turn up the music, hear the beat, and remember always, always to be kind.


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Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

Join the Two Writing Teachers blog for Tuesdays Slice of Life Challenge.

teaching quote

I’ve been in a funk for the last few days, and I’m not sure why.

It could be that the temperatures are warmer, so it’s time to turn on the A/C and close the windows.

Maybe it was the book I was reading. All the Bright Places drew me in. I was reading anytime I had a few moments to grab. I was taken in by Finch and Violet and then… Well I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say the end could put one in a funk.

The weeds were bugging me, so on Saturday, I got after them. Weeding, mulching, making my front yard look nice. The funk was still there.

This is not the kind of funk that makes me cry. Actually, on the outside I’ve been keeping a pretty cheery disposition. Until Sunday. My choir director and friend said, “You must be happy that school is almost out.”

No. Not at all. Then I ranted about all the things I hate about the end of the school year. But the biggest, glaring thing for me was I will miss my kids. Some of my students will return to me next year. Some will not. These last few weeks are full of activities that draw my students away from my class. This is the time of year I become well aware that I am not a regular teacher. Between field trips and reward activities, game days, splash days, award days, I fall to the bottom of the totem pole. And I’m in a funk about it. There is nothing to be done, so I need to just let it go and enjoy the time we do have with each other.

This weekend a former student got in touch with me through Facebook. She messaged me, and we started a conversation about what we were both doing now. She’s a wife, mother, a personal chef and fitness instructor. She wrote, “I know this is gushy but you were such a strong part of my childhood because I was so close to the school and church and you were such a strong, caring teacher. I have told my children about you on numerous occasions. If you ever wonder how you have touched the lives of your students– you give such warmth and caring and belief. I am so glad God called you to teach and that you were part of my life! And I am so grateful that I can tell you that now.” Tears. Heartbeat. Breathe. Funk lifted.

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Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts.  Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

Click here to read more #spiritualjourney posts. Thanks Holly for hosting this roundup!

do it anyway

Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
–Mary Oliver

Can we really make a difference? Can one person plant a seed?
Will it grow? How will we know?

I got a phone call today from a former student. She felt brave enough to enter a writing contest, the Scholastic Mockingjay Change the World Contest. She called to tell me she placed in the top ten and will receive prizes. I was thrilled! Her essay speaks of world hunger as the biggest problem we face today. Her experience volunteering at Solomon House with me and some of her classmates influenced her greatly.

An excerpt from her essay:

Though super powers are the quickest way to saving the hungry, there are still things you and I can do to help. During the Hunger Games, gracious sponsors donate food to dying tributes. This often saves them. Think of Katniss! She wouldn’t be alive if not for the kind-hearted people that gave her a chance. We should be the sponsors of this world…the ones that say, “I made a difference.” We can be those people. Today.
–Kaylie B. Read the entire essay here.

I do what I do in order to make a difference, to mean something to someone. But the tree does not bear fruit quickly, usually after years of growth. Even so, I should do the best I can with each precious life I hold. This is my responsibility. This is my vocation. Congratulations to Kaylie! I am so proud to be a part of her life as a writer and as a person who makes a difference.

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Slice of Life Day 13.  Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

Slice of Life Day 13. Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge.

I want to stay here
in deep meditation
focusing on one word,
letting light dance in my eyes,
letting go of stress.
Let me stay a little longer.

I want to stay here
in this warm shower
with scents of fresh herbs, a hint of rose
rubbing my itching scalp.
Steam wraps me in comfort.
Let me stay a little longer.

I want to stay here
reading in my teacher chair
while kids are spotted all around
with noses in their books.
I stop to read a favorite line.
Can I stay here a little longer?

I want to stay here
in shavasana, toes pointing to heaven,
holding my color focal point
melting away the day,
bowing in namaste,
Please let me stay.

photo by Pierce Martin, labeled for reuse on Flickr

photo by Pierce Martin, labeled for reuse on Flickr

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Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge!

Join the Two Writing Teachers Slice of Life Challenge!

Discover. Play. Build.

Celebrate #1: Happy March! Welcome to Slice of Life, a challenge to write every day in March sponsored by the Two Writing Teachers. This will be my third year to join in. My students are also slicing in March. We have a special class blog at kidblog for the Slice of Life Challenge. Since we will be out of school Monday through Wednesday of next week due to Mardi Gras, I encouraged them to get a jumpstart. Some did. Please stop by our site and make a comment. They love comments!

The Cat in the Hat visited the Book Fair!  Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

The Cat in the Hat visited the Book Fair! Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

Celebrate #2: This week was the Scholastic Book Fair at my school. We also celebrated Dr. Seuss’s birthday. I added to my class library and enjoyed visiting with our librarian, Mrs. Armentor, otherwise known as “The Cat in the Hat.”

Have you read any of these books?

Have you read any of these books?

Celebrate #3: My students created a skit for Family Night. It was cute and clever, and they were terribly nervous. The skit was on the theme of bullying. They encouraged everyone to THINK before they speak.

Think before you speak

Printable Poster Available:

Before You Speak Think

Celebrate #4: My oldest daughter had her 29th birthday. She went to San Francisco for the weekend to visit a close friend from high school. I wrote a poem for her from Laura Shovan’s color prompt at Author Amok.

29 year old
For Maggie, 2/24/14

Ballerina pink is not your color
as you take to the streets in an obsidian Lexus,
You fly to San Francisco. Run by the Golden Gate;
International orange looks good on you!
Undaunted, throw your hair to the wind—
Quick like silver, don’t look back.

–Margaret Simon

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

Class group hug, saying goodbye.

Class group hug, saying goodbye.

If I were to name an overall theme to this school year, it would be the year of blogging. This school year I started using Kidblogs with my students. I was pleased to find this site that was not blocked by our district server and was safe and easy for students to use.

At first I set up a site just for my students. I teach gifted elementary students at two schools, so this site was titled “Mrs. Simon’s GT Allstars.” I required only one post per week and comments on two posts. I created a very simple rubric that included these four aspects: 1. I posted at least one time this week. My post followed the teacher’s prompt. 2. My post was free of grammar errors. 3. I commented on at least two other posts. 4. My comment was thoughtful and constructive.

Kidblogs provided my students a forum for posting and sharing their writing. They interacted through comments. Some students built stories and would write, “Stay tuned for part 2.” We talked about commenting and creating a “compliment sandwich” or “criticycle.” Students became anxious for new writing prompts. They would rush to the computers to check on their comments.

I introduced the Kidblog site to my colleagues. We used it for responses from a group field trip with the 4th and 5th grade gifted students. We made a site for our 6th grade enrichment project. Two colleagues decided to read the same book and had conversations between their students on Kidblog.

Then came the Slice of Life Challenge in March. Being familiar with writing on a blog made it easier for my students to jump in and participate. I made this site public (after getting parental consent) so that other Slice Of Life writers could read and comment. For the Slice of Life Challenge, I raised the expectations for posting to three posts per week and commenting on three other blogs. But to win a prize, they had to write at least every day we had school. The more they posted, the better the prize. I had 4 students get the top prize for posting every day. One of these told me that she felt she was a real writer now.

I highly recommend using blogs in your classroom. The Kidblog site is easy to use. The site administrators are helpful and supportive. I think my students are better writers, but the best part is they think they are better writers.

I did a survey and here are some of their comments:

The way that people could comment on my writing helped me to improve. I think everyone built up each others’ self esteem. I can not think of a better way to improve this blog; it is already great.

During slice of life, I was able to see what others’ interests are. People’s comments helped me improve my writing. Writing should be shared with the world. Blogging has improved my writing and helped me stay connected with friends. I hope kidblogs continues.

When I commented, I tried to be as nice as possible, but still able to tell the author’s mistakes. From now on, I’ll try to think less about mistakes and be more positive when I comment.

I really enjoy blogging on slice of life challenge this year, and it was the first time I enjoyed blogging. I used to think it was boring, but it’s not. I enjoy being able to communicate with people all around the USA. YES! Blogging was so fun! I want to do it every year.

To see all of their comments and their writing, go to Slice of Life Challenge.

I want to take a moment to thank all of the Slice of Life teachers who took the time to visit our Kidblog site and comment. We even had a few authors stop in, Caroline Starr Rose and Sharon Creech. The wonders of this World Wide Web!

Making connections! Improving writing! Sharing! Building a community of writers! These are the values of blogging. Blogging is for kids!

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Slice of Life Tuesday

Slice of Life Tuesday

I have an incredible mother-in-law who loves to travel. The more exotic, the better. This spring she traveled to Burma (now known as Myanmar). When she returned, she visited my classes to take them on a virtual field trip through Burma.

My mother-in-law’s grandmother name is Minga, so I told the children they could call her Minga. (Some of them called her Miss Minga to be respectful.) Minga came dressed in costume. She wore a traditional Burmese skirt which was merely a piece of woven colorful cloth wrapped around her waist and tied on. She didn’t wear shoes. In Burma, the people take off their shoes anytime they enter a building. The kids thought this was so cool that they tried to take their shoes off, too. Minga carried a bright red parasol and wore a pasty sunscreen substance on her face as the Burmese women wear.

When she came in the classroom, she bowed and said, “Minga la ba.” This means hello, goodbye, good afternoon, everything in the way of greeting. We thought this was so funny that Minga’s grandmother name is a greeting in Burma.

Minga told the children about the many differences in the culture across the globe. She also talked about how they were similar. She had a photograph of children playing a game like the game Qwirkle that we had only recently been playing in our classroom.

She shared the cake-like substance that they put on their faces as well as some sweets. She showed the students the process for making the sweet candy, from climbing the tree to get the fruit, to grinding using a mortar and pestle.

The students were full of wonder and questions. They enjoyed being able to try to carry a basket on their heads. They realized that we have a great many luxuries, even our bathrooms and electricity. It was invaluable for my students to be able to experience this foreign culture first hand.

A picture gallery

Boys go to monk school in the summer and must beg for their food.

Boys go to monk school in the summer and must beg for their food.

Girls shave their heads to attend a nun school.

Girls shave their heads to attend a nun school.

Women carry foods and other things on their heads.

Women carry foods and other things on their heads.

A pagoda, a Buddhist holy temple, at sunset.

A pagoda, a Buddhist holy temple, at sunset.

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Join the Tuesday Slice of Life

A writing exercise that is often successful for me is to borrow a line. I have done this a number of times to jump start a poem. See The Day, Fallen Oak and also in the poem from the 30 Day Challenge Blackberry Time.

Last week my writing partner, Stephanie, led a writing camp. She used this exercise with the students. I joined them on Wednesday for their writing marathon. It turned into a virtual writing marathon due to rain, but we managed to spend time visiting different places (through pictures) and responding with writing. Stephanie posted pictures on the kidblog she set up for the camp. For one of the pictures, her prompt was an Emily Dickinson poem and a picture of a mountain waterfall with the sun bursting over the hillside. For some, the picture led the poem. For others, Emily Dickinson’s words. Later in the week, the students were asked to find a favorite poem and “steal a line.” While we instruct them on plagiarism and the correct way to credit the original author, this activity is often successful. Somehow it breaks through the barrier of “I can’t write,” and leads to deeper creativity.

Here are a few samples from the writers at Write Your Way Camp 2012:

From Sophia with a borrowed line from Emily Dickinson

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
and stories of this place.
Its beauty just lights up my eyes,
and fills the land with grace.
I see the mountains, puffy clouds,
and greatly blinding sun.
But in some time,
I will realize,
That my journey’s just begun.

From Matthew with Emily Dickinson
Hope is the thing with feathers,
hope is the thing with fur,
hope is the thing that rises the sun,
hope is the thing that purrs.

Kaylie with a borrowed title by Joe Fazio.
This is… Our Life

This is the game we play,
start at the beginning of the day,
run in circles, having fun in the sunny rays.
Lie down in the dewy grass,
wait for the day to pass.
Go back home and start again.
I know you’ll be there tomorrow, my friend.

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I spent the day at the State Museum in Baton Rouge judging the Letters about Literature contest. A dozen teachers gathered around a conference room table to talk about writing and to read student entries. This is always a treat. Students from various corners of our state wrote letters to their favorite authors. These letters should not be like a book report. The author, of course, knows what the book is about. What the LAL contest is about is synthesizing, not summarizing.

We set the criteria by looking at the Library of Congress rubric, our own LA Writes Voices, and reading again last year’s winning letters. Tough judging. But as I started reading, in my mind I was looking for the connection, the lasting impression of a reader understanding a writer. Inevitably, the letters that rise to the top make a very personal connection and express that connection in a unique voice. This is a difficult skill to teach. All we can do as teachers is model, model, model, and open the door.

Our top choice for the high school level wrote to Jane Austen. This writer even wrote like Jane Austen. She devoured her books after she first read Pride and Prejudice. But the thing that stood out was the opening line, “Jane Austen, I have a dangerous confession to make. I never liked to read until…”

Again and again, the letters confess something similar. The student learned to love reading by reading this author’s book. The top winner in the middle school level wrote about how she read prize winning books and made the A on all her book reports, but never became a part of a book until she read The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. In her own unique way, she gradually expressed her connection to the character.

We were all drawn to the 4th grader who read Old Yeller, and related about losing her friends when she moved after Hurricane Katrina. She wrote, “Most books take you to a new place, but your book brought me home.”

We all have books that draw us in, speak to us, and become a part of our lives. What is that book for you? Have you written to the author?

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