Monday, September 14, 2009


Make learning exciting
Provide dynamic, thought-provoking lessons
Create life long learners and leaders
Guides and Mentors

A cinquain is a diamond shaped five line poem, and many examples can be found on line. Using a lot of “poetic license” I wrote the above verse about how I view teachers.

I spent a lot of time today thinking about what I want my blog to accomplish. Accuracy of information with respect to what is going on in our schools would be one thing. Almost everyone has opinions on the subject, but not a lot are factual. Helping to make our educational system better is another. But what can one person do? Classroom volunteers are indispensable in our schools. I decided that I am going to call myself an “internet volunteer” by helping with ideas in the classroom, and creating a forum for honest debate by people who want to improve the system, not just bash it. We can call it a “teacher pulpit.”

To start with, let's talk about books you can hold in your hand. I think book learning should never be replaced by on-line learning in the classroom in the same way I think a calculator should never take the place of mental math. Here's why:

1. Almost every classroom schedule has a “read aloud” time, often just after lunch recess, as children settle down and refocus. A teacher chooses a favorite chapter book which is read serially and daily. It can be an old classic like Moby Dick or the latest Harry Potter, but whatever the choice, it is a delicious time for all as the words float through the room and into young minds awaiting new growth. Often the teacher will stop and ask some searching questions which serve to increase the learning as well as making sure everyone is still awake. If the teacher reads with expression so much the better. Best of all is the teacher who has a dramatic flair, and dresses up in costume on occasion during the delivery.

2. Then there is DEARs (Drop everything and read) or SSR (sustained silent reading) where children choose a book and sit reading quietly. Even the youngest children can benefit by this time by looking at picture books and thinking about the words.

3. A good use of time for children who finish assignments early is to have a book on hand or to get one from the class library and read while everyone else finishes, so they can all go on to the next lesson.

4. For me, kicking off a new lesson with a relevant book is key to capturing the children’s interest and insuring the lesson’s success. I usually choose two books – one fiction and one non-fiction- so that there is a constant reminder of the differences. Let’s say I am starting a unit on bears and want the children to know as much as possible about the subject. I’ll take a simple example for very young children - Goldilocks and the Three Bears for fiction and Baby Bear by Aubrey Lang for non fiction. Understanding that children learn differently, and believing in Dr. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences, I would set up seven stations for extending knowledge of bears over several days. For those of you who don’t know what is meant by multiple intelligences, simply put, it means that we have seven kinds of intelligence we use for assimilating new information. In the past we were told there were three learning styles – linguistic, auditory and kinesthetic Dr. Gardner refined the ways we learn to include the following:

Visual-Spatial - thinking in pictures
Logical-Mathematical – conceptual learning, especially logically and numerically
Verbal-Linguistic – thinking in words – listening – speaking
Bodily-Kinesthetic – learning through movement
Musical-rhythmic – learning through sounds, rhythms and patterns
Interpersonal – relating to others
Intrapersonal – self reflecting

To maximize the learning for all children I would set up literacy centers that might include an art project relating to bears, an engaging math activity, possibly in comparing small, medium, large, an audio center for listening to the stories/music, a drama corner for re-enacting the story, etc.

As time goes by I plan to share lesson plans on many topics using all of the intelligences. It is an amazing and engaging way for children to learn, and believe it or not, it can be easily assessed!

I said I would review a book a week for anyone interested in extracting and extending lessons from all the wonderful books now available. I bought five special ones at Barnes and Noble today and Punctuation Celebration by Elsa Knight Bruno is the first on my list for review.

Using truly funny and kid-friendly poems, the author writes about periods, question marks, exclamation points, commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, colons, semicolons, parentheses, ellipses, dashes, and hyphens. To teach quotation marks there is a mother yelling at her child to “Clean this messy room!”. Micky, who made a mighty mess by “spilling paint on Della’s dress (Now it’s being washed and pressed), will teach us about apostrophes. My favorite was the ellipses. “Ellipses points. . . three tiny dots . . are perfect for those silent spots. Their use, dear reader, is permitted when certain phrases are omitted.” The illustrations by Jenny Whitehead are filled with whimsical detail that will provide hours of fun for the reader. What a great book for teaching punctuation! We use star ratings for hotels and movies, with 5 stars being the highest. This is definitely a 5-star book for teachers and kids. I’d love to hear if you agree.

That’s it for today. More from my pulpit as I learn more about blogging.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Moving Forward:

Last night at the workshop, it all made sense.
As my teacher nudged me along.
But now I look out at a bright sunny day
And wonder if I was wrong?

My “about me” looks good and I like my first words
But now I’ve got writer’s block.
I guess I will start each blog with a poem
As I share my thoughts and self talk.

I saw Julie and Julia the other night, and I was touched – regardless of how many stars it did or didn’t get. Two great success stories in one. Maybe it was that movie that really started me on my blogging path. If Julie could do it, why not me? Granted French cooking can be more palatable than struggling to learn a new academic skill, but even academics can be easy if they are turned into fun experiences. And that’s how I like to teach.

For example, If you are want to teach or learn about Ancient Egypt, create an archeological dig in a box of sand containing broken dishes and other “artifacts”. Give your junior archeologists forks and let them experience a “dig” complete with recreating the broken pieces. This kind of experiential teaching is one way to make learning fun and memorable for kids. I can guarantee they will have an increased vocabulary which might include Egypt, pyramid, pharaoh, Nile River, archeologist, digging site, and many others depending on the various activities you provide. For those of you who want to increase your educational jargon, this is part of the “multiple intelligences” educational theory.

In the future I am thinking about reviewing a children’s book each week, giving ideas about how to present it as a learning experience to your child or classroom, and showing you how to create activities for the seven intelligences discussed in Dr. Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

School starts and I start too - writing, that is!

School started for my two youngest granddaughters yesterday - one in 3rd and one in 5th grade. They are in a great school with every possible advantage as they take the next step on their path to becoming successful adults and hopefully, lifelong learners.

I, too am starting. This is my first attempt at blogging. And why should anyone read what I write? After twenty years of teaching in my own classroom in Seattle's inner city, and three years of substitute teaching in over fifty Seattle schools, I have been told I should share my ideas for motivating kids and helping teachers and parents with fun ways to learn.

So now I am taking baby steps in this new, exciting way to learn. Here I sit at AFSB, Inc in Seattle, with a wonderful, patient instructor, who is taking me through a new learning adventure. I have gone through the mechanics of setting up my blog and I'm ready to go. Stay tuned!