To say this spring has been a challenging time would be a gross understatement. Having said that, for me, the pandemic has presented me with many unexpected gifts. Here are twenty of them:
20. Seeing My Principal in a Metallica T-Shirt
There are poems about seeing one’s teacher in blue jeans at the grocery store. But how about the principal wearing a Metallica t-shirt during a Zoom meeting?
19. Learning New Technology
Teaching during this time has forced me to learn technology at a rapid rate. My favorite tool, Google MOTE. It allows me to leave voice comments for my students. Super fun!
18. Time with Buck
My dog Buck and I have always been close. Now, he’s literally my buddy. Wherever I go, he goes.
17. No More Brambles
Okay. That’s a lie. It’s not possible to clear our property of all the brambles. But hundreds of them are gone. Once again we can see what we affectionately call, “the big rock” behind our house.
16. House Projects
Sad to say I have clutter issues. However, bit-by-bit, I’m clearing out spaces. One closet taken care of, an unused bathroom to go!
15. Midday Author Visits
Normally, I could never take a writing seminar with another author or offer my own free author Skype visits in the middle of the day. Not so anymore! If I want to take a nonfiction webinar with Kate Messner or do a free Skype visit with another teacher's class, there’s nothing holding me back.
14. Fewer Meals to Cook
Why? Anders and Corbin are each cooking a meal a week. Not only is it less work, but it’s fun to watch them learn and build new skills in the kitchen.
13. Students Sending Love
My friend is an infectious disease epidemiologist for the state. She’s been working twelve-hour-plus days seven days a week. So, when she contacted me and asked me if I could start an organization so that hard-hit nursing homes in the state would receive encouraging letters from students, I banded together with April Jones Prince and Tammy Mulligan to start the organization. Want to send letters? Sign up here.
12. More Contact with Far Away Family and Friends
Funny to think I video conference more now with family than before. It’s not as if we suddenly live farther away from each other than before. But perhaps we realize it’s not a given that we will always be there for one another. Or, how about attending a college friend’s Zoom birthday party? Someone, I hadn’t interacted with in years. Super fun!
11. Helping Lost Women and Children
Mount Wachusett State Park surrounds my house. So, if I’m not at home, you can find me on the trails. You can also find most of Worcester County there as well. Twice in the past week, I’ve helped lost, exhausted women with young, lost, exhausted, hungry children make it back to their cars. It feels so good to help.
10. Online Yoga
My amazing friend Jen Faldetta offers live yoga classes through Facebook Live. I’ve always enjoyed attending her Saturday morning yoga classes, but now I can bask in her positive energy without leaving my house which is an amazing gift. Thank you, Jen!
9. Watching My Students Teach
I’ve seen my students teach other students before in the classroom. But, I don’t get to relish it because I’m always working with a different student noting that the teaching is happening on the side. With Google Meet, when one student asks a technology question, another student can answer it and I can sit back, learn something new and watch the students shine. Super fun!
8. Stronger Team
Our fourth grade team has always worked well together. So, I didn’t think it was possible for us to grow even closer. But that’s exactly what has happened. We support each other through the tears and come up with new ways to help one another out so that there are fewer tears the following week.
7. Midday Reading
If I want to read one of Diana Gabaldon’s novels for pleasure or take notes on Captain Charles Moore and Cassandra Phillips Plastic Ocean during the middle of the day, I can. Heaven!
6. Getting to Know My Students in Different Ways
Seeing inside my students’ homes is super fun. An author’s dream, really. Each one of them a different personality with decorations that reflect who they are. But not only that. Since we’re giving our students so many content and presentation choices, we’re learning so much about learning styles and reading preferences. It’s really eye opening.
5. More Time Outside
I can go outside whenever I want—an early morning walk, a midday stroll, an evening hike. I can also sit outside whenever I want to do that midday reading or just take a moment to give my eyes a break from the screen.
For those of you who know I’m often up by 4 AM in the morning, you may be laughing. But it’s true. Now, I can go back to bed after I write or take a midday nap if I’m falling asleep in front of my computer. Total luxury!
3. Not Commuting
This one is huge for me. I had no idea how huge either. On a good week, I spend nine-and-a-half hours in the car. It feels so good to spend that time in other ways. Plus, when I am in the car, there is hardly anyone on the road. So, it’s a much more pleasant experience to be in the car!
2. Writing Magic
Sometimes writing is magical. Time and the world falls away. Normally, the timer would go off, and I’d have to get ready to go to work. Now, if I’m in the groove, I don’t have to stop. I can ride the wave for as long as it lasts.
1. Time with Anders and Corbin
I stayed home when my boys were young. At times, it was tough, but I know now what an exquisite gift that was. I never thought I would have that much time with them again. Now, here we are. It’s amazing. Sure, they cook and do yard work. But, that’s not the fun stuff. The fun stuff is watching them interact with one another, and with Tom, in ways they’ve never interacted with one another before. And, the incredible opportunity to say "goodnight," "good morning," and "I love you," each and every day. What a gift!
The end of the school year is drawing near, but you still need to fit in more opinion writing activities. If you adhere to Common Core standards or teach in Massachusetts, opinion writing is our first writing standard:
Writing Standard Text #1
Text Types and Purposes
Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts, using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
Of course, a first-grader’s opinion writing looks very different from a fifth-grader’s opinion piece. But the purpose is the same-to express passion about a topic and convey to readers why that topic is important.
So head on over to www.studentssendinglove.com and sign up to have your students send their opinion writing to nursing homes telling the workers why they are heros.
I’m participating in an advanced picture book intensive with agent Sean McCarthy through Inked Voices. If you are a writer and don’t know about Inked Voices, I suggest you check out the organization. This is the fourth Inked Voices workshop I’ve participated in, and I’ve learned a lot from each one.
The format of the intensive workshop requires that you submit three picture book manuscripts. Then, revise one manuscript and submit it two more times for submission.
After the first round of submissions, most participants agreed that I should work on revising my manuscript, which was then called Chicks Rule, Dogs Drool. Sean McCarthy not only thought I should revise it, he thought I should start from scratch. He had various reasons such as the first format didn’t have high enough stakes, the story didn’t support the scientific concept I talked about in my back matter, and the main character wasn't clear.
After gnashing my teeth, I started over. I read a bunch of Aesop’s fables and stories that featured relationships between predator and prey such as The Lion Inside by Rachel Bright and Jim Field, which I love.
So, I rewrote my manuscript in the rhyming style of The Lion Inside. Besides the fact that I lacked consistent meter, the version didn’t work. As my critique group member Sarah Brannen said, “You’ve solved the problems the agent talked about, but created a host of new ones.” More people chimed in with various ways to strengthen the manuscript and someone said, “You need a Greek chorus, like The Little Red Hen.” Then, the critique group itself became a Greek chorus as they all heartily agreed.
If I was going to try writing my story with a Greek chorus like The Little Red Hen, I had to read various versions of The Little Red Hen. It was super fun, and I learned a lot. I thought I’d share my observations on each version of The Little Red Hen in case educators are looking to study The Little Red Hen.
Originally published in 1979, with a renewed 2001 copyright, Paul Galdone tells the classic tale. The Greek chorus is “Not I,” and the cat, dog, and mouse don’t get a single crumb of cake from the fed up hen. But they do learn their lesson, and always help out from that day forward. What I like about Galdone’s illustrations is that he showcases the secondary characters’ laziness one-by-one. The reader sees the cat sleeping on the couch, the dog napping in the hammock and the mouse snoozing in the chair.
I love Jerry Pinkney’s art. His illustrations are stunningly gorgeous. Like Paul Galdone’s version, the secondary characters, the goat, pig, dog and rat, get nothing. Their Greek chorus is also, “Not I.” Not only do the animals not receive any bread from the hen, but the reader doesn’t learn whether or not the secondary characters learned their lesson. One fun aspect of Pinkney’s version, is that all the animals have a color word in their name: the short brown dog, the tall black goat, the round pink pig and the thin gray rat. So, if you want to teach color words or focus in on adjectives, start with this book.
The Classic With A Twist
Full disclosure, before Philemon Sturges passed away he lived in my town. I never had the pleasure of meeting him, but out local library had his books. My sons loved this book, and we frequently checked it out from the library. This book has the classic Greek chorus of “Not I,” and the usual cast of secondary animals—a duck, dog and cat. But instead of baking a cake or bread, this Little Red Hen bakes a pizza. So, if your family has a pizza night, pick up this version.
Twisted Tales Inspired By The Classics
If you’d like to teach your learners some Spanish vocabulary, pick up this book. Ann Whitford Paul uses the Spanish names for the days of the week and the southwestern characters featured in the story: el conejo (the rabbit), la culebra (the snake) and la tortuga (the tortoise). Unlike the classic tale, each of these characters has his or her own saying to refuse to help. Instead of baking something, the iguana is throwing a party and has to do all the preparations herself. What’s nice about this version is the secondary characters realize their mistake and are too embarrassed to enjoy the party. Then, they come up with an idea of how to be helpful. After that, Iguana invites them to enjoy the leftovers.
Linda Urban created a fantastic bedtime story. The human family has been treating Little Red Henry like a baby and he decides to assert his independence until it is time for bed. The Greek chorus in this version is “Let me!” because each family member wants to do tasks for Henry instead of letting him try to do it by himself.
I love Brenda Maier's STEM story. Ruby, the little sister, is determined to build a fort even though her three lazy older brothers refuse to help her. Not only do they refuse to help her, but they insult her and tell her she doesn’t know “how to build anything.” Ruby is not deterred. Unlike the classic tales, the secondary characters have a chance to redeem themselves. In addition, there’s excellent back matter on the history of the folktale The Little Red Hen. To top it off, there’s a fun page that shows readers all the different types of forts they can build at home.
Chalk and Ink
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