Making Thinking Visible

Making Thinking Visible
Making Thinking Visible

Arts Integration

Arts Integration
Arts Integration

Good Food, Good Booze, Good Books: A Teacher's Winter Break Trifecta

In today's rush, we all think too too much...want too much...and forget about the joy of just being.
                                                                                      -Eckhart Tolle

Sometimes, I think of myself as an encumbered pack animal, let's say a donkey.  Every day, more and more is piled on my back. Report cards. Christmas shopping. Lesson planning. Returning phone calls. Meetings at lunch...meetings before school...meetings after school, and God forbid if I have to fit a doctor's appointment in. The more that gets piled on, the more of an ass I become. 

That's why winter break is so important. It gives me an opportunity to catch my breath, to practice mindfulness, and to transform back into a human being.  

This week, my We Teach So Hard podcast friends and I are inviting you to a winter break potluck. We've curated some of our favorite recipes for cocktails, entrees, desserts, and good books. Because if you're anything like us, one of your favorite ways to slow down is to sip a cocktail, eat a good meal, and sink into a good book. 

One of my favorite entrees is a vegan carrot ginger soup. If you like the spicy soul-warming sweetness of curry, cinnamon and ginger, you need to try this soup! It's perfect for a cold winter's day in pajamas with a blanket and book. Plus, it's easy-peasy.

Here's what you'll need:

  • 2 lbs. of carrots, chopped
  • 1 small/medium onion, chopped
  • 1 to 1 1/2 inch of ginger root, peeled and chopped

Saute these ingredients in about 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil, until onions and ginger are tender.

  •  Add salt and pepper to taste
  • Add 1 teaspoon (or more, to taste) of cinnamon, curry             powder, cayenne pepper, and ground cloves.
  • Add 4 cups of vegetable broth. Simmer until carrots are tender.
  • Remove from heat. Cool for about 5-10 minutes. 
  • Stir in a can of unsweetened coconut milk. I use "light."
  • Finally, puree in your blender OR use an immersion hand   blender. I like to leave a few chunks in mine. 
  •  Reheat without boiling. I serve mine with seasoned croutons on top, or over basmati rice. YUM!

One Christmas, a student's family gave me a big bottle of Bailey's Liquor for Christmas. That break, I ran out of coffee creamer in the middle of a ferocious winter storm. Without really thinking things through, I poured Bailey's in my coffee for three mornings in a row before it occurred to me that I was boozing it up at 9 in the morning.

I do love a great cocktail. And when I don't have to work the next day, I imbibe more freely. White wine sangria is one of my favorites to make because it's not fussy, doesn't require huge amounts of prep, and once it's made, you can drink it for days.

Here's what I do:

  1. Chop a granny smith apple (or another kind of tart apple).
  2. Chop a ripe pear (sweet).
  3. Add a heaping cup of fresh cranberries. I add them whole.
  4. One large sprig of fresh rosemary.
  5. Pour in one bottle of Pinot Grigio.
  6. Add 1/2 a cup of white grape juice.
  7. Stir in 1 can of club soda.
  8. Stir in 1/4 cup of sugar
  9. Add a pinch of cinnamon.
Mix, refrigerate and serve. Mmmmmmmm.

Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you've finished just to stay near it.
                                                                                 - Markus Zusak

Long before I thought of becoming a teacher, I loved books. I couldn't get enough of them. To this day, I decorate my home with books. There are books that I will never get rid of because they feel like members of my family. They changed and shaped me in some way.  I hoard them in order to make them mine.  The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama is one of my treasures. I have read it numerous times, and I am transported in each rereading. 
Tsukiyama's prose is poetic and enchanting. Her characters are heartbreaking and human. They frustrate me, make me want to rage and cry for them...they make me love them. The Samurai's Garden explores beliefs about love, beauty and sacrifice. I don't want to go on and on about the plot, because you can read about that on Amazon or the back of the book. But trust me. You must read this book. And after you do, go read her other fiction. They are wonderful. You can find the book HERE (I make nothing from your purchase. I am not an Amazon affiliate).

I've made a little winter break gift just for you! Click on the graphic to access it. I hope you enjoy.  

If you haven't listened to our podcast, Episode 20 A Winter Break Potluck, click the picture below! We share even more recipes and books. If you like what you hear, consider commenting or subscribing to our podcast on iTunes. 

Kathie, Deann, Retta and I wish you a peaceful and relaxing winter break. Stay mindful, healthful, and happy!

Check out their recipes, cocktail and book recommendations below. They've got some great suggestions for you (as well as some freebies).

Poetry & Descriptive Reading and Writing: .A Teacher's Story of How "Fluff" Led to Rigor

Eons and eons ago in my teaching career, a colleague once said to me, "I don't know how you find time to get to that fluff." Even now, the words still slap, and my face burns with the memory. I had been teaching poetry in reader's workshop and my students had used choreography to express their thinking and understanding of the poems they were reading. 

They performed their poems for each other and their parents, but more importantly, their choreography became a means of discussing the complex texts they were reading. At the time, I was using this as an action research project for a teacher leadership academy in which I was participating. I was diligently tracking my students' implicit understanding of poetic text. In the end, I found that my atypical teaching approach hugely impacted my ELL and special education students. Their scores jumped. 

And yet...

Poetry was fluff. 

It still stings.

The writer uses descriptive language to show how scared and nervous Jill is. Give some examples from the book.
                           -Level R, "The Election," Fountas & Pinnell Benchmark Assessment System

I was giving my last Fountas & Pinnell reading assessment in the first round of assessing for the school year. Like Pavlov's dog that salivated every time the bell was rung, I reflexively braced myself for my student's answer. Some form of this question appears at almost every level of the fiction assessments, and my students were falling down...HARD. 

They don't know what descriptive language is...

This realization hurt my heart. Maybe it's because of our obsessive focus on non-fiction text? Maybe it's because we only teach poetry in April? Maybe it's because we don't talk to each other the way we used to before digital age? I'm not sure, but it's a trend that is alarming. I've noticed it over the last five years. Our students don't have the language to describe things, and they don't have the ability to recognize descriptive language. 

Has anyone seen my box of fluff? 

The concept of Found Poetry has always fascinated me. I love the idea of taking prose, noticing the beauty of the language, and recycling it into poetry. I think of it as word ecology...where every day could be Earth Day in reader's and writer's workshops!  Using prose to write poetry addressed both of my students' needs:
  1. Noticing and thinking about descriptive language in text.
  2. Using descriptive text to improve elaboration and writer's craft in writer's workshop.
We started by using a fun website that I had discovered that took familiar patriotic songs and taught students how to create new poems from the lyrics they "found" in the original song. You can find it HERE. I did this because I wanted my students to get the gist of what we would be doing before we used our own texts. 

Then, I dusted off our picture book texts.  I took a hard look at the picture books we were reading together. I had recently read Appelemando's Dreams by Patricia Polacco and Imagine by Bart Vivian.  Both texts are about daydreaming and the power of imagination. I pulled an excerpt from Polacco's text: 

And I pulled the text from Bart Vivian's book:

I tried to use description-rich passages. We reread the passages together, and then we read them again. Students highlighted sentences and phrases that stood out to them. 

I asked them to explain what had made them choose the words they did, and our conversation exploded. They reported that the words they zoomed in on actually helped them visualize what they were reading. This is exactly what I wanted. From there, I was able to again teach descriptive language. We discussed our favorite phrases.

Then, they took the phrases and sentences apart until they had a list of words.  I taught them to add words that we commonly use (conjunctions, articles, prepositions, pronouns) to their lists. 

Then we began our Found Poetry. We arranged our words just as we did on the website. The results were beautiful, but more importantly my kiddos had a better understanding of what descriptive language is, why it's important to zoom in on as a reader, and why writer's use it. 

One of best thing about this approach was watching my students use descriptive language in their own writing. ,They were successful because they were supported and could use the "inspired language" from an author's text. This approach is especially fantastic for my ELL students. In doing so, they were able to make it their own. Exciting stuff! 

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.
                                                                          -Emily Dickinson

If you're interested in trying a "Found Poetry" approach with your students, or maybe just diving into more reading or writing of poetry, visit the links below by just clicking on the pictures (one is free)!

This week, I've linked up with some inspiring educators for our monthly Teacher Talk. Visit their posts below!