a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Inspired Design

I am a huge fan of reality television.  So You Think You Can Dance, Top Chef, The Great Food Truck Race, Design Star, Next Food Network Star, Project Runway, The Glee Project, Work of Art, Supernanny, Tabatha’s Salon Takeover, Restaurant Impossible, Storage Wars, Biggest Loser, What Not to Wear, The Peoples’ Court, to name a few of my favorite reality-based shows…

In fact, I like to think that I am better at watching reality tv than your average person.  I love thinking through the production of these shows: what goes on behind the scenes, what new challenges they will think up next, how the producers pull the strings to get the results they want.

The biggest benefit, however, is that I learn about who I am, who I want to be, and who I definitely do NOT want to be from observing the behavior of the people I see.

Case in point: Karl from Design Star (an example of the former, not the latter).  On the final episode, Karl really shined.  Although he did not win the whole shebang, he came up with what I thought was the better idea for a decorating show: Inspired Design.  His pilot episode consisted of him finding inspiration in architectural structures and bringing that inspiration into the room he was designing. 

So, today’s slice of life, in honor of Karl from DesignStar, is my own Inspired Design, featuring my 8th grade language arts classroom! 

Instead of architecture in the traditional sense, my inspiration came from Day By Day:Refining Workshop Through 180 Days of Reflective Practice by Ruth Ayres andStacey Shubitz, which (along with Nancie Atwell’s work) serves as a sort of structural framework for my classroom practices.  

This is the view as you walk into the classroom.  I am lucky enough to have a husband who is handy and as dedicated to teaching as I am.  He built the 8 benches that serve as our mini-lesson gathering place (per Ruth’s brilliant suggestion for middle school).  

Here is our gathering place from a different angle.  If I am using the media cart, I can sit within the circle at the cart.  If I am not, I usually sit on the blue ottoman, to close the circle.

This view from the far back corner shows the bulletin board I use as a holder for our classroom charts.  Because I teach 3 different sections (co-taught, honors, and an intervention class), I use safety pins and layer our charts.  This way, it works the way a flip chart might work in an elementary classroom, and I am able to flip from one chart to another without confusing students by posting 3 versions.

My classroom library is organized by the first letter of the author’s last name (not alphabetized with each letter).  Mostly, I use this system because it is most convenient for me when trying to help a student locate a book.  I used to have my books grouped by genre, but I could never find anything.  My students select books as a result of book talks and recommendations far more often than by browsing. 

The baskets on the library shelves showcase special authors, including those who have visited our school and those whose books stand the test of time.

The counter holds some of the supplies we use for writing workshop, such as clipboards, paper, and writing utensils.  Special paper and tools are in the drawers and cabinets below the counter.  You may also notice the textbooks on the classroom shelf.  We only use certain texts from the anthology, since our primary texts are excerpts from tradebooks and student writing samples. 

 I keep a table at the back of the room for small group instruction.  Carpet squares and comfy chairs are used during independent reading and writing time, so students can spread out. 

This last view shows that my teacher desk is flush against the wall, off to the side.  Because I am constantly working directly with students during class, this really serves as my organizational center. 

In addition to the classroom design being inspired by my fellow bloggers Ruth and Stacey, today’s slice was an inspired design as well—thank you to Deb Day at Coffee with Chloe for bravely sharing through your guest post at Two Writing Teachers!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Something I’d Like to Be Better At . . . Cooking!

As a means of introducing ourselves at the beginning of the school year, my students and I each fill a paper bag to share with items representing certain pieces of information about ourselves(such as: a talent or special ability I have, the best part of summer vacation, something I dislike, one of my favorites, and something I’d like to be better at). 

This year, I had a new “something I’d like to be better at” item to share: a spoon to represent cooking.  Up until now, my husband has been the cook in my house.  I am the baker, but when it comes to dinner I am only good for preparing, warming, ordering—nothing that resembles “cooking.” 

This school year, when my husband decided to go back to coaching boys’ soccer, I figured maybe I better step up and help out in the kitchen.  The groundwork had already been laid this summer when I was inspired by my dad’s girlfriend and my lifelong close friend to learn a few new dishes (homemade pesto and an amazing pasta salad). 

So, I became addicted to 10 Dollar Dinners with Melissa D’Arabian and I headed to the nearest Trader Joe’s for ingredients. 

After a weak attempt at ‘Clay Pot Fish’ without a clay pot, I realized that although I could tweak ingredients, there are some supplies that are just non-negotiable.   I got bold and moved on to some more difficult dishes:

‘Pangasius Rolls’

and ‘Tilapia en Papiollote.’ 

After two successful meals, I am hooked.  Cooking is my new escape after an exhausting day at school.  The best part is that there is a tangible reward for a job well done: delicious food!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

It All Depends Upon a Notebook

The best part of going back to school is the brand new supplies.  Am I right?  This weekend I was reminded of the power of the right supplies. 

A few years ago when I went to Maine to fulfill an internship at Nancie Atwell’s Center for Teaching and Learning (cue angels singing), I needed a notebook in which to record my observations.  Having only brought with me a regular spiral, I was delighted upon coming across a fabulous handmade notebook at Rock PaperScissors (a to-die-for independent shop in Wiscasset, Maine).

This notebook quickly became my favorite notebook.  Ever.  Some people might think my affinity for just the right notebook odd, but I know you get me.  Perhaps I fell in love with this notebook purely due to the magnitude of the purpose it served for me.  But whatever the reason, I was smitten with the width of the lines, the cleanly boxed borders around the page, and the quadrille print on the backside of each page.  I admired the weight of the chipboard cover and backing and the durability of the spiral binding.  The original cover art made my heart pitter-patter. 

I made my husband return to Rock Paper Scissors to stock up on more of these notebooks while I spent my days at CTL in the presence of greatness. 

Before long, it was summertime, and I was ready to get to work preparing myself for the following school year.  My preparations regularly included creating handmade custom monthly calendars and lesson plan books for a growing number of colleagues (and myself).  I have never found commercial plan books and the layout of their boxes to fit the way my brain organizes information (again, I am confident you get what I mean).  So, I always made my own.  However, this time I wanted to find a way to make my handmade products more like the notebooks I found in Maine. 

Lo and behold, there was a website on the back.  I was in luck!  Sara Blette at Make My Notebook was willing to work with me to create a custom layout.  For years now, I have been ordering her monthly calendars and lesson plan book (similar to a weekly planner layout) for my colleagues (and, of course, myself). 

I am reminded on a daily basis, when I use my calendar, how important it is to have just the right notebook.  However, I was especially aware of this fact this past weekend when I finally got to meet Sara, a Colorado based artist and notebook maker extraordinaire, at the Renegade Craft Fair. 

Life is good.  And I have just the right notebook in which to document it.