Wednesday, July 23, 2014

CyberPD Week #3: Reading in the Wild

This year, I am participating in my first CyberPD event. We are reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild together! During the month of July, we'll be reading and reflecting on her amazing book and its implications for our classrooms!

Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild has undoubtedly made a lasting impression on me. Reading this book has inspired me to become more of a wild reader in my own life and has challenged me to think about the ways in which I will instill wild reading habits in the lives of my students. Each time I finish a chapter, thoughts whir inside my head of how to best implement Donalyn Miller's ideas in my life and classroom. This week, as I finished chapter 5, Wild Readers Show Preferences, and thought about its application to my life, two words stuck out in my mind:

1. I need to read more books! 
It seems like every page of Reading in the Wild preaches this fact to me. It is undeniable: I have to read more books! I truly enjoy reading now, but I don't do it with the fervor I once did. I was the girl in middle school who walked down the hall during class changes reading a book and who skipped recess to stay inside and read. Unfortunately, a midst the busyness of high school, college, and grad school, I lost my excitement for reading (I think it got buried deep underneath a stack of textbooks). Lately, I've been feeling the love reignite, though, and I want to keep fanning that flame! As Donalyn Miller continuously points out, I must read often so that I can (A) be a role model for my students, and (B) know what books to recommend to them. 

2. I need to read more widely! 
In my personal reading life, I am definitely guilty of returning to the same types and genres of books time after time. I would estimate that 90% of my reading involves either realistic fiction (and mostly young adult fiction these days, as I prepare to teach MS/HS) or some type of spiritually-focused non-fiction text (e.g. the Bible or devotionals). I very seldom stray from these fields. Eek! Donalyn Miller is cringing. 

After reading chapter 5, I am vowing to start reading more widely! I need to know about books that appeal to all types of readers. In this chapter, Donalyn Miller points out that our students' reading should not be influenced by our own personal preferences and biases, and I know that she is right. I want to read from a variety of genres so that I am knowledgeable about any type of book my students might like. I need to explore books beyond those I naturally gravitate toward. 

One of the first things I want to do is to read a graphic novel. I actually have not tried this type of book yet, having always "written them off" as "long cartoons," but now having read Donalyn's take on graphic novels in this chapter, I have decided to give them a try. I know my ELLs will benefit from it if I am more knowledgeable about graphic novels that might appeal to them. 

3. I need to intentionally build excitement in my students about all genres of books. 
Good habits don't just form. They come from intentional, repeated practice. I believe that this is true for reading habits, too. Throughout this chapter, it became so apparent to me that nothing Donalyn Miller does in her classroom is haphazard. She puts so much thought into every book she reads and recommends. This is how I desire to be in my classroom, as well. 

I cannot expect my students to just start reading from a variety of genres on their own. Most children will naturally gravitate toward particular genres and will hesitate to stray from them. However, it's important for me to begin showing them the beauty and intrigue in a variety of books. How will they ever branch out as readers if I don't get them excited about what other genres have to offer? 

In my classroom this year, I hope to do this by deliberately doing book commercials about books that span wide styles and genres. I also like the idea of using a non-fiction text for a read aloud in my classroom. This isn't something I had considered before reading chapter 5, but it certainly seems like a great idea to help excite my students about reading non-fiction and pique their interest. I think that many of them come in with similar biases to what Donalyn Miller described in her own students (e.g. non-fiction is all about dead presidents and whales!). By carefully selecting some non-fiction texts, I can prove to them that non-fiction can be fascinating. 

4. I must hold my students accountable for reading books from more genres.  
Perhaps my favorite part of this chapter was Donalyn Miller's explanation of her "genre requirements graph." I love this idea! It seems like a great method to keep students accountable for what kinds of books they are reading. I also really like that Donalyn gives students a required number of books to read by genre, but allows for an allotment of "free choice" genres, as well. In my opinion, it is the perfect way to ensure that students are exposed to a myriad of styles of writing without restricting their freedom too much or turning reading into a chore. I see these genre requirement graphs as a tool that students can use to help them discover their reading preferences as they experiment with reading across all genres. 

I am almost certainly going to be "stealing" this idea from Donalyn Miller in my ESL classes in the future! In fact, I may even create my own "genre requirements graph" and, in an effort to make sure that I do read more widely, hold myself accountable to the same standard Donalyn sets for her students! 

5. The best, most beneficial reading conferences are done with intentionality. 
As I mentioned earlier, nothing Donalyn Miller does in her classroom is haphazard. There is a rhyme and reason for everything....right down to calling her kids "readers" and "writers" instead of "students" so that the identity they build in the classroom is one they can carry with them well beyond their school years. I just love that! 

Donalyn Miller's intentionality jumped out at me most with respect to her reading conferences. Do  any of you ever feel lost directing a reading conference with your student? To  me, it seems like it's easy to know that we should do reading conferences, but hard to know exactly how to do them well. For that reason, I really appreciated the description in this chapter of how Donalyn Miller runs her reading conferences. Each question she asks, each minute she uses, and each note she takes has a purpose. Her conferences are not "conferences for conferences sake," but rather more like an intentional, deliberate art of gathering specific clues to help her learn about her readers and teach them how to grow. I aspire to bring the same intentionality to my classroom in the upcoming school year. 

As if the first five chapters weren't helpful enough, Donalyn Miller concludes this book with a wonderful appendix that is chock full of useful resources. I know I will be going back to these appendices in the future when I am wondering, "WWDMD" (What Would Donalyn Miller Do?")! 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CyberPD Week 2: Reading in the Wild

This year, I am participating in my first CyberPD event. We are reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild together! During the month of July, we'll be reading and reflecting on her amazing book and its implications for our classrooms!


Reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild for CyberPD has really made me think! This book is loaded with so much good information that I almost find my brain to be on overload each time I finish a chapter. As I have been reading, one of the biggest questions that has been swirling around in my mind has been, "What does being a teacher who helps students learn to read in the wild look like for me?" 

For the last two years, while I have been in graduate school, I have written what seems like countless reflection papers about books my professors deemed noteworthy. Each time I wrote a reflection, I would include in it a plan to apply the principles from that book or chapter to my future classroom and teaching. Almost always, I imagined implementing various practices and principles in either a secondary ESL classroom or an Intensive English Program. Both environments were pretty obvious places to apply the lessons I was learning in my TESOL Master's program and were, at the time, my "future dream jobs." 

However, as I sat and reflected on Reading in the Wild this week, I found myself struggling to visualize exactly how I was going to apply the principles from this book in my life and classroom this year. There is no doubt in my mind that Donalyn Miller is spot-on with everything she says. The trouble is, I can't figure out what it will look like to flesh all of this out this year for me. 

You see, on July 1st, I started working as the International Program Director at a local Christian school. Honestly, the job is perfect and it's more of a "dream job" than I ever could have imagined. The story of how I got it is one of God's faithfulness - but that's a story for another time. The important information is that this semester, my biggest responsibilities will involve: completing the design for an international homestay program, recruiting students from other countries, and teaching 6th- and 7th-grade Spanish. 

These responsibilities are pretty different from those I thought I would have as a secondary ESL teacher. Once we recruit international students and have them come to our school, I will then be in charge of teaching two ESL classes, but until that point, my job consists largely of the three areas listed above. 

So, as I read chapters 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild, I found myself repeatedly thinking, "This stuff is great! But how can I implement any of this in the upcoming semester? What does it look like to encourage students to read in the wild from the lens of an International Program Director/part-time (traveling) Spanish teacher?" 

This is a work-in-progress, but at this point in time, after some reading and reflection, here is what I came up with: In my current position, this semester I can apply what I'm learning in Reading in the Wild by becoming more of a wild reader! 

Once I have ELLs of my own, you better believe that I will be going back to this book and trying to apply what I've learned about reading conferences, reading graffiti, reading doors, preview stacks, book drawings, reflections, reading communities, and more! Until then, though, I want to spend this semester becoming more of a wild reader. I have to believe that displaying wild reading habits on a consistent basis will have a positive effect on the students around me - even if I'm teaching Spanish and not ESL. 

As I said earlier, Reading in the Wild has made me think. It has made me evaluate my own habits and has pointed out several areas in which I need to grow as a wild reader. With that in mind, here are some of my biggest takeaways from chapters 3 and 4: 

  • I need to remember that, as Donalyn Miller says, "reading is ultimately a social act" (How Wild Readers Share Books, para. 1). I have often fallen prey to the idea that reading is what quiet introverts (me!) do. The more I read in Reading in the Wild, the more I understand that it is so important to talk about books with others. Just this week, I started trying to do a better job of this and began asking some of my friends what they had been reading lately, if they were on Goodreads, etc. I smiled in my heart as I realized how very right Donalyn Miller really is. I left each conversation I had with my friends feeling closer to them (because we had connected on a new level), more excited about reading in general, and with several book recommendations that I immediately added to my own Goodreads "to read" shelf (some from genres I don't normally tend to prefer)! Making reading more of a "social act" is something I want to work on this year. 
  • As I consider my "bottom line" as a teacher this year, I know that I want to foster meaningful relationships with all of my students. No matter what I am teaching, reading books that interest my students is one way to develop relationships with them. So, this year, I want to spend a lot of time with my nose in some great youth fiction reads. I love the thought of having impromptu "book talks" with students before and after school, in passing in the hallways, etc., and learning about them as we talk about the books we enjoy. 
  • If reading affects a child's performance in every academic area (and I believe it does), then all administrators and teachers (foreign language included) need to be reading role models for their students. Just because I am not the one explicitly teaching them how to be wild readers doesn't mean I shouldn't model for them what it looks like to be a wild reader. As Donalyn Miller discusses, children need to be part of communities that value reading, and I would love to be a part my students' reading communities! I can only do that well, though, if I am truly a "wild reader." 
  • I need to challenge myself as a reader more and try to identify some of my "book gaps," as she mentions in chapter 4. I already know two of my biggest book gaps. Are you ready for this? For some reason, even though both series are unbelievably popular in our culture, I cannot make it through The Chronicles of Narnia or Harry Potter. Gasp! I know, I know. No one can believe that I just don't really love either of these book series. I've read a few books in each and always find myself  bored or uninterested. However, I know that both of these series are pretty popular with the students I will interact with this year. So, perhaps this will be the year that I will finally try to fill in some of these glaring book gaps (and then work to identify and tackle other gaps I know I have in my reading life). 
  • Finally, as Donalyn Miller discusses in chapter 4, I want to figure out a way to challenge myself in my reading life more. I'm honestly not sure of the best way to do this. I've seen "annual reading goals" that people can set on Goodreads and like the idea of reading every book from an award-winning list. However, to be completely honest, part of me is hesitant to set one of these goals specifically because I'm afraid that reading will then begin to feel like a chore or something I "have to do" rather than something I do out of enjoyment. What are you thoughts on this? How have you all found success in challenging yourself as readers without losing the love of it or feeling bogged down by goals you set? 

So, there you have it! Chapter 3 and 4 of Reading in the Wild have certainly given me much to ruminate on. There are so many ways I can apply these principles in my job this year even though I won't be an ESL teacher, as I originally thought. 

Do you have other suggestions for how I can apply some of the ideas from 'Reading in the Wild' in my job this year? I'd love to hear them! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

#cyberPD Week 1

This year, I am participating in my first #cyberPD event. We are reading Donalyn Miller's Reading in the Wild together! For four weeks in July, we'll be reading and reflecting on her amazing book and its implications for our classrooms!

Have you ever savored a delicious dessert before eating dinner? I have – and I have to admit that although I always feel a tad guilty doing it, it never fails to be supremely enjoyable.

That’s how I felt when I delved into Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild before reading her first book, The Book Whisperer. I had every intention of reading The Book Whisperer this summer, but when I learned about the #cyberPD opportunity, I knew I couldn’t pass up the chance to read what was sure to be an incredible book alongside so many other educators. So, I decided it was a “dessert before dinner”-type moment, immediately purchased Donalyn’s second book on my Kindle, vowing to later purchase the first.  I’m two chapters in and so far it has been exactly what I hoped it would be – inspiring, thought-provoking, and, as with any real “dessert-before-dinner experience,” supremely enjoyable.

Reading in the Wild provides a tremendous amount of food for thought. It was one of those books in which I began highlighting important information and soon found myself staring at an explosion of color on the pages of my Kindle.

The introduction alone was enough to make me burst at the seams with excitement about equipping my future students not only with the skills they need to read, but also with a love of reading that will cause them to become independent, life-long readers and book-lovers. If the statistics Donalyn shares in her introduction don’t get you fired up about reading, I don’t know what will! As she notes, “children who read the most will always outperform children who don’t read much,” as it is the habit that is most linked to success in the workforce, getting a professional job, and college/career readiness (Introduction, para. 7). How could we not want to help all of our students become “wild readers”?

Since it’s hard to argue with the facts surrounding the importance of reading, the real question lies in how we can teach students to become “wild readers”- that is, independent, life-long, habitual readers and book-lovers. To that point, each chapter in Reading in the Wild discusses characteristics that lifelong readers exhibit. For our #cyberPD reading assignment this week, we learned that “Wild Readers Dedicate Time to Read” (chapter 1) and “Wild Readers Self-Select Reading Material” (chapter 2).

As I consider how I want these two chapters to affect my life as a teacher this coming year, I have come away with a few key takeaways:

(Side note: I am reading this book through the lens of an International Program Director at a Christian School. While my primary duties now involve recruiting international students,  I will hopefully begin teaching Supplemental English Instruction and Writing Workshop courses starting in January).

Chapter 1 Takeaways

(1) “Not having time” cannot be an excuse not to read – for my students or for me! I have to admit that I am guilty of pushing reading aside when life gets hectic. I tend to “binge read” on vacation but in the day-to-day, my personal reading often suffers at the expense of tackling my to-do list.  As the “lead reader” in my classes, I need to devote time to reading in order to model for my students what being a wild reader looks like (Classroom Nonnegotiables section, para. 5). My students need to see me making time for reading because it is important and enjoyable. I love how Donalyn discusses reading in “edge time” or during “reading emergencies” with her students. These are conversations that I hope to have with my future students. I believe that they show how reading can (and should) be integrated into our busy lives.  

On a similar note, I want to always devote time to reading in my classes.  As a new teacher this year, I think that there will be times when I am tempted to forgo reading in an effort to “catch up” on a myriad of other things.  However, cutting out reading time not only prevents students from having those 10, 20, or 30 minutes to read that day, but it always sends harmful messages to my students that reading is the first thing to go when our schedule is full.

(2) One thought that really struck me as I read this chapter was that reading is not a solitary activity! This is an easy mistake to make. However, this chapter reminded me of the importance of a reading community. This is something I want to establish in my classroom. Students need the opportunity to discuss what they are reading with each other, share book recommendations, and develop “reading relationships.” They also need belong to a community of readers that values reading. Through the relationships they foster in that community, they may come to see that reading is not just something that takes place in school during “required” time.

(3) Reading isn’t haphazard! I want to give my students opportunities to reflect on their personal reading habits so that they can gain the skills they need to become wild readers. I like Donalyn’s idea of using “Reading Itineraries” and “Response Letters 2.0” as some tools to do this.

Chapter 2 Takeaways

(1) I love the idea of doing read alouds across various genres with my students! I had never considered this before, having only ever thought of using fiction for read alouds. This seems like a great way to pique students’ interest in genres they wouldn’t normally consider.

(2) Donalyn’s ideas on how to create excitement in students (or “book buzz,” as she calls it) for new books were ideas that I immediately wanted to incorporate in my future classroom. I definitely want to utilize “book commercials” with my students and just love her idea of the “book drawing”!

(3) I think transitioning from suggesting specific books for students to read to enabling them to self-select books would be a difficult task.  The “preview stacks” idea of giving students a stack of several recommended books is genius! I appreciate how this gives students the opportunity to practice self-selecting based off recommendations from a source they trust, but also lets them exert their independence in book selection (and possibly even gives them a few ideas to add to their “to read” list).

(4) The primary thought I had at the end of this chapter was something along the lines of, “I need to read more books!” If I want my future students to become wild readers, I am going to need to help them along the journey. Of course, this will require me to be able to recommend books for them and to teach them how to self-select books. I cannot really do this very well if I’m not familiar with books that are appropriate for them. The biggest takeaway for me here is to read, read, read! 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why I'm Not "Really" Blogging Tonight

"B.W. Post Office" came the voice through my phone.

"Hi," I replied, "I'm calling to inquire about some mail I had held recently. It was supposed to be delivered yesterday but still hasn't arrived."

"Ok. What's your address? I'll go check in the back."

A few minutes later, the postal worker returned to the phone with surprising news for me.

"Ummm... you have a crate full of mail. There's too much for the carrier to deliver. You have to come here to pick it up."

Thankfully, she couldn't see it when my eyes bugged out of my head. I quickly agreed to come retrieve our mail, wondering how much could have possibly accumulated in just three weeks.

Thirty minutes later, as I held out my arms for the postal worker to load me down with nearly a month of letters, magazines, coupons, packages, bills, and all sorts of junk mail, the curious stares coming from customers behind me were palpable.

"Well," I thought to myself as I heaved the pile of  mail onto the back seat of my car. "That certainly changed my plans for the evening!"
Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Postcards from Greece

"Dear family," my pen scribbled, "Γειά from Athens!"

I paused for a moment, pen in hand, and contemplated what else to write. How could I even begin to describe our time in this city so rich with history, let alone the two weeks we had already spent in the Cyclades? Looking at the beautiful photography on the front of each postcard reminded me of the wonderful memories my husband and I had made during our "Trip of a Lifetime 2.0".  

How could I possibly describe to my family the beauty of a Santorini sunset? 

What words would paint a picture that allowed them to understand how small I felt standing on the summit of Mt. Zeus looking out on the Cyclades, or in the Acropolis looking up at the Parthenon? 

What should I write about the day we hiked up and around a volcano or swam in the natural hot springs of the Aegean Sea? 

How could I make them comprehend the emotions I felt and how the Bible came to life for me as I stood on the very hill Paul did when he addressed the Areopagus in Acts 17? 

And how could I share the joy that filled my heart after spending every second of every day for the last two+ weeks with my very best friend, chatting incessantly without ever running out of things to talk about, and laughing so hard my stomach ached? 

The white space on the back of my postcards seemed to shrink smaller and smaller by the minute.

Although trying to summarize even just one of the last 16 days seemed almost futile, I crafted a few sentences for my postcards, listing a few "highlights" of our trip. As I clicked my pen once again, I felt overwhelmingly blessed by the realization that I could easily fill an entire book with all of the memories my husband and I had made during this incredible vacation. While our trip was coming to an end, the memories we had made would last a lifetime. 
Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Hiker's Guide to Climbing Mt. Zeus

If you ever find yourself in the Cyclades on the island of Naxos and are filled with the desire to climb and explore Mt. Zeus, the  mythological childhood dwelling of said Greek god, allow me to share some (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) advice, based on my experiences yesterday...

From the city center of Hora, board a local bus and wind your way through the beautiful Naxian villages. After about 45 minutes, when you hear the bus driver shout the city name, "Filoti!" hop off the bus and look for a cute little Greek cafe called Platanos.
Enter the maze of alleys behind the cafe and pass through quaint little neighborhoods full of children playing and cats napping in the shade. As you get farther and farther away from Palomas, it might seem like the "trail" to the summit of Mt. Zeus is nowhere to be seen...
...but don't get too worried. Just keeping going up and eventually, you'll be rewarded with a sign. Once you see the sign, pause for a moment to do a brief happy dance now that you know you are definitely on the right track.
From there, begin the ascent to the church of Agia Marina via a small trail intended primarily for goats. If you ever get lost, just follow goats have kindly left behind to guide you.  (I'll spare you the picture!)

As a forewarning, a few other critters may come out to greet you along the way.
If you, as I am, are terrified of snakes and spiders, don't let yourself get too freaked out when they come to welcome you to Mt. Zeus. The adrenaline that courses through your veins as a result of unexpectedly spotting these critters just might give you the energy to scurry up the entire mountain without feeling nearly as tired as you thought you'd be!

Once you spot the white walls of the Aghia Marina church in the distance, do a second happy dance because now you are definitely on the right track and good news awaits you: there will be fewer critters who join you for the rest of the trek. The trail from here on up is a bit more hiker-friendly. Yes, it's okay to let out a little sigh of relief once you realize that (I did!).
With fewer animal friends to worry about, it is now time to truly soak up the scenery around you. Marvel at the rolling hills and rock-covered mountains. Linger for a moment to take a sip of water and listen closely. You just might hear the clamor of bells tied around the necks of Naxian goats who are roaming about the very same mountain.

Continue your ascent up Mt. Zeus, keeping a watchful eye for trail markings in the form of signs,

cairns in the distance,

or, once again, the trails that those friendly goats left for you.

Keep going up and up, while being sure to soak up the breathtaking views around you on what just might be a perfectly gorgeous, sunny day.

Soon enough, you will be rewarded with the sight of a small monument that marks the summit of this mountain and the stunning scenery that is yours to behold as you stand on the highest point in all of the Cyclades.
Of course, at the summit, you must sign your name in the "log book," joining the company of those who have climbed this mountain before you, and you must then take the obligatory "selfie" before beginning your descent.
Then, retrace your steps. Don't worry, even though you are taking the same path back, you won't grow tired of the awe-inspiring views.

And if you make it back down the mountain with time to spare before the next bus arrives, I strongly recommending rewarding yourself with a treat at the Platanos Cafe. They make a mean chocolate-banana crepe.

Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Perks of Jet Lag

My eyes fluttered open as I awoke in an unfamiliar place. What time is it? My stomach growled. Had I slept through breakfast? My mind replayed a scene from yesterday when my husband and I checked into our cozy B&B on the island of Santorini.

"Breakfast is served each morning from 8 until 10" the manager had informed us with a thick Greek accent.

I rolled over and looked at my husband, who was still sound asleep. We couldn't possibly have both slept past ten, could we? After fumbling for my glasses, I reached for my phone to glance at the clock.

4:36?! You've got to be kidding! Good morning, jet lag!

Resolved not to get out of bed before 5 on my first day of vacation, I lay back down, closed my eyes, and tried to drift back to sleep. It was no use.  My brain was awake and there was no convincing my body otherwise. I settled for closing my eyes and "dreaming" of all of the things we were going to see and do on this vacation.

After nearly an hour, I decided that I could no longer lie still anymore. Glancing back at my husband, I realized that he had not budged an inch. Thankful that he is a heavy sleeper, I began to tip toe around our room in the dark.

Buried in my carry on was a granola bar calling my name. There was no way I could wait three more hours for breakfast. My body's internal clock was all messed up and the overwhelming signal it was sending to my brain was, "Feed me!"

With a belly a bit more satisfied, I suddenly had a bright idea. What time dose the sun rise here?  I clicked away on my phone, grateful for free wifi, and learned that the sun would rise on Kamari Beach in Santorini at 5:56 a.m. If I hurry, I can hop in the shower and still make it outside in time for the sunset. Geography has never been my strong suit, but I was pretty sure that we were facing east, so I thought that my odds of catching a gorgeous Greek sunrise were pretty good.

I was right. Fifteen minutes later, after opening our balcony doors, still trying desperately not to wake up my husband, I looked to the horizon and let out a little squeal of excitement  The sky was painted with a stunning array of colors. Moments later, the bright, blazing sun peeked its face over the horizon and rose slowly into the sky. It was absolutely beautiful.

Sitting down on our quaint little balcony, I soaked up the morning beauty around me. Maybe jet lag isn't so bad after all.

Catching the sunset on my first morning in Santorini

The view from the balcony of our cozy B&B

The view from the other side of the balcony wasn't bad either!

Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Brother/Sister Bonding

At 10:45, as I was rubbing my tired eyes and getting ready to say good-night to my family, realization dawned on me. 

"Oh man, it's Tuesday and I totally forgot to blog!" 

My comment piqued my brother's attention. "Wait, you have a blog?" he asked inquisitively. Then, almost instantly... "Show me!" 

For the next ten minutes, I put on my tour guide hat and showed my brother around my blog. Although I was hesitant at first, wondering if he'd find it boring, I found myself gradually giving more detail as he expressed a growing interest. Each question he asked or comment he made led to a new explanation of a different facet of my writing or of the Slice of Life challenge. 

"So, do people read your blog? How do they find it?"     
                            We looked at the statistics section of my blogger account and then jumped to the 
                             TWT website to learn about the Slice of Life Challenge. 

"Wow! That post got a lot of views! What was it about?"
                             We clicked over to skim through a few of my posts...

"What else do you write about?" 
                              ...and then we kept scrolling and reading together.

"Oh, Mrs. M (his English teacher) would love that sentence..." 
                             My heart smiled as he singled out and recited one of the sentences I had tried to carefully craft in a previous post. 
And then, my favorite question came..."So, are you going to post tonight?" he asked. 

I had been asking myself the very same question. "Well," I responded, "I do every Tuesday, but we were so busy today that the day just sort of got away from me. It's the first week I've missed since March 1st, though..." 

"Write a post now!" he cried, inching a bit closer to the laptop. "You could write about our day today! You know, write about all of the places we went together. Or write about all of the details we had to go through when we bought the laptop just now." 

"I was thinking about it..." I told him hesitantly. I wasn't sure if I had it in me to craft a blog post this late at night after such a full day. 

"Come on, I'll help you!" 

And that was all of the convincing I needed. If my "little" brother (it's hard to call him "little" when he is 18 years old and towers 15 inches above me, his "big" sister) was willing to help me keep my Slice of Life commitment, then how could I resist? 

Having just spent the entire day together running errands for his upcoming graduation party, we certainly had enough to write about. We could write about the brother/sister breakfast date we had at the local diner... or about purchasing a graduation cake and party supplies...or about any of the errands we did as we hit 14 different stores together today! 

But as the clock inched closer and closer to midnight, I decided to rely on two simple pictures (per Andrew's suggestion) to relay how Andrew and I felt after a very fun and productive (but exhausting) afternoon. After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand words... and we are both far too tired to write that much tonight! 
Secret snapshots taken by my mom after Andrew
and I came home from a marathon of errand running for his
upcoming high school graduation party


Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Glimpses of Summer

As the sun poured in through our dining room window, I knew that I simply could not spend the day cooped up inside our apartment. Household chores were going to have to wait. The birds outside seemed to be singing a song to me, beckoning me to join them outside. How could I say no?

I looked over at my husband. Hunched over a thick book, he was diligently studying for his upcoming CFA exam. Without needing to ask, I knew that he would be at the table studying for at least seven or eight more hours, just as he had been doing every day for the last several weeks. There was no way he could join me, but I decided to head out for a bike ride and enjoy the weather anyway. So, I took off to one of my favorite places to spend a summer Saturday-the Olentangy bike trail.

For two hours, I relished the feeling of the sun's rays on my arms as my legs pedaled hard. I smiled, taking in all of my surroundings. All around me, were glimpses of summer:

Patches of purple flowers poking their heads through the lush green grass
and little "cotton ball" wisps floating in the summer breeze
Photo Creditt: Shandi-lee via photopin cc

Little girls with brightly-colored streamers blowing from their bicycle handle bars
and college friends relaxing together around a picnic blanket
Photo Credit: stevendepolo via photopin cc

Intimidating-looking geese protectively guarding their fuzzy goslings
and lively golden retrievers playfully splashing around in the lake.  
Photo Credit: JWagnonPhotography via photopin cc

Each of the 30 miles I rode held unexpected treasures. When I finally returned home after my people/nature-watching adventure, my heart was happy. It had been a splendid way to spend a Saturday afternoon...and the holiday weekend meant that I would get to do it all over again on Monday!

A picture from my own camera of my bike ride
along the Olentangy bike trail! 

Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Birthday Celebration

A gleeful shriek escaped from my mouth when I found out that I was the "lucky caller number 15" and that I had just won a fifty dollar gift card to a fancy restaurant in Dublin, Ohio. Immediately upon hanging up the phone, I pulled up the website for La Scala Italian Bistro to peruse their menu and long list of live entertainment. This restaurant was definitely out of our price range for a normal date, but with my prize the menu prices seemed more manageable. "When should we use it?" I wondered. This was not a "regular" date night restaurant. No, we needed to save this gift card for something extra special. I put the gift card in a safe place and waited for just the right occasion.

So, when my birthday rolled around last week, my husband and I decided that we had finally found the perfect time to use my radio prize winnings. I was giddy with excitement as I got ready. I spent extra time primping--dressing up far more than I would on the average Saturday night. I carefully tied the belt around my new dress and even lined both of my eyes!

My husband and I walked into the restaurant holding hands and when we were escorted to our table reserved for two, I knew that this was going to be a special birthday dinner.

The lights were dim and soft piano music played in the background. People all around us were celebrating--high schoolers in prom dresses and tuxedos, a table full of friends posing for a birthday photo, and a family with two "Happy Birthday" balloons floating above their table. My attention didn't linger around me for long, though. My husband and I were in our own little bubble. We had escaped from the "real world" for a short while and had entered our own magical little world of happiness and celebration.

We chatted happily while our waitress delivered our shrimp cocktail, carefully arranged in a martini glass. We spoke with anticipation about our upcoming trip to Greece as she refilled our drinks, delivered a fresh, soft loaf of bread, and later presented our main courses to us--dishes that both looked and tasted exquisite. I savored each bite, but what I truly savored most was the quality time and conversation with the man I love.

I realized that I didn't need a gift card to a fancy restaurant to make my birthday a special one. Sure, the ambiance and delicious meal certainly contributed to making my birthday more special, but what truly made the night perfect was the quality, uninterrupted time with the one seated across from me. And that's a gift I don't have to win a contest on the radio to enjoy!

Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Two Problems, Two "Victories," and Two Very Different Feelings

"The baggage charge should be credited to your card in a few business days. If there's a problem, you can call U.S. Airways and they will take care of it for you" the man at the U.S. Airways counter told me last time I was in the airport. Because they had switched my flight to United, I no longer had to pay the baggage fee due to my "preferred status" with Star Alliance. I thanked him and sincerely hoped that the charge would be dealt with so that I didn't have to call.

A couple of weeks later, upon seeing that the charge had not been taken off my card, I braved the customer service phone line. Already annoyed at the fact that I had to call in the first place, I could feel my patience wearing thinner and thinner with each additional minute that I was forced to endure the repetitive "hold music." I knew that I had been on hold for a long time when I heard my husband unconsciously whistling the same tune from another room.

By the time I was finally able to speak with a representative, I was ready to be finished with the whole process and was beginning to wonder if the reimbursement was worth it. So, when I explained my problem to the customer service agent and was told that I needed to jump through another series of hoops in order to get my money back, let's just say that I was not feeling like the best version of myself. My cheeks reddened and my heart beat a bit faster. I was downright frustrated.

And then, I am sorry to say, I lost my cool. My tone tensed, my volume level raised a bit, and I was not polite when I asked the customer service representative to ask her supervisor if he/she could solve the problem so that I didn't have to waste any more time. Within a few minutes, the problem was solved, and my credit card was reimbursed.

I guess one could say that I had been "victorious." Yet, when I hung up the phone, I felt like anything but a champion. I had my money back, but at what cost? I had let my emotions dictate my behavior and I was filled with regret. Given an opportunity to show love and patience to someone who probably doesn't receive much of that in her line of work, I had utterly failed. Sigh.

There was nothing I could do to fix the situation now, but I prayed, repented, and resolved in my heart to do better next time. As I did, I told God that I needed His strength to help me respond lovingly and to not let my attitude be dictated by circumstance.

Almost exactly 24 hours later, I stood in the dry cleaner's with another opportunity to practice responding in love. When I passed my receipt to the attendant, I was told that not only was my order not ready (one week after I had dropped it off) it had not even even been started. To top it off, my comforter had been laying on the ground. Ick! I was not happy, but just as I started to feel my cheeks redden, I heard a voice inside my head preaching back to me some of the verses I had just read that morning. I remembered the messages of Ephesians 6:10 & 19, Titus 2:6–9 and 2 Peter 1:3–7 and thought of my resolve to obey. 

This was a fork in the road. I could respond in emotion and go down the path of destruction, as I had the night before, or I could choose life and love. I took a breath and kindly asserted myself to the attendant. As I explained my concerns, I smiled, I was polite, and I remembered that the individual across from me was a real person in need of love. As I did, part of me wondered if I would get walked all over as a result. "It doesn't matter," I preached to myself. "The important thing is to do the right thing."

I left the dry cleaner's with no resolution other than two promises from the girl at the desk: A) that she would start dry cleaning my order right away and B) that she would tell the manager about my situation.

Two hours later, I got a call from the business. Their solution? Not only were they starting my dry cleaning right away, but they were doing it free of charge and were going to deliver it to my apartment the next day! I couldn't believe it. That's what I call a victory! I hung up the phone and smiled. In the past 24 hours, I had encountered two problems and saw two victories, but one felt so much sweeter than the other, providing not just a resolution to the problem at hand, but a triumph of progress in my own life.

Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Honor Cords

Waves of black polyester blew a midst the sea of 10,000 graduates. My eyes darted from one colored Master's hood to another, desperately trying to find the one graduate who held my heart. Finally, miraculously, I spotted him in the crowd.

"There he is!" I squealed, quickly zooming in my camera lens as far as it would go.

Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! My camera joined the chorus of others around me, as a stadium full of spectators sought to somehow preserve this priceless moment in a tangible form.

I reviewed the pictures I had snapped to ensure that I had at least a handful that were worthy of including in the photo album I would later make. As I zoomed in on the small screen to examine my photography work, the black polyester and brightly-colored hoods faded into the background, and as they did, one object became the clear focus of my gaze.

It was a strand of four carefully woven cords that hung regally around my husband's neck and draped over his shoulders. Golden and royal blue, the cords stood out in stark contrast to their black background. The small number of graduates that were similarly ornamented proved that these cords were rare and valuable--costly in a way that money couldn't buy.

But as I looked upon these four cords, it was not their appearance that caught my attention. Instead, what gripped me was the sweet story they told. Theirs was a story so powerful that it drowned out the cheers and chatter coming from the 60,000 people around me, leaving me completely captivated. It was a story I knew well, but one I was happy to relive.

Blowing in the wind, the cords whispered the tale of an underdog. They told of a man trained extensively in music, not finance--one who had the courage to enter the unknown world of business equipped with only the knowledge he had gained from his personal reading of the works of Benjamin Graham and Warren Buffett.

Swish, Swish. The cords swayed, speaking now of that same man, lacking confidence and expecting to rank at the bottom of every MBA class. They told of his hard work, determination, and many sleepless nights.

And then, as the wind changed direction, the cords began a new chapter in their story. They championed the triumphant underdog, who, by God's grace, rose to the top 15% of his class, coming from far behind and excelling in every area of the new world he had entered.

On and on the cords went, telling their story and reminding me of the many sacrifices that had been made along the road to this graduation ceremony. As I listened to their tale, my heart overflowed with pride and love for the man who humbly donned the four honor cords.
Slice of Life is a weekly blogging challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers.
Check out their webpage and then join us each Tuesday to share a slice of your life! 

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Unexpected Encounters

About two hours after arriving at the banquet, my energy level was starting to fade. It wasn't that the conversation around my table hadn't been enjoyable or that the first portion of the presentations weren't inspiring. I did enjoy meeting the other people seated at my table and I had been uplifted as I listened to the director of IFI talk about the mission and vision of this volunteer organization, created to meet the needs of international students studying in the U.S.  Still, as I sat among 700 other IFI partners, with a full belly after a delicious meal, the fatigue that I had been combating with caffeine all week resurfaced in a powerful way. My eyelids began to droop and I felt a twinge of guilt as I tried to discreetly glance at the program to determine how much longer the banquet would last.  
“One more speaker left,” I thought, reading the program. Thus far, I estimated that each person who took the stage had spoken or performed for about 15 minutes. “We’re almost finished, then" I concluded.
But when the man on stage started to introduce the next speaker, I realized that I was wrong.

"And now for our keynote speaker... " he began.
“Keynote speaker? I thought the speech from the program director was the main event. This banquet is going to last much longer than I thought…”  The fight against my fatigue was getting harder and harder. I tried to telepathically plead with the serving staff to offer some after-dinner coffee, but it was to no avail.  Then, suddenly, the gentleman on the stage continued introducing the keynote speaker with one simple phrase that jolted me more than even a shot of espresso could have.

L is a professor at P University, one of China’s most prestigious institutions…” he announced, as he listed many of her accomplishments.
Instantly, I perked up. My husband, sitting in front of me, must have felt the same burst of energy. He whipped around and stared at me with wide eyes and a look of disbelief, as if to say, “The keynote speaker is from P University? The P University? The very campus we have walked and biked on hundreds of times? The school where we celebrated our first Christmas a married couple, and the place we met with both Chinese and American friends on a regular basis for three years?”
Miraculously, every ounce of tiredness dissipated. My attention was now fixated on the Chinese woman standing on the stage facing a ballroom full of people.  I hung on her every word as she described the life events that brought her to the U.S for college several years ago, her experiences with IFI as an international student, and her life now as a well-known and respected professor at P. University. I sat in awe as she described her M.O. and ultimate purpose, which were so similar to what mine had been as a former teacher in China. My eyes filled with tears as she cycled through a series of pictures of her and her students on their university campus. For the rest of the banquet attendees, the background of these pictures portrayed unfamiliar Chinese buildings. But for my husband and me, they were pictures of a place that had been our home for three of the best years of our lives.
I have no idea how long she spoke. Thirty minutes? Forty? I couldn't tell you. However long it was, it wasn't enough. I wanted to hear more.  
The crowd of people that circled around her at the end of the banquet was worth wading through just to have a few more precious moments with L. A burst of glee erupted within my heart when I discovered that we shared a handful of mutual friends. Though L and I had never met on campus, even though we may have unknowingly crossed paths, she knew some of my best friends!
As we chatted briefly about common connections, I could feel the crowd of people around me growing impatient, as they slowly, but noticeably, inched closer to L. Sadly, I realized that my individual time with her had to come to an end. But I would see L one day again. Of this I was certain. We were, after all, sisters, connected by our spiritual like-mindedness and the sharing of a place we have, at one point, both called “home.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2014


Less than a week ago, my relationship with Twitter was pretty much limited to watching Jimmy Fallon's "hashtag" videos. But on Friday afternoon, I told myself that it was time to actually get acquainted with this social media site. I had avoided it for 8 years, but that afternoon, I assured myself that if the educators I respect most use it as one of many technological tools in their "teacher tool kits," there had to be more to it than I had given it credit for. I still wasn't 100% convinced that "Twitter for educational purposes" wasn't some kind of oxymoron, but I silenced the doubts and set out to discover what Twitter had to offer.

After creating an account, I began to talk to myself as I journeyed into the land of Twitter...

Now, how do I find Jennifer's site? She's really the one that prompted me to take the Twitter plunge, so I should see what's on her page first.

Tap, Tap, Tap, went my keyboard.

Ah! There she is! I scanned her Twitter feed. It wasn't exactly what I had envisioned.

I thought Twitter pages were basically Facebook-esque little status updates. I see some things like that, but this seems pretty different from Facebook. It's really more of a huge web of conversation. 

My brain attempted to make sense of everything I was seeing. This is kind of like a foreign language...with all of these @s and #s....After glancing at some of the words next to the number signs hashtags, "#dubchat" caught my eye.


Instantly, a massive chain of conversation with each small piece including the label, "#dubchat" opened up on my screen. Whoa!  For the first time, I realized that "hashtags" weren't just randomly made-up phrases to summarize someone's Twitter "status" (Pardon my code-switching between Facebook and Twitter words...I think I'm still in the interlanguage phrase of Twitter-language acquisition).

Hold, everyone on this page uses the same #-label for each post. That must mean that the #s aren't really summaries of a particular post, but labels that connect everyone's comments together. Hmm....interesting! 

As I scanned the page, I quickly realized that I had at my fingertips an hour-long discussion between educators in a nearby school district. And, of all things, they were discussing the uses of technology in schools! How apropos!

I almost felt like I was eavesdropping as I read through their conversation, which was essentially a virtual round table discussion. At first, I tried to figure out exactly how this Twitter world worked..., you use the @ sign to reply back to a specific person and you label your tweet with a specific # so that everyone's comments go to the same place...

I took mental notes.

Before I knew it, though, I was no longer focused on how to use Twitter, but instead on how much I could learn from it. Wonderful ideas from contributing educators seemed never-ending. I took more notes:

Hosting parent education tech nights
Collaborating through Google drive and Google handout
Utilizing Google forms
24/7 learning
Technology as a way to differentiate learning
Redefining instruction and assessment
Giving students an opportunity to write for audiences beyond just the teacher
Teachers as guides who help students learn to find information

Who knew that so much could be communicated in 140 characters or less? Not me... that's for sure! 

One contributor called this style of communication the "PD of the future." I could definitely see it.

I was excited. My former doubts about educational uses for Twitter seemed far away. This is awesome. Now, I need to find people to be my Twitter friends.

Checking out my graduate mentor teacher's list of "friends" seemed like a good place to start, so I returned to her profile.  Oh, they are followers...and then there's those you are following...not friends. Ok, got it. So, who is she following? I began to scan through the list.

Oooh! A Twitter account all about educational technology? I could definitely use that!  The blue rectangle labeled "Follow" enticed me. Should I click it? Why not? 


I read some more descriptions.

English teaching resources? Well, I have to follow that! 

Collaborative help for teaching ELLs? Yes, please! 

TESOL? Another obvious choice!

Ooohh....Stacey, Anna, Dana, Betsy, Tara, and Beth from Two Writing Teachers? Awesome! They are all so talented!

Lynda Mullay Hunt? Hey! That's the author of One for the Murphys! That book was incredible!

Ralph Fletcher? Whoa! I used his poetry as a mentor text last month! 

Michelle N? Hey! That's my Slice of Life friend! I definitely want to follow her!

I was clicking like crazy in my "follow" frenzy. Before I knew it, I had followed more than 30 people and I was having so much fun! You might even say I was "twitterpated." I couldn't wait to start reading what they all had to say.

Not once did it cross my mind that I should edit my own Twitter profile until moments later when I opened my Gmail inbox. Three unread messages? All from Twitter? Hmm...Wait...what?! A mixture of panic and excitement flowed through my veins. People are following ME? Oh, gosh! 

In my excitement to learn what others were saying, I hadn't really considered that people might want to know what I had to say. What did I have to say? 

Thus far, the answer had been absolutely nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. I was the ambiguous, faceless twitter account with zero tweets. I better do something about that! But what am I going to say? 

I had a feeling a new learning journey was about to commence.