Monday, March 19, 2018

Slice #19- The Newcomers

9:15 on Monday night.
Forty-five minutes until slices for today close and I have not sliced.
But I have a good excuse.
Or at least a kind of good excuse.
I have been trying to slice in the morning, but this morning I had a lot of school work left to finish.

And tonight I went with my book club to see Helen Thorpe.
Helen Thorpe is an award-winning Colorado author who writes narrative nonfiction.
Her first book, JUST LIKE US, details the life of four high school girls, several of whom are undocumented immigrants, trying to graduate from high school and navigate the world of the university. Her second book, SOLDIER GIRLS, is about veterans. Her newest book, THE NEWCOMERS, just released in November, is about a classroom at Denver's South High. The classroom is what's known as a "newcomers" class, for students who have just arrived in the United States. Helen Thorpe spent a year in this classroom, following teacher Eddie Williams, and his 22 students from places as far away as the Congo, Burma, Iraq, and Mexico. Tonight, the South High PTA sponsored an author talk about the book.

And it was stunning.

First four women, all immigrants- one a paraprofessional from Sudan, Mariam from Iraq, then another young woman who just won second in state wrestling, and finally, a 9th grader, who stopped several times during her talk to wipe away tears. Finally, Thorpe got up and showed slides and talked for almost an hour.

And it was one of those talks that left me feeling like I need to do more.
More to better the lives of people who need the riches the wealthiest country is more than capable of providing, if we choose to do so.
More to better the lives of the refuge students at my school.
More to help all of my students understand that their voices really do matter, and it's important to learn to write well, so that you can tell your stories and bring about change in the world. 

My slice is really late tonight.
But I have a really good reason.
Tonight I was inspired by a writer who really knows how to use her voice to make change in the world.
I want to be a writer like that.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Slice #18-Thinking about feedback…

Tonight I'm thinking about feedback…

I got up early this morning and read writing that our kids had done on an assessment that our district uses three times a year. We did it last week, two weeks before our state's "blessed event." Some of the writing looked really good. But a lot of it did not look that good at all.

So now I'm thinking, "OK, I have to give people feedback. I have to give feedback to kids and I have to give feedback to teachers."

And I know it's a matter of staying calm. Of breathing deep. Of finding that one good thing that the writer/writing teacher did and building on that one thing. Of looking forward to the next teaching point, the next desired success. Over and over and over again.

But how do I do that for A, a student's who entire essay consists of three quotes that he lifted from the text. The quotes might work, if he can explain that. But how I explain that in a way that makes sense to him?

And how do I address half of the third grade class, who wrote short constructed responses instead of the five paragraph essay they were supposed to write? And whose typing is simply not that good yet? And who still are not using their and there correctly?

And how do I address those almost successes- those kids who aren't there yet, but whose approximations are pretty strong, and are just in need of a little tweaking, and they might even be proficient, if they get a decent prompt? Or those kids that write really, really well and just need to buckle down and bring it on the day(s) of the test.

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

And how do I talk to their teachers? Adults who have poured their hearts and souls into teaching kids to  write. Adults who know that it takes a lot of slow to grow. Adults who need to teach their hearts out for the next two weeks, but then let it go, knowing that they have done the absolute best that they can. How do I communicate the urgency of the situation and yet not send a message that is critical or stressed or unkind or accusatory? How can I help us stay together and push forward and do our best for the next two weeks?

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

And then I am thinking about my own sons, limping their way into manhood. How do I affirm the positive aspects of their character? How do I communicate that I love them, but that I will not allow them to live in our home and do nothing? How do I help them understand that some things may be legal, but are not necessarily profitable.

I need to be calm, and encouraging, and affirm the success/progress we have made so far. I need to think about what one thing we could put into place that would make the biggest difference. 

Tonight I'm thinking about feedback…

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Slice #17- Saturdays start with Weightwatchers.

Saturday morning. It's still dark and a little cold when I left myself out of the house at 6:20. This has been my Saturday routine for the last 15 months. First thing on Saturday morning I go to Weight Watchers.

Last January, I decided I really needed to do something about my weight. My clothes were getting tight. And maybe ore importantly, I'm not getting any younger, and my joints, especially my hips, were starting to hurt. I had been successful at Weight Watchers before, and decided to try it again.

I'm what people at Weightwatchers call a "turtle." I lose weight really slowly. But over the course of nine months, I lost 28 pounds. And I've kept it off for about six months. The things I have learned at Weightwatchers are strategies that work in most areas of life, I think.

1) Show up every week. 
Weightwatchers has several different programs. You can do it online, or you can go to meetings. For me, the key to Weightwatchers is showing up at a meeting every single week. Or at least almost every single week. Even now, when I could only go and weigh in once a month.  Every week I get up on Saturday mornings, drive the five miles in the cold and dark, and weigh in. And I always stay for the meetings. They get a little redundant sometimes, but I need the showing up, and stepping on the scale, and listening to other people's stories. That keeps me going.

2) Practice the three P's.
After I had been attending Weightwatchers for about six weeks, I had a really bad week. Or maybe a couple of bad weeks in a row. I was feeling really frustrated and was about ready to quit. My leader, Cheri, said something at the meeting that day that stuck with me. "It's all about the three P's," she said. "Patience, positivity, and persistence." For some reason, those three P's really resonated with me. Losing weight takes patience-- the weight came on over ten years, after I adopted the boys. It probably won't come off instantly.  Losing weight takes positivity- you have to keep telling yourself that you CAN do this. And losing weight takes persistence- just doing the right thing over and over and over again. Day after day after day.

3) Create patterns you can sustain. 
It's important to create patterns that you can sustain. You can't give up everything forever. And if you can't give it up forever, maybe you shouldn't give it up at all. Last Saturday night, for example, my mom and I went out to dinner before we went to see HAMILTON. I had salmon, but I also had a glass of wine. And a piece of bread with a little butter. And we shared a dessert. I'm going to continue to do that once in a while. And it's really ok.

More regular patterns are ok too. I like having milk in my coffee. I like thousand island salad dressing.  I love a good hamburger. I want to go to a Mexican restaurant and have a margarita and chips and guacamole once in a while. For me, it's not about giving up those things, instead it's about making the choice to have them. And knowing that it's ok, as long as I plan ahead.

4) Do what works for you. 
In December, Weightwatchers introduced a new program. I tried it for a few weeks, but it just wasn't working for me. I had gained two pounds in two weeks. So I went back to the old program, which did work for me, really well. I don't say a lot about it at meetings, because I know it would probably be considered heretical. I just go and listen and then go home and eat the way that works for me. It's important to be true to yourself. There really is something to be said for marching to your own drummer.

5) Be kind to yourself. 
This morning, two things happened at Weightwatchers that really made me think. First, a woman was talking about being proud of herself for setting a goal of getting 10,000 steps a day. She said that she had lost six pounds this week (not typical!) and then said, "But I'm really big." People shut her down immediately. It's not ok to say bad things about yourself. "You lost six pounds. Period. And that's absolutely terrific!"

Another woman said, "When I'm having a bad week, I think about the most supportive people I know. I think of Kathy (the woman sitting next to her) and I think, "What would she say to me if I gained weight? And then I try to be that kind to myself." I think that's important and it's something I'm not all that good at. I really need to work on being a little kinder to myself and not beating myself up when I do make bad choices.

I've been doing Weightwatchers every Saturday for about a year now. I anticipate that I will be doing it for probably the rest of my life. And that's ok. It's a lifestyle I can sustain.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Slice #16- Slicing and Poetry Friday

Spring is probably my favorite season. And daffodils are one of my favorite parts of that season.
We don't have any daffodils in Colorado yet, but  the crocuses are up, so I suspect within the next week or so, they daffodils will begin appearing. 

Every spring, I share one of my favorite poems, "Daffodils," by Ralph Fletcher. Ralph's poem first appeared in his book, ORDINARY THINGS: POEMS FROM A WALK IN EARLY SPRING. I was really surprised to discover that this book was published in 1997,  I would have said it was about ten years old. I guess then, that it's an oldie but a goodie, but it's definitely worth adding to any poetry collection for kids if you can find it. 


They put on
a little show
simply by being
so yellow.

Their stems
darkly green
against the
faded brown barn.

Ralph Fletcher
from Ordinary Things: Poems from a Walk in Early Spring

This year, I decided to put my own twist on Ralph's poem. I have been watching people write "Golden Shovel" poems, where you lift a line from another poem,  and then use the words from that line to form the last word of each line of a new poem. I decided to try it with daffodils. Not sure I was all that successful, but at least I can say I tried.

Spring begins when they 
flounce onto the stage, capricious ballerinas who put 
fluffy golden tutus on
over green leotard stems, then twirl a 
quick pirouette, a dancy little 
preview of upcoming redpinkpurple summer show.
Eyes, tired of winter's whitebrowngray simply 
stop, overcome by
spring ballerina being
bold, forthcomings and so 
very yellow.

(C) Carol Wilcox, 2018

Fellow Coloradoan, Linda Baie, is hosting Poetry Friday today. 

You can read more slices at Two Writing Teachers

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Slice #15- Another Missing Chapter in the Parenting Book.

I definitely need to buy a new parenting book. The one I have is missing waaaay too many chapters.

Take the one I need right now, for instance. The one about how to help your adult, or kind of adult children figure out what they want to do with their lives. Or how to help them rescue themselves when they get stuck in a whirlpool that is going nowhere.

Son #2 came back from college about three years ago. He had tried two different junior colleges and just didn't like it. Not very long after that, he started working a series of jobs-- usually food related. He's made doughnuts, delivered calzones, and worked the counter and in the kitchen at a sandwich shop. The pattern is pretty much always the same. He works for six or eight weeks, gets bored, and quits. He  hangs out for another month or so, then when I threaten that he either has to find a new job or a new place to live, he finds another dead end job.

This time has been one of the worst. He hasn't worked since before Christmas. Supposedly, he was going to take three months to get himself into shape, and then join the Air Force. He has already taken a test that says he is qualified for some really high level group that sounds kind of like the Green Berets. But somehow, he hasn't done that.

And then in January, he decided he was going to go back to school. I helped him fill out the application online and gave him money to park at orientation. He came home saying he wasn't going to go to school. I am still not sure what happened with that one.

Since then, he's pretty much done nothing. Well, actually not nothing in his book, but nothing in mine. As far as I can tell, he plays endless video games, finds complicated recipes and texts me lists of ingredients, bakes ginormous (and very delicious) million calorie chocolate chip cookies, and watches lots of You Tube and Netflix.

About two weeks ago, I had had it. I told him he had to have a job by March 24th, period.

And so he borrowed money from his brother, got a haircut, and today he went and had an interview.

At a smoothie shop.

He said it went well. It would be full time. He would work from 10-5 making smoothies for $10.50 an hour. He will find out if he got it this weekend. He probably did. He's smart and articulate and usually makes a good first impression.

And I'm not sure how I feel. For starters, it feels a lot like the past five or ten jobs he's had. And I wonder how long he will last (even though I have told him that he cannot quit another job and live in my house). And wonder if I should tell him, before he even starts, that in about a week he is going to get really tired of driving across town to work at a smoothie shop.

And I wonder how to help him understand that the CEO of most companies started out washing dishes or cleaning toilets. And that the world doesn't owe him anything. And that it doesn't matter if he is smarter than the boss, or if he thinks the company should be better run-- he is not the boss and he needs to keep his opinions to himself and do what people tell him to do.

And I wonder how I can help him develop a little stick-to-it-ive-ness.

And how I can get this 22-year-old no longer a child to start think about a career, rather than simply a series of dumb little high school-ish jobs.

And how I can maybe, if he wants to, help him get back into school because he is plenty smart and really needs to do something with the brain he was given.

Basically, I'm pretty much at an impasse in the parenting department.

And I could really use that missing chapter.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Slice #14- Losers, fingers, and small spaces- Another day in the life of a literacy coach

I am sitting on the floor in the middle school hall, when the passing period bell rings. 

"Miss, are you ok?"

"Do you need help?"

"What are you doing down there?"

It's the last question that probably needs answering. 

This all started about twenty minutes earlier. I had just finished recess duty and ran through the office to drop off the walkie talkie. The kindergarten teacher stopped me. 

"Can you help me with X?  He's having a hard time, and no administrators are available.  I left him by the music room while I came down to get help."

I know X well. About a month ago, I helped him sort conversation hearts. "You can color the graph, Dr. Carol, I'll eat the hearts."

Last week, when I was administrator in charge, he threw a pencil at his teacher. 

As we are heading toward the music room, his teacher fills me in on the situation. It seems that the class was going to specials. For some reason, X got mad at another little boy. He made the L sign (for loser). The teacher says that J's parents were already complaining about X and she thinks they are going to be very angry. Something has to be done. 

We find X sitting in a chair outside the music room. 

He tells me he wants to go to music.

I tell him he can go to music, but that we have to solve this problem first. 

X gets up and stands next to the drinking fountain, which is mounted in a recess in the wall. He takes a drink, a very long drink. I wait. Hydration is always good. 

The computer teacher walks by. "You need help?" 

"No, I'm ok."

X squishes himself into the corner behind the drinking fountain. I wait some more. 

After a pause of two or three minutes, X says again, "I want to go to music." He dashes across the hall to the music room, but the door is locked, so he can't get in. 

Again he says, "I want to go to music."

I remind him that he can go to music, but that he did a mean thing, and hurt his friend's feelings, and he has to solve that before he can go to music. I ask if he is ready to try to solve it.


I wait again. 

Two or three minutes later, X says again, "I want to go to music."

I ask if he is ready to solve his problem. No words, but he nods his head yes. I try to get X to talk about the situation. He tells me that J cut in front of him in line, and he was mad, so he did the L sign. 

"What does that mean, anyway?"

"That means loser," I say. "It's a very mean thing to do to people. If you do mean things, people won't want to be your friend."

"I just want to go to music."

Just then, the music room door opens, and children begin coming out into the hall. They are going to the auditorium to practice their piece for the music program. I see J and pull him out of the line. X is now squished in the space behind the door. 

"He did the finger to me," J says immediately. I imagine him telling this story to his parents on the playground after school. At the same time, the situation strikes me as a little funny, and I fight back the urge to laugh.

I explain that X did something mean, but it was not "the finger." Now he is very sorry. He wants to apologize. I coax X out from behind the door.

"Do you want to say something to your friend?" I say. 

X says in a voice that sounds only a teeny bit sorry, "Sorry."

"What are you sorry for?"

"For doing the finger."

By this point, I am pretty sure we are going nowhere fast. I decide I will have to have the kindergarten teacher explain the situation to whoever picks J up.

"Do you promise you won't do that sign again?"

"Yes," X says more than a little grudgingly. 

I ask X if he accepts the apology.

"I guess so," he says, also more than a little grudgingly.

I explain the situation to the music teacher and put the boys back in line to go to music, then head down the hall to tell the kindergarten teacher she has to tell J's parents that X did the L sign, not the finger. 

Just another day in the life of a literacy coach. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Slice #13- Thirteen things about me as a reader

It seems like people are doing a lot of lists as slices this year. Every time I read one, I think, "I should try that some day." Most people do them in relation to the calendar number and suddenly, it occurred to me that if I didn't do one soon, I'd be having to write a 28 item list! I decided to try this one after I read fellow Coloradan Tamara Jaimes' Eleven Things About Me as a Reader. (Tamara is a terrific writer, by the way, and if you haven't read her blog, you should definitely check it out).

1. I was one of those kids who went to school knowing how to read. Actually, I have been a reader since I was a very little girl. The first book I remember reading  was HOP ON POP. I vividly remember the last page- there is a yellow circle with red words. The words are all pushed together and I remember finding the individual words within that huge block of red letters. I haven't stopped since. I will not, however, tell the story about getting kicked out of second grade reading group because I told the teacher I was not interested in learning about short e.

2. I come from a long line of readers. My grandmother was the head librarian at a branch in the Chicago Public Libraries. My mom went to bed with a book every single night. Four years ago, she had brain surgery and has some trouble with her eyes, but she still reads two or three books a week.  My father read slowly, and said he wasn't a reader, but he always had a book going. When I was in college and a young adult, he and I read John Grisham together.

3. As a kid, I loved series books- The Borrowers; Betsy, Tacy, Tib; Miss Piggle Wiggle, Nancy Drew. My all-time favorite was the Little House series. My grandmother gave me the series, one at a time, for every Christmas and birthday for about three years. I still have my Little House books.  Somewhere, I saw someone sign the front of a book, so I wrote a note to myself in one of the first ones My grandmother saw it, and she started signing them for me after that.

4. As a reader, I loved, loved, loved riding my bike to the bookmobile. I still remember the sweet, slightly flowery smell of Mrs. Holly's perfume. After the library, we would always go to the drugstore for penny candy. That was my sisters' favorite part, but I couldn't wait to get home and start reading my newest treasures.

5. My sons are not readers. I adopted them when they were seven and nine. I read to them every single night, and we had family reading time where everyone had a book or magazine, until they were in high school. I still leave things laying around for them to read. Despite all of this, they do not like to read, almost never pick up a book or magazine, and it breaks my heart.

6. I have been in the same adult book club for about 25 years. There are six of us. We used to meet consistently every single month. Now it's more like every six or eight weeks, which makes me a little sad, because those are some of my best friends, and I enjoy being with them. Right now we are reading The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe. We are going to see Helen Thorpe next Monday.

7. I don't like fantasy. At all. Not dystopian literature. Not science fiction. Not even talking animals. OK, an occasional talking animal, but not many. I have never made it through the Harry Potter books, although I did see most of the movies.

8. Right now, I read mostly YA. That's because I am teaching a seventh grade reading class and I feel like I always need to be ready to recommend a book to a kid. Yesterday I finished Sunny, the newest book in the Jason Reynolds' Track series. I liked it,  but I think Ghost is still my favorite. I'm currently reading Takedown by Laura Shovan, about a girl that wants to be on a boys' wrestling team.

9. Even though I loved series books as a kid, I don't read very many now. I do, however, go on an occasional author binge, usually with children's books or YA. In the last year, I have read almost all of Jason Reynolds books. I buy anything Barbara O'Connor writes (How to Steal a Dog is my favorite). Recently, I've been reading a lot of Elizabeth Wein (Code Name Verity and Rose Under Fire).  Next up is Ruta Sepetys. I heard her talk at a luncheon and she was fabulous!

10. I love narrative nonfiction. Last year, my book club read Boys in the Boat, about a rowing team from the University of Washington. I loved it. Everyone else thought it was really long! I also love historical fiction. World War II seems to be the period I gravitate toward most. My favorite book in the last two years is All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

11. I've recently become a fan of audiobooks. I almost always keep one in the car. Audiobooks keep me sane in Denver traffic. They also are a good companion when I'm driving back and forth to Colorado Springs every weekend. I haven't had time to go to the library the last couple of weekends, so I don't have one right now. I really needed one last weekend, when I drove back and forth to Colorado Springs twice.

12. I love independent bookstores. I live in Denver, the home of Tattered Cover, and there's nothing I like better than spending an afternoon drinking coffee and reading. Their oatmeal cookies are also really yummy, but please don't tell my Weight Watcher leader I said that!)

13. I also love the public library. I had the same card for 25 years. Every time I would get it out, the librarians would ask me if I wanted to replace it. Even so, I hung onto it until it finally cracked in half from old age. The Denver Public Library is amazing, and I go pretty much every other Saturday. I also go there to grade papers-- it's just noisy enough to focus.