Wednesday, December 1, 2010

africa and fracking.

My 1st period class is the envy of the rest of the 9th grade; we began a partnership with the Tribeca Film Institute in October, in which we visit them 3 times and view documentaries on various topics. The first was called A Small Act and was about an amazing true story of a Holocaust survivor who donated money to a child in Africa. The recipient of her funds started a scholarship organization for Kenyan students aspiring to go to secondary school. The film focused on how a small act of kindness can fuel much more hope and inspiration.

The 2nd film was called Gasland and it followed Josh as he traveled the country to learn more about hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) for natural gas. We saw people's faucets light on fire and learned about the health affects that this mining has had on the families whose properties are near the wells.

After viewing A Small Act, which was partially filmed in Kenya, I immediately thought of a youth I met when I was in Makindu, Kenya 5 years ago. He was young, bright, aspired to become a lawyer so that he could advocate for members of his community. I hadn't been in touch with him, so I decided to write to him and reconnect. Turns out he's studying law in university in Kenya. We've been in good touch ever since and the students are going to be writing him letters soon. I'm so proud of him!

After we saw Gasland, which ended with the urge to act, especially in New York, I set off to find out how I could ensure that fracking isn't occuring in my watershed. I found out yesterday that the State Assembly and Senate passed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for a year while research on its effects on the environment and drinking water.

Next, the kids are working on their own photo essays, about issues in their community. I'm so excited to see how their exposure to documentaries will shape the projects that they create. More soon from room 318. Happy World AIDS Day! I hope that you promoted HIV awareness today!


Friday, November 12, 2010

we all fall down, like toy soldiers.

welcome to november, and a time of rebirth. november 18th, we will grab wings and fly to florida to talk about what we do. sometimes it's hard to give words to what we've created, but i feel confident in our skills to express life and learning. we have talked of codes, code-switching and the importance of understanding audience in our writing, we have given wiring to our words and are moving forward.

i feel like i'm in charge this year. my classroom is the domain that we traverse together and while it can sometimes be rocky terrain, i feel like we're climbing this mountain in unison. next year i'll climb that mountain in africa that has always called my name, but for now, my mountain is 6 flights of stairs at a bronx school i call home.

we open up with reading, then a reading response in which i hope that you reflect on the plot and how you see it. i see text to self and text to world connections and eventually, you will see them with me. i hope that the poetry will find you in the moments that you least expect it, and that publishing will become a common event. then we will start growing our skills as writers.

join me. keep making it visible with you words...


Monday, September 20, 2010

1st draft - welcome to my world.

so, i am keeping a class notebook and writing new models of all of my assignments this year, instead of recycling old ones, because i'm actually changing up my essays and re-structuring a whole bunch. i'm also working on really digging into the writing process, reading strategies (from how to choose a book, to how to decode/figure out unfamilar language in your reading, to making connections between books and the world) and on higher level thinking. but how? why?

so, my first essay has changed dramatically, and i'm focusing on setting (i'm trying to connect each piece with a literary element that it utilizes). i've asked the students to introduce me to their world through the use of description of their "home" and we defined the many places that home could be, as well as brainstormed about things they could describe. so here goes my 1st draft, because i want to participate in the writing process with them.

feedback, as always, is encouraged (hint hint, students... use the positive sandwich)

They say home is where the heart is - so my home is everywhere. They also call me a prodigal daughter where I was raised - and I tell them that I have another home. Sometimes I say "I'm going home" when I mean Michigan, but home is also the Bronx. So what makes a home, anyway? Is it about the comfort of a space, or the people that surround you there? Is it about feeling like you belong there?
Today, I arrived here, said hello to a neighbor as we waited in the brown-tiled lobby for the elevator. we chatted lightly about having pizza for dinner and she said "come on up, you can have some!" as if I've lived here for years. I turn the key, eye the mezuzah on the door that i notice she kisses every time she enters the room - a small prayer for passing through.
The living room is bright and sunfilled - peaceful peach walls, a blue couch, photos of loved ones and books that line the walls. Post-its with positive reinforcements give me strength and energy; the air smells clean and fresh from the balcony door always being open (until winter, anyway). This, the balcony, is where I sit and pray, sit and chant, sit and wonder how my life will turn out. The flowers sway in the breeze and ask questions of the setting sun over the Hudson.
I pause this daydream to think about where I'm from vs. where I am. I am homeless, so the meaning of home is in flux. I am from burnt out houses and boarded up beuildings, fires and shootings more common than graduations. Funerals are more common than weddings there. Torn up concrete and stalled construction. The scent of tar and garbage festering fills my lungs, and car exhaust from the freeway veins glazes my vision. Here also is an undying spirit, the rose that grew from concrete, the people who refuse to give up and will continue to thrive, despite being given nothing.
The Bronx is rebuilding way faster than my city; there is movement here, while it is stagnant there. There is a promise here where there it's bleak. I have always run toward the fire, instead of away from it. I have always gone back to the flames to save one life, even if the cost is my own. I am drawn to people's struggles so that I may help them lift themselves to better lives, better homes, better worlds. So, in a sense, my home is wherever I'm needed, and wherever I can spread love.

the end (of the first draft, anyway...)


Monday, August 30, 2010

my notebook, page 1

ok, this is not rocket science and i learn over and over again that i need to use my resources wisely, instead of trying to recreate the wheel. while some of my lessons are damn original, while some of my practices are cool, i am part of a body of intelligent, sentient beings who try daily to connect with their students, and i am not a genius, or a pioneer. anyway, one practice i want to persist at this year, to see how it affects my organization and my students', is to keep a master notebook, which contains all classwork, vocabulary lists, free writes, basically anything the students write... i'll write too. many teachers have done this before and it will be a challenge for me to really keep up daily... to do each free-write and assignment before them, to know how it feels to do the work, and to be able to estimate the amount of time that it will take them in a more accurate way. our periods have been cut short this year, so every minute counts and i don't want to waste them. I also want to be clear about my expectations this year, and their notebooks were not up to par last year. I want to see if me modeling this notebook will help them keep up with and organize their work.

here is my intro page for the notebook (which i won't really advertise, we'll see if they read it):

Hey there. This is Lauren, one of your ELA teachers. This is my fall 2010 notebook. Everything you do for my class in your notebook, I will also do in this one. I am doing this because I want to show you that I'm invested in the work I give to you. I also want to be clear about my expectations of your notebook work, so I will show you here what I expect. Please know that the freewrites will be different, because that's your writing time to focus on what you think, believe, dream or draw. i'm going to try to keep up, but there will be times when I might ask for your help, too. We can help each other become more organized. I 'll be the first to admit that I need some help sometimes.

So yeah, come look for this notebook if you're absent, to figure out what you missed, and please let me know if i'm missing anything. I'm going to try and record all freewrites, class activities, brainstorms, graphic organizers and grammar lessons/practice here. I'm so looking forward to learning with you, class of 2014! Love, Lauren


if only i could revamp my personal life the way i am my new classroom. i am chanting like crazy and praying for patience. i will need it, but life is beautiful and everything is perfect.


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

a retreat at home

it was incredibly helpful to my planning for the year to have a department retreat in my classroom yesterday. we talked about where the dept has been and where we're trying to move this year. we drafted our own professional goals, and began talking about the concept of a "principle of practice" (roberta lenger-kang). i'll talk about that more once i get her okay, lol... but we began the day by doing a timeline of our reading - which would be a wonderful activity to start the year off with my kids. i wound my way from "where the wild things are" (from which I learned that creating your own worlds is sometimes necessary and that anything is possible), to "teaching to transgress" (from which i learned so much about teaching from the heart and always with critical consciousness embedded into the work).

i began by making a calendar of my year, knowing that i want to condense my units and add 2 more. i want well-planned, every-day-is-essential units this year, and 6 weeks is mad long. i need to plan in time for giving and going over feedback on writing work, and strengthen the connection between the students' independent reading and literary elements/vocabulary. we need to make genre a daily conversation, and the students should be able to speak and write thoughtfully about why a text is from a particular genre - which means i need to up the ante on identifying genre features. i also need to broaden the scope of the texts that i introduce and do much more comparing and contrasting, to solidify form in their minds.

the idea of starting large - with what i want students to be able to do and understand, and working back to figure out which smaller skills they need to be able to tackle the large task - helps me incredibly in my planning. as s pointed out, it's similar to the concept of backward design (which i'm sure all you MACers are learning), in which you begin the product/assessment in mind. i do design my class that way, but i'm always struck by the fact that it's so difficult to assess true learning. who am i to judge if they have really mastered a skill? it's part of my job, and this is why i try to provide as many ways as i can for them to demonstrate to me what they know. i try to focus on progress and not on deficit, and find that they want to learn, subconsciously.

next steps - defining and designing my classroom roles and the job application process for such roles that i'm implementing in ELA, figuring out advisory's first few weeks, making the 9th grade intro zine, thinking about independent reading projects and daily logging/journaling, organizing and cataloguing my classroom library so ppl can begin "checking out" books. checking in with g to begin planning our class. making posters and bulletin boards (my favorite!!!! such a nerd)

i have my work cut out for me. but as always, with the chill of a late-august evening, i'm getting ready to begin anew. i love the prospect of each new year, the growth i've seen in myself and the challenges ahead. despite a crazy summer, i really do love my life and am blessed in so many ways. but my job is a big blessing, for real. so are my loved ones. thanks, universe. i'm trying to give back that good energy you supply me with every morning.


Friday, July 23, 2010

as always: a writer in praxis?

i have always said that writing is a lifestyle, not a profession. i have chosen a profession that allows me to engage in my own writing, and service others in finding their voice. but this has never meant that i have ceased to be a writer. make no mistake, i still have hidden blogs and secret chapbooks that i publish to close circles. i will always photocopy zines and press the warm copies to me before collating and stapling. producing my own history is deeply embedded in my marrow. somewhere along the way, i lost my thirst to make my own name known, but this does not mean that i don't still read voraciously, in search of the root. my writing forces me to face myself in the mirror: magnifying my faults, loving my idiosynchrocies, trying to calibrate my heart to the rhythm of my community, forcing me to keep searching, to never sit idle in complacency.

practice what you preach they say, and i say. so i am deeply engrossed in revision, in taking those tongues i sometimes speak and fleshing out their forks. i remind myself in the summer that i am many other selves besides a teacher. listen to janelle monae's "many moons" if you don't quite feel me. i am brooklyn, am BX, am southwest D, am maple and dexter, am abbot elementary, am community, am dancer, am poet, am healer, am masseuse, therapist, activist, theorist, am femme and butch in a single cell, am party, am baby mama, am noogit, i am part of la isla de verdad, UP 4 life, LPS all day, i am the roundtable, the harlem renaissance, the boogie down and downtown, i am intergallactic, am vampire, am zombee, am space and time continuum, am tears in time and the jurassic period. i am 2pac and biggie, dilla, eazy e, left-eye, aliyah, jam master J, i am emily e, dave, dustin and my own fallen angels. i am buddha and peace personified. i am water and air. soy el corazon. watashi wa omoshiroii desu ne.

how many sides does your prizm have? i haven't yet discovered all of my facets, and i hope that i keep growing, becoming an endless valley of geodes. there is so much that i want to become and have yet to live. will i have time? my arms are open to the life that embraces me. there is nowhere to move but forward. i will go as far as my breath takes me.

freire speaks of praxis: the beautiful symphony of theory and practice. i strive to live my life in a way that i am simultaneously thinking, reflecting and acting. it is a cycle, a process, and each day we are a work in progress. i will fall from your pedestal, as certain as the sun cresting an eastern horizon, waning western. i am in freefall right now: busy rebuilding myself in cocoon and fearful of what my shell says about my seismic splits. we are our harshest critics and i am venomous in my own veins sometimes. but i break out each year, hit prospect avenue and remember my resume.

objective: the elevation of today's generation, if i can make them listen. (pac)

experience: if love is the answer, what the f*** is the question? (invincible)

references: the eastern wind, western rain, southern snow and northern hail. midwestern grit, new york grime.

this is my time.


Saturday, July 3, 2010

sittin on the dock of the bay...

i am thinking of the ebb and flow that we experience in our lives, with the influx and exodus of people. i have not mastered the ability to communicate at all times (and have inhibited communication in staunch protest... aka fb, just joined in april, twitter i'm strugglin with), and sometimes it's important to pull back. one thing that i've learned about my life is that i must force myself to rest. i expend more energy than i ever knew i had inside of me, and do really leave work in june feeling like a wrung-out, overused dish rag. i have given myself to the point of exhaustion. i just can't give any more. it's time to close up shop. just be me, for me. and nobody else.

as i continue to grow on the glittered path i see before me (for i am already precious and soooo blessed), i need to remember to replenish along the way. i cannot continue to disregard myself during the school year and then need to collapse when summer finally crawls over the horizon. i have made large strides in taking better care of myself (quitting smoking, going to the gym with some regularity, being more active) and i have a partner in crime who gives me new perspective and loves me regardless, but challenges me. i learn so much from him, and from everyone who has ever loved me. it causes me to ask, why do we create so much senseless drama in our lives? we can withstand it, learn from it, if we only step back and not overreact.

anyway, back to other ppl. i used to say "the good ones come back around", and natasha negated with "not always. you have to live everything for each moment, in the present, not what it was or could be." now, at the cliff that is this saturday morning, overlooking the surf off an island called truth, i say that it can be both. sometimes ppl take leave of my life, but they return. if not physically, then online, in a book, a photograph, a painting, a video, a dream or a song. i will always have the memories of these moments i've spent with you, and i can also re-create a situation to conjure your energy.

yes, i can read and interpret energy. i am an airbender.


Saturday, June 5, 2010

Saturday School Shuffle

Today is the perfect day for the beach. We are sitting and working on essays in a semi-AC-induced coma. What I love about Saturday school is it's a chill but focused atmosphere. I have a lot of students who come to my class, which I hear is rare, and who really want to work on the assignments I create. I've gotten a lot of positive feedback from the older students in the school, who I usually only interact with in a hallway exchange of love. What I love about BK is its family feel. Sometimes I struggle with the cold and calculated ideas of a school, and how some schools feel like jail. I believe that it is possible to have both academic rigor, to push students to think and work hard, and also to be loving and caring toward them. Caring for them, and being open about that, is not a weakness.

So, instead of going to the gym after work, I feel that I have earned the right to go sit on the beach and bask in sun. I deserve a reflection eternal, sankofa (looking back to move forward), a sigh of relief at the end of a hard week and before the beginning of the last difficult week of school. It is important for me to take time for myself to just breathe and be, to nourish my body and my mind with the company of quality people. In these past few months, I've been spastic and lethargic at the same time, but I have much to accomplish this summer. In the way of resting, growing, and preparing myself for an even more successful year next year. More end of the year reflections to come, as my students will be grading and assessing my class, too, which always brings out the deep thoughts from within.

Last night we talked about the need to create a new language, because some of our words have lost their meaning, and because there are not enough words to reflect the myriad emotions we deal with daily. Like, for instance, what's between like and love? There is a vast empty space where we need a common vocabulary to match the gradients of our hearts.

Keep my students in your thoughts as they push hard to try and finish out their 9th grade year with strength and focus. I've watched them grow so much and am not ready to let them go. That's all for now... to be continued...


Saturday, May 8, 2010

stakes is high

wow, i hadn't realized that it's been 3 months since i've updated. that is a testament to being incredibly busy. a veteran teacher and good friend said to me last year, "don't get involved in too much" and i said "uh huh", and then started the Live Poets Society, became an assistant coach on the softball team, and started working with United Playaz. any one of these extra-curricular activities can be a full-time job on its own. i love each of them and find specific qualities in all of these students and co-workers that bring me back to vitality.

we are preparing for a very important event around the school and trying to put our best foot forward. we want to show off what we do well and be honest about the areas in which we need to improve. i know that i am reflective and able to talk very passionately about what i do, but i am worried about my own areas of weakness. my organization, my filing, my grading procedures all need revision. my classroom is lively and full of love, but it is not the well-oiled machine i wish it was. i am always working on it, but wish me luck this week.

more soon.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

2nd semester - marking a moment.

i am beginning to understand why many teachers stay in this district for 2 or 3 years and are out. never one to abandon a challenge (and usually the one to run toward it), i knew this when i signed up. what i didn't know was how large my responsibilities would be outside of my classroom, and how much that would affect my focus and my day. here's what i've learned: it takes an incredible amount of work to keep a school functioning, and in a small school, it takes every single member of the team working to the point of exhaustion.

another unfortunate thing that i've learned is that what our school does best (loves, nutures, encourages, becomes family to many students) is not assessible and thus not important to the construct that we work within. we are graded (quite literally, thanks bloomberg and klein) on our test scores and graduation rates, not on how effectively we provide an environment that students want to come to, stay way after school and come in on weekends... not on how effectively we can reach kids who are on the verge of or a part of the criminal justice system... not on how we work our asses off to find ways for the kids to engage, connect and actually learn the material in a relevant way (by talking about the bronx river and how we impact that ecosystem in science, by talking about math and problem practice as building neural pathways in the brain, by talking about how what we learn from cultures and civilizations of the past can impact decisions we make today, by talking about art, film and music as ways to deal with some of the stress of your life).

we have been working ridiculously hard in the ELA dept to make our work meaningful to the students and ALSO build in the skills that they need to pass our state exams. to help them question and analyze, read books, videos and other media with a critical eye. but we struggle with absenteeism, low monthly attendance, overage students, and those to whom the street's call is far louder in their ears. our small victories with individual kids are often not quantized in the ways that matter, on our school report card and in the quality review we undergo each year.

but it does not mean that the work is not worth it, or that i'm packing up and leaving. it is just marking a moment about how hard the work is, but how important it is to keep getting up the morning and trying my best.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Concrete Jungle Where Dreams Are Made...

aww, there's nothing like kids singing alicia keys to brighten my saturday morning and remind me of the importance of arts and music education in public schools. look at how much these kids love to sing. yeah, ps 22 in staten island and their teacher, Mr. B!

i found this video through, which has been a really great resource for me this year. i've actually obtained a video camera for my classroom through this website and am in the process of putting together some really great work of my students, though it will take many consent forms until i'm able to share it this way.

my art teacher and good friend turned me onto this site and i'm hoping to also use it to get more independent reading books this spring. i'm also changing the way that we interact with books 2nd semester, by trying to have the kids use their independent reading books to write literary letters and let other readers know about their books. i'd also like to have them identifying literary elements in the writing of their books and deepening their reading experience. we're putting on a poetry reading in my room on Monday, so i'll be sure to send updates about their success! and you better believe we'll be rolling the video camera.

happy grading to everyone. we have our Regents exams next week, so it's a bit of a stressful time around the halls. i needed to remind myself this week that i must take care of myself first. get your rest, relaxation and take a break, my fellow teachers.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

long time no blog!

hey there, folks of the interwebs!

it has been a minute since i've written, personally or professionally. aside from lesson plans and worksheets, of course, as those are the daily weapons i wield to ward off evil. lol. let's see... we've published a newspaper and started our stereotypes/American Born Chinese graphic novel unit, which is fabulous so far. i gave my 2nd periodic assessment today... (sigh of relief). oh! and thanks to my amazing 13 year old cousin, i have about 20 new independent reading books in my library, donated by her and her friends in Ann Arbor to my students in the Bronx. contact me if you have young adult books that you no longer need! we had our first amazing, totally-silent-with-every-kid-engrossed-in-reading day on Monday! small successes mean so much.

in extra-curricular news, we're working on making the LPS site into a lit mag, as well as running newspaper as an after-school club (1st meeting tomorrow), and hosting a poetry reading in February. fundraising for Detroit has hit a stand-still, as there's been so much else on my plate that i can't help the students plan effectively for a large fundraiser. we'll see what happens... it's a work in progress and hopefully the election of officers will help the LPS crew to step up to the plate.

i've also been working with this awesome organization at our school, United Playaz. i am learning a lot from the two leaders and the students about how to run a student-centered organization and how to make the students feel invested and accountable toward the community they build together. we're taking students to a youth conference on Saturday -- so excited for that! we're also going to run a clothing/supplies drive for the victims of the earthquake in Haiti. prayers and love go out to everyone there.

much love and updates at 11!