Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Resurrecting My AP English Paper: Confessions of a Former English Teacher

Did you know that P.D. James recently died? You don't know who that is? Well, don't feel bad. I didn't either until I took AP English my senior year. My teacher (whom I adored and still do!) said we needed to be prepared for college and do some literary analysis of someone's work who was still living, but perhaps not "mainstream" like Stephen King or John Grisham. She got to pick the authors.

So I got P.D. James. She was supposed to be this exceptional British mystery writer and I thought, "How hard could this be?". Boy, I ate those words quickly. I didn't get her 500 page books at all. I'll be honest, I'm not sure I even finished either of the ones I was suppose to analyze. It really was too difficult for someone like me who immensely enjoyed reading under people like my teachers, but didn't have an overwhelming desire to read at home. Honestly, I was not a "bookworm" (like so many teachers get stereotyped as) so I didn't have the ability to try and do an AP paper on my own. I liken it to having a personal trainer show you how to use the gym equipment, but when you try to replicate it every once in a while yourself it's difficult because you don't workout enough on your own to remember the skills and routines. I did the paper and I think got a B or a B-, but I wasn't proud of it. I hated that paper because of the struggle it caused me, a naturally good reader. However, I recognize now that a lot of it was my own fault: I didn't read much at home, so my reading muscles were weak.    

Fast forward to now.   

What stirred up these teenage remembrances? I was checking out 10+ new books for my daughters at the library (I've told you all before, I LOVE cruising the kid book sections now to see where accidental sagacity will lead me), and I noticed a little table set up with all these P.D. James books. AP English came flooding back to me and I decided to pick up Death Comes to Pemberley to see if I could hack reading James now 13 years later. I had just finished The Moonstone written by the "godfather of mysteries", Wilkie Collins, so I was already prepped for another mystery anyway. When I got home and showed my husband the book, he noted that James had just died yesterday (N.B. our library always makes a little literary shrine to an author for the week when they die). 

This whole experience of revisiting books, is a theme I am excited about this year. My kids are growing up and I don't want to merely go off the memory of a book considered a classic. I want to read it and understand it myself. I am not who I was at 17. Much like my appetite for vegetables has changed for the better since being married, so have my reading habits. I use Goodreads.com to track my titles and just from books I've read in the last few years my number is 226. This is NOT to brag. If you knew me in high school, that number would have been utterly unthinkable. I had to work up to where I am now as a reader at 30 who really really enjoying reading. Not just to write some paper for a class, but for the sheer enjoyment of it. This year I've been reading classics (The Moonstone by Wikilie Collins), juvenile literature (Holes by Louis Sachar), fun reads (Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan), pedagogical (The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller), biography (Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand), pop psychology (The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg), silly kid books (The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak) and truly lament how much time I have wasted in my life not reading more when so much free time was available to me.  

The encouragement here is to moms who think their child isn't going to become a reader, sometimes it's a slow journey and not one that can be forced. A lot of my success is due to my husband who love to read. It's nice to be able to share that hobby. Sometimes I think between him and having 3 rambunctious kids I'm turning more into an introvert every day! 

My last tip is for aspiring teachers, please read, read, and read some more. I wish I had done more of that during my time in the summers in college and after I got my first teaching job. When you read widely you can recommend books to your students because you know them and love them. Your school librarian will thank you :)      

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Simple 4th of July Activities for Little Ones

Want to know one thing I often wonder how I am going to pull off with homeschooling? How to keep two kids entertained doing a similar project. I know I can't always have them doing things on the same level, so when I find something that works for 2 different age groups with minimal to no clean up afterwards, I suppose I feel inclined to share it. 

Here are some SIMPLE ideas (from Pinterest) with supplies you already have on hand to do with kids for the 4th of July:

Cupcake Liner Fireworks

Left and center are my 3 year old's

The 5 year old did all of this by herself (with supervision!)

Step 1: Have kids scribble all over cupcake liners with red and blue markers (add silver glitter glue if you're daring!).

Step 2: When they dry, fold them into wedges and cut as close to the center as you want without cutting all the way through (otherwise you'll have shreds).

Step 3: Have the kids glue the centers onto a piece of construction paper or a long banner if you really want to keep them occupied. My 3 and 5 year olds enjoyed this a lot!

Q-Tip Firework Paintings

My daughter's birthday is close to the 4th, so I made her a little artwork.  
This outcome might be better with older kids, but again, my 3 and 5 year old did this activity and had fun with it even if it didn't exactly resemble fireworks. You could get your kids to make rockets or George Washington if you did a simple outline and they filled it in with dots. The possibilities are endless on this one and the technique can be repurposed for whatever holiday is coming up next. All you need is Q-tips, paint, a paper plate, and paper (and, again, if you're daring -- glitter glue when it dries).  

Happy 4th everyone!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Troubles at UNC: College Athletes Being Handed Fake Degrees

Several months ago I was on my way to a ladies' luncheon at church and realized my husband had left the radio on NPR (a break from toddler tunes and Baby Einstein no doubt!). What caught my attention was an interview decrying something I, too, had long held a grudge against: athletes getting sold a false bag of educational goods. It was a very compelling, candid talk with Mary Willingham, a former reading specialist, who recently blew the whistle on her campus of University of North Carolina for grade fixing. 

Mary Willingham became a whistleblower at the university when she saw student athletes coming in that did not have a reading level beyond 3rd grade. They could not complete papers, write sentences or paragraphs and yet they were getting A's and B's in "paper classes" to make sure they were academically eligible to play. Many of these classes didn't actually exist but were labeled "independent study". Ironically, the first people who told students about these "paper classes" were the academic advisors, not the coaches as one might suspect, according to Deunta Williams who played for UNC from 2007-2010. Willingham said the ruse was very obvious when students had transcripts with A's and B's in the paper classes, but D's and F's in economics and biology.      

I encourage you to watch the video linked with the article for Willingham's resignation. She talks about how she broke the scandal because she could not live with the guilt from her sin of omission, failing to do something about a clear problem when she had the means to do so. She is a dedicated teacher who, since blowing the lid off the UNC scandal, reached out to many former athletes served there to encourage them to speak out and tell their story of how the college gave them a degree that was absolutely worthless in practical terms. Rashad McCants, one such former athlete, did speak out saying: 

"...it was common for basketball players to major in African-American Studies, said he assumed tutors writing papers for athletes was to be expected and he didn't question it while he attended UNC.
"I thought it was a part of the college experience, just like watching it on a movie from 'He Got Game' or 'Blue Chips,'" McCants said. "... when you get to college, you don't go to class, you don't do nothing, you just show up and play. That's exactly how it was, you know, and I think that was the tradition of college basketball, or college, period, any sport. You're not there to get an education, though they tell you that."        

One article I read claims that an UNC "internal review" basically invalidated Willingham's data on athletes reading levels, but if your lifeblood is being "there to make revenue for the college...there to put fans in the seats...there to bring prestige to the university by winning games" as one former athlete claims, you'll pardon me if I seem a bit skeptical of their "review".

I truly believe that what has gone at UNC is just a microcosm of the larger picture of misplaced priorities here in America. Education has to come first before sports. I am thankful that during my time in the classroom I never felt any real pressure to "pass" someone, but talked to many wearied teachers who did (especially for the real crunch time -- graduation). I am sympathetic to Willingham because as an English teacher it's very easy to see the deficits she's talking about when research paper time comes around. The guilt that comes with knowing these students will move on to the next grade or school and they are not prepared to express or organize their thoughts well is very discouraging as a teacher. You always want to do more to help, yet know that so much is out of your control beyond ensuring that you are giving them the best chance to learn about personal responsibility and priorities (i.e. those life lessons that teachers give beyond their own particular discipline).  

In the NPR interview, Willingham talked about how the athletes that reached out to her, working minimum wage jobs (since their NBA or NFL career didn't pan out), said they now felt a huge sense of shame in knowing they were no better off educationally than when they came in. They accepted the personal blame, but also anger for being fed lies about their education and not being helped to see the "big picture" of getting a false degree. They were thankful that she was going in and taking the bullets for all those student athletes who thought they were "living the dream" in college. 

McCants concludes with this:

"It's about my kids, about your kids. It's about their kids. It's about knowing the education that I received and knowing that something needs to change," he said. "This has nothing to do with the Carolina fans or the Carolina program. It has everything to do with the system, and Carolina just so happened to be a part of the system and they participated in the system, so in retrospect, you have to look at it and say, 'Hey, you know what you did wrong.'... Stand up. It's time for everybody to really just be accountable."

So this begs the question... Do you agree that sports has gained idol status in secondary and higher education?

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

"Whatever You Have Done for the Least of These, You Have Done Unto Me"

I have mentioned a few times about my Bible Study Fellowship class this year. It really has been a tremendous blessing for us to meet moms and children from all over the city and to be able to talk about the same passage of Scripture and sing hymns with even the toddlers! I have never met a Bible study that was so serious about keeping Scripture the main thing instead of letting our problems overwhelm the discussions (though we do pray for those every week as well). 

Well, school is almost out and we're nearing the end of our year long study of Matthew. I have been amazed at its urgency to tell others about how it's all really going to go down in the end. My notes from a previous week said that 1 in 20 verses talks about judgment. I have been in church all my life, but to sit down and actually go through a Gospel is an eye opener -- it's not just parables and healing and miracles. A LOT is about making sure you are not deceived into believing you have a relationship with Christ when you're actually going to hear, "Depart from me, I never knew you."

Sadly, I think so many Americans crassly summarize Jesus' words into some kind of uncomfortable coercion like "turn or burn!" instead of recognizing the fulfillment found in Christ and the grace He wants to bestow on all of us because we're ALL messed up sinner folks who were created by a holy God. No matter where you've been or what you've done, it's wiped clean through Christ; it's like someone handing you the keys to your shackles. More on that in a minute.    

Jesus also has a lot to say about those who know they are saved to be good stewards of their time, talent, and treasure. Not to waste spiritual opportunities when so many are available to us. I want my children to understand as they grow in their relationships (with peers especially) that we all have different circumstances, but it doesn't lessen the call to be faithful to that which He has called us to.       

To that end, I wanted to give a plug for a way we can be a part of sharing Christ's love to the "least of these" -- street children in Guatemala. My husband works for a missions organization called AMG International and I can personally vouch for the amazing work God is doing in the countries they are in.

AMG has recently partnered with a film company, Athentikos, whose heart is for the people of Guatemala. The director and his wife have adopted two children from Guatemala and have made two documentaries on the "least of these" in the country. The first movie, Reparando, explains about Guatemala's civil wars and how amidst the hopelessness, hope in Christ is blooming there. Here's the trailer: 

The second movie, Becoming Fools, is about a clown ministry that was started by a Christian man named Italo who tirelessly served the street children. Fueled by the love of Christ, he would pick them up when they were strung out on drugs and helped many of them change their course. Tragically, Italo died in a drowning accident and the movie serves as a memorial to his legacy of loving those who had nothing and pointing them to the One who could heal the broken. Here's the trailer: 

Neither of these movies mention AMG's work directly, but some of the children in Becoming Fools are served by AMG Guatemala's childcare centers. The director of AMG Guatemala said that as he's worked with the suffering, nothing changes these children's life fully but the love of Christ. Material things and education are provided for them (just as many "humanitarian" organizations do), but a security in people and material things have been taken away from these children before. When they truly believe that Christ's love can never be taken from them it fills the void they tried to find through drugs, sex, and a host of other vices. The Gospel focused ministry is what sets AMG apart from many other aid relief organizations and why I enthusiastically support them through volunteering with them and financially supporting their work through child sponsorship.

AMG is sponsoring a showing of Becoming Fools in several places in the US (some will be added later), but I wanted to promote the one here in Chattanooga.

Here are the details:

When: April 29, 2014 (TONIGHT!)

Time: 7pm (doors open at 6pm)
Location: The Tivoli (Downtown Chattanooga)

Hope to see you there!   

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Drawing for all Ages!

My daughter's dragon
As I've shared in previous posts, my family joined Classical Conversations this year and I have been dying to share some ideas with you all for applying Fine Arts in your home no matter what your schooling choice is. My 4 1/2 year old and I have had a blast with all these simple (emphasis on simple) art projects. That means I am not going to go full-on "Pinterest mom" in this post. Most of these projects require little more than basic art supplies (paper, pencil, markers, crayons, or paint), an ability to draw basic shapes, and follow basic visual-cue instructions.  

The Fine Arts curriculum for Classical Conversations comes mainly from a book called Drawing with Children. We start out with learning the 5 basic elements of shape using an acronym -- OiLs
  1. O - Circles
  2. . - Dots
  3. i - Straight Lines
  4. L - Angled Lines
  5. S - Curved Lines
Once your kids get those categories figured out, it can open up a whole realm of possibilities for them (and for you, too!). For instance, have you ever seen those "How to Draw a __________" books? They use the 5 basic elements of shape. You just add one element after another until you've created what you're after. Once you can effectively understand the vocabulary (circle, dot, various lines, etc.) you can teach your child to create all kinds of pictures. I can attest to this because I have done it with my own 4 year old and also with my 6 and 7 year old students and they have all done a fine job. In other words, this is for any age! You can sit right at your kitchen table and make some wonderful creations right before dinner or after school.   

So how do you get started with the basic elements? Here are a few ideas:

Don't Teach Your Child to Always "Color" the Pictures In
Sorry it's sideways. Blogger is turning my landscapes portrait style without a way to fix it! 
Did you know you can teach your children to color in a completely different way than just "in the lines"? I first saw this on a homeschool blog and it blew my mind. Look at the picture above. I used circles, dots, straight lines, curved lines, and angled lines to complete my picture from a simple coloring book page. Not a single thing was "colored in". We all have coloring books hanging around our house, so put them to a new use and help improve your child's way of thinking about art!

Get Some "How-To" Draw Books
Here are a some Ed Emberley books that I either just got in the mail or have checked similar ones out from our local library to incorporate the elements of shape. I tend to like Emberley for beginners because he does a lot of "stick art" that lends itself to not being complicated in its use of the elements, but still lots of fun.  

Making my own little world using elements of shape!

The fingerprint books are great for toddlers and preschool especially. You can make cards to give to family members.

Have Fun With Review
And if you want to make reviewing and incorporating the 5 elements of shape, go here for creating fun wildflowers by using the 5 basic elements and rolling some dice.

Go here for a look at this picture from an art teacher's blog. She has a No-No Board! This made me laugh because she is challenging her students to think outside the box with art. I wonder if her students and parents responded positively to it? I'm sure some of you think this a little harsh.

Mostly, I hope this post helps gives an alternative to TV for your young ones. I so easily default to it with my own kids and I need constructive, creative, and simple things to remind me that there is more to life than PBS kids some days when I need to get things done :)  

Friday, March 14, 2014

Explaining American Culture Through Literature and Film

My heart just about bursts when this scene comes on in It's a Wonderful Life
I have often said that my favorite movie is It's a Wonderful Life. It is one I watch every year and grow to love it more every time Jimmy Stewart yells at Sam Wainwright on the phone and kisses Mary so tenderly. The heart-melting (though surprisingly realistic) romance between George and Mary is of course not the only reason I like it. I could definitely fill up another blog post about how multi-faceted this movie is in all areas of the American life. My husband knows how much I adore this film and sent me an excerpt from Ross Douthat's column (a conservative NY Times columnist) where readers asked him what his favorite movie and book are. Before you read Douthat's response, please know that he's Harvard educated, so he's well-read (i.e. he could have picked from a WIDE range of literature and film) and yet this is what he chose:      
"For movies, the one I always pick is It’s a Wonderful Life, not because I’m sure it’s my absolute favorite, but because I’m sure I love it, and because its status as a holiday chestnut has denied it the full appreciation it deserves. It contains so many multitudes – it’s political and religious and psychological; it’s a celebration of the American dream and an incredibly dark examination of its underside; it’s appreciation of small town life and a Sherwood-Anderson-esque critique; it’s Death of a Salesman with a eucatastrophic ending... 
...If I were giving a foreigner a crash-course in American culture, I’d make them watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” and assign them The Great Gatsby. That’s really all you need — one’s a tragicomedy and the other’s a tragedy, but they both have so much of the American light and dark, together, intermingled."
I tend to agree with his assessment because I'm obsessed with Gatsby, too, but would love to hear what ONE movie and ONE book YOU would give a foreigner to understand American culture.  

Comment below. I'd love to hear some good discussion on this topic!

Monday, March 10, 2014

"I'm Not Dead Yet!"

So it's been awhile... Between tutoring at Classical Conversations, Bible Study Fellowship, occasionally selling insurancea whole lot of pregnancy sleeping (baby #3 will be here in September!), and a road trip to Michigan (more on that in a later post), the education blog has been on the backburner. I've had a post about the 2008 Caldecott winner drafted for about a month now!

However, I did want to post something briefly about a community that holds you accountable and how that's so crucial to family life.

Classical Conversations and BSF have been a recent communities for me while another community that we've been a part of together for 9 years is our church family. Just as way of background, our church is 30 minutes one way from our house and up a mountain. So while I have always immensely enjoyed the teaching and fellowship, it's often hard for me to ask a church friend to "pop over" (because it's 30 minutes or more to my house) or to ask them to watch my kids to make an appointment. However, when I shared with my small group 2 years ago about my teeth woes, one woman (who normally never gets to interact with kids in the nursery) told me her days off where she could come and watch the girls if I needed to get dental work done. I was hesitant to ask her because for convenience I usually try to ask my neighbors down the street, but they were going out of town and I was going to have to wait another 2 weeks if I canceled the appointment. I really felt the Lord prompting me to ask for her help even if it was just for an hour and a half.

When I returned from my appointment she said the girls behaved wonderfully (I about fell over because my unofficial label these days is "referee" with those two!) and she said that spending time with them was a blessing to her because it helped her fulfill her role within the body of Christ and to honor the commitment she made at our girls' baby dedications (not an infant baptism ceremony) to help raise our children in a Christ-filled community.

I was blown away by how she saw both her role in accountability within the church community when all I was worried about was burdening her with two girls who can seem like a handful to me as a stay at home mom. It occurred to me that while I was allowing someone to serve in a way that helped us both as adults, it also helped my girls get that much needed intergenerational time within the Body. Servant leadership is what this woman displayed to me and to my children and I was very convicted about my own attitude sometimes toward wanting to serve others (including my own family) only when it's "convenient".

So... I'm still here living out my imperfect existence while learning many important life lessons about serving others while my blog stays a bit quieter for now.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Art Books for Children and Adults

I've been on a bit of an art kick lately. I started a series on Caldecott Winners (see here, here, and here) which award books with the best illustrations annually. My daughter and I already did 6 weeks of drawing at Classical Conversations (which I've drafted a blog post on and will publish at some point) and we're about to do 6 weeks of studying influential artists. Because I am tutoring at Classical Conversations, I decided to find some age appropriate materials from the library to show my 7 and 8 year old class on the artists as well as some brief artist introductions for me to store in my brain. Here are some gems if you're looking to find some books for young ones or a primer for yourself. 

Lives of the Artists: Masterpieces, Messes (and What the Neighbors Thought)

This is a short, but punchy little book. Each artist gets about 4 or 5 pages of usually large font commentary with a big caricature of the artist in each section. It mentions the artist's famous works at the end of the section with a bit of commentary, but does not show any pictures of their art. It's a distilled version, but you'll be surprised at how much you don't know about these famous men and women. The only caveat I have is to not let your little ones who can read enjoy this alone. It might seem like a perfect research tool because of the large print and fun pictures of the artists, but it makes reference to the assumed sexual preferences of the artists. It's not crude about adultery, people living together, being gay, etc. (and is actually quite brief and matter-of-fact about it), but unless you are willing to explain things to your young ones when they use the word homosexual, I'd say you need to read the entire book yourself first. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed learning much more about the artists because without being salacious these short stories don't sugarcoat their sometimes tortured souls --  the good, the bad, and the ugly that makes up the "artist's temperament". Uncovering the depths of sin and depression and how art is often borne from suffering is a part of learning how to live in our fallen, tension-filled world.  

As I was looking up the picture for this book, it appears that they makes these Lives of... books for writers, musicians, etc. I may have to look into those as well. 

Getting To Know the World's Greatest Artists

The other series I like is Mike Venezia's Getting to Know the Great Artists books. These, like the Lives of... books, also have music, presidents, etc. in the series. We are learning about Rembrandt for our first week back at Classical Conversations, so I started with it. It had funny little cartoons (that will go over some kid's heads depending on their age) about the artists interspersed with the story of the artist. It is written very simply for children and it seems very purposeful about leaving out sexual commentary. I read Rembrandt with my 4 year old and we really enjoyed it . I suppose if there was a caveat it's that unlike the Lives of... this book does show a lot of the famous art and that sometimes involve nudes. You might end up answering questions about anatomy (and you may be completely comfortable with that) with your young ones, you might be prudent to read the book first.          

Same as with the Lives of... series, apparently Mike Venezia's books venture into musicians, presidents, etc. Also might be worth checking out.

Great Paintings

I love DK books! They look so deeply into the categories of our world. You really get the "eyewitness" part of their books because they have great photos and often at very close range. What makes Great Paintings so wonderful is that it's a very tall book so the artists' painting are exceptionally large on the first page. On the second and third pages they split up the painting and zoom in on particular sections. You're in so close that you can see the timeworn, cracked surface of the painting! They have little commentaries on the artwork by each section, so if you're like me and not an art critic, they give you a leg up and some great insight. Same anatomical warning as for the Getting to Know... series as this focuses more on the art than the artist.       

And then if you just want to have some EASY non-messy art fun with your little ones, I found some great Pinterest ideas on watercolor paper towels (very impressionist style!) and cosmic sun catchers with glue and food coloring. I say it's not messy -- My husband didn't know that we were trying out the suncatchers and accidentally plopped his bag down in the food coloring glue. Thankfully it came out of his clothes, but not completely from his bag :)    

Have you read any good artist books for children? Comment here!