Saturday, December 4, 2010

Making Math Add Up

I'll be taking Math Methods next semester, so I found this particular speech thought provoking.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


It's no secret I'm a dog person. I've wanted one as a pet for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until the year I got married that Honey became my first and only. It actually pains me to think how old she's getting — almost 12 — even though she still leads the way on our 5K loop.

We were on one of our excursions today when we walked past her boyfriend's house — Butch, the 3-year-old Golden and neighborhood nomad.  (Yes, Honey's part cougar). As friendly as Butch is, he's a cautious dog and didn't come running up to us right away. Only after Honey barked did he come our direction. After a requisite scruff and sniff, Honey and I continued on our way and Butch loped home. Seconds later he was back, leash dangling from his smiling jaws. Never have I been so tempted to kidnap someone else's dog. It's one thing to have a dog follow you on a walk; it's quite another to lead it off with its own leash. I shook my head and needlessly explained to Butch that I couldn't. As if he understood, he dropped the leash and followed us home.

As he slipped through our neighbour's garden, heading back to his house, I couldn't help but wish he ours. I'm not sure his family realizes what a special dog they have. I bet they never even noticed he was gone.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Mealworms and Me

"Mommy, our science unit on living things is almost over. We can bring our mealworms home if we have permission. Can I?"

And I thought the challenge of my 40th year was going to be school...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Curried Butternut Squash Soup by Mighty Mom

I've made this a few times, combining multiple recipes into one. I think that qualifies as a new recipe, no? It is absolutely divine with a crisp salad, a hunk of grainy bread, a wedge of cheese and a glass of Chardonnay. Can you tell it's Friday?

1 large butternut squash
1/2 a large sweet onion, diced
1 ½ tbsp grated fresh ginger
1 tart apple, peeled and diced
2 tbsp butter, melted
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp curry powder
4 cups + 2 cups vegetable stock
1 ½ tsp salt (or to taste)
  1. Preheat oven to 450°F / 225°C. Use convection mode if you have it.
  2. Split the squash lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and brush with melted butter.
  3. Roast cut side down on a baking sheet until fork tender (45 minutes to an hour).
  4. When the squash is nearly done, sauté diced onion, ginger and apple in remaining butter and olive oil over medium-low heat.
  5. Add curry powder and cook for 1 minute.
  6. Pour in vegetable stock and bring to a boil.
  7. Reduce heat and add roasted squash. Discard skins and any blackened bits.
  8. Using a hand blender or food processor, purée until smooth.
  9. Add an additional 2 cups vegetable stock and heat through. Salt to taste.
  10. Serve with a dollop of cream, a few croutons, a sprinkle of cilantro or roasted squash seeds for garnish.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Go Chiefs!

The Captain and Homer, the Chiefs' mascot, making nice.

Check out his ankles. Ouch! Talk about follow-through.

Mouse, The Captain and Emma dogging it.

Emma: the one eye love.

Blogging My Novel: Didn't You Used to Write?

A year ago I sent out 17 queries for my middle-grade novel in hope of agency representation. Seven were rejected on sight, seven disappeared into query oblivion, but three had the desired effect: a request to read part or all of my pride and joy. It took over nine months for the final rejections to trickle in, but arrive they did. I'm apparently a "writer with real talent" and my story is "well crafted" with "many possibilities," but given the current "economic climate" they have had to make a decision that they "may regret." Not to appear ungracious but @#$&!

Starting my BSc in Elementary Education put my planned revision of Gone on hold. Swamped by sixteen hours of class for two semesters in a row, I slept less, ate more and drank way too much caffeine. Needless to say, I finished the year with honors and withdrawal.

Days after my final exam I was asked by one of my professors to help her write a textbook of case studies.  Over the ensuing two months I wrote ten cases, including six to nine study questions each.  Again, Gone was put aside.  Stalling am I? Maybe...

With only 3½ weeks to go before the start of school, I'm running out of time. Should I submit Gone to publishers as is? My gut reaction is no. I know it would benefit from more depth. So its off to the revision chair tonight. I'll be posting a tally of my hours. I'd like to put in five before Friday.  The scary thing about this is that I'll be writing new stuff to add, not revising the old. I always find that a tad intimidating and I don't have my Birks to steer me straight. Ach! So can I do it? Revise and submit before the start of term? 

We'll see... 

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Nomads Like Me

"Where you from?"  This simple question will get you a complicated answer if you're asking a Mighty -- especially me.  If my numbers are correct, I've lived in 21 homes in three different countries. Perhaps that isn't too striking given that I'm pushing 40, but Emma's up to four and three respectively and she's only nine. I can still hear my adolescent self swearing that, when I grew up, I would never move. Perhaps that was my first lesson in never say never.

A few weeks ago the girls and I made our annual pilgrimage to Canada, this time pausing in Dearborn, Michigan to see Mighty Mom home #5.

"It's really small," the girls said on seeing the post-WWII bungalow. A car was in the drive. I could have rang the bell, introduced myself and asked to see inside, but didn't. I knew all too well what it's like to have perfect strangers roam your home, imagining their things in place of your own. Instead, I told Emma and Mouse about the maple tree that used to grow on the front lawn and how I felt strangely important because the stop sign was on our property. I pointed to the window where our neighbours' oak tree found its way into our kitchen and to the house where the dog lived that once chased me home. A neighbour across the street opened her front door and stared at us until we drove away. The woman was clearly too young to have known me back then. Pity.

We followed the route I used to walk to school, all nine blocks, passing the corner where the crossing guard once stood, the one who reported me for crossing unescorted. The school, Snow School, was still there, though thankfully the playground had had an upgrade. I wondered if they still served popcorn and fish sticks on Fridays and if the marching band still led the school in the annual Clean-up Parade. Names passed through my mind: Mr. Bruno, Mr. Sladewski, Miss Sisson, Mrs. Gerrity, Mr. Maddocks, Mr. Gregorian, and Mrs. Thomas. I wanted to roam the halls but the doors were locked. Next time...

A day later we explored Greenfield Village where, thirty years ago, I spent a day in a one-room schoolhouse and ate my lunch out of a coffee tin I'd decorated for the occasion. The girls and I roamed between centuries-old cottages, plantations, artisan shops and working farms, all transported to the village courtesy of Henry and Edsel Ford. We rode a steam train, a model-T bus, and multiple horse-drawn carriages and watched numerous dramatizations of life in colonial times. We even got to participate in one as runaway slaves. It was so much fun I was sorry the Captain wasn't with us. I suppose there's always next year. Of course there's a few other homes I'd like to revisit as well.

Enjoy these photos and if your ever passing through Dearborn, Michigan, consider staying a day. You won't regret it, even if you never lived there.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Confessions of a Piano Mom

Soccer Moms have all the glory: minivans, faux-brass trophies to put on their mantles, and laundry tricks for getting Bug Juice out of polyester. They form ranks around soccer pitches around the globe, cheering their little prodigies to victory while secretly praying they don't make it to finals so they can go home. But what about the unsung heros: the Piano Moms?

Granted, we are a notch below Violin Moms in musical martyrdom — we doff our imaginary crowns in their venerable direction — but here we stand: proud, determined and emotionally drained. A seemingly endless chorus of "Why do I have to practice?" sings us to sleep to the tune of our child's latest simple melody played in resentful staccato. But sleep, we must, because we will do it all again tomorrow, alone, with only our children's best interests to buoy us through.

Someone once said, "Children cut their teeth on their parents." Never in their lives has this ever been more true of my girls. Do they like the piano? Yes. Do they want piano lessons? Absolutely. Do they like their teacher? Without a doubt, especially when they perform their pieces for him to heart-bursting perfection. But practice? God forbid. No time is a good time. It's either too early or too late. They're too hungry, too sleepy or, the absolute worst, they've just started the best game in the world which will be completely ruined by senseless interruption. Nevertheless, without the promise of trophies or popsicles at half time, we Piano Mom's must inflict the ultimate indignity: the death march to the piano bench. A few warm ups and they settle in, but our ears must stay alert for digressions: Chopsticks, vampire-esque chords or, worse, silence.

Perhaps if Piano Moms got shiny red convertibles, garden flags, and arm bands all would be easier. We could wave at each other as we pass on our way to and from lessons, high-five in the grocery aisles, and nod appreciably as we cut the grass. I suppose there must be Piano Mom chat rooms out there where I might commiserate with like-minded musical martyrs but with two girls in lessons I simply haven't the time.

So to all you Piano Moms out there, I salute you. We are the honourable ones. And to you Violin Moms: I don't know how you do it.

Friday, June 4, 2010

When Worlds Collide

Yesterday the girls and I made a special trip: to meet the Baby Echos. We'd been invited by their classroom teacher in honour of their end-of-year class project: a Kool-aid stand. The Charlie Brown-style booth made of cardboard and a thigh-high table was painted every colour of the rainbow with the words "Kool-aid 10¢" in awkward six-year-old printing. Each child had contributed to the operation with either powder packets or cups and would take their turn manning the stand over the course of the day. The whole school had promised to visit, so it was bound to be a profitable venture.

When we entered the room, chaos ensued. Staggered verses of 'Hi, Mrs. Melissa,' filled the air followed a series of hip crushing hugs from Alisha, Marques, Jamal and Tyrone. Miguel waved from where he was clearing the breakfast dishes. Jacob watched from across the room, curious but shy of the two big girls I'd brought with me. Keshon, the tireless wannabe Echo, fired questions faster than I could answer.

"What's they names? How old are them? Do they eat lobster?"
I introduced the girls and told Keshon to ask his questions to Emma and Mouse himself.
"Do you eat lobster?"
Mouse shook her head. Emma said, "No."
"Do you eat fish?"
Mouse made a face. Emma said, "Sometimes."
"Do you eat shrimp?
"We eat chicken," said Emma, cutting to the chase.
"Me, too," said Tyrone, who had been listening to Keshon's interrogation. A bunch of the other kids said they liked chicken, too. Common ground in poultry. Who would have guessed it?

We stayed for the Pledge of Allegiance and three cups of Kool-aid before leaving them to their day. On our way home we shared an interesting discussion about what they observed. Why did almost all those kids have dark skin? Why did they eat breakfast at school? It was a version of similar talks we'd had before about poverty and the inequities that still persist between the races. We dipped our toes into American history, slavery, emancipation, and how public education is funded. It was an amazing discussion peppered with exclamations of, "But that's not fair," from both girls. (Grade-schoolers are amazing injustice detectors.) It is a topic we've visited before and will again, though probably not the same way, with the taste of some of the best Kool-aid on the planet still on our lips. That can only happen once.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Them Be Fightin' Words

Mouse and Emma are in the back seat drawing on our way to Target. Emma is drawing a picture of herself between Mouse and their cousin, the Kowabunga Kid. Mouse is doing her own rendition. Emma keeps making 'mistakes' on Mouse's portrait: a long pointy nose, too large lips, and -- evidently the deal breaker for Mouse-- one enormous green shoe.

"Do that again and I'll draw you with a penis."

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ready, Set, Grade One!

"I expect you all to get five stars today. Remember, you're going to be in first grade soon and first graders know how to control their voices, control their bodies and work hard."

Jamal's hand shoots into the air. He looks worried.

"You have a question?"

"Yeah. Will you be coming with us to first grade? 'Cause we don't even know where the room is."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Low Tech

Emma marches through the kitchen carrying a broomstick with a flag mounted on the end. Mouse follows with a deceptively heavy purple velvet bag. The two go out the back door and head for the climber from which Emma waves her flag in the direction of the Keegan backyard. Mouse joins in, shaking her velvet bag out the club house window. The clatter of a few dozen marbles fills the air.

Seconds later a voice calls from over the fence. "Can you play?"

Who needs a phone?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

One Step Forward, One Step Back

***all names are changed except my own***

I knew from the moment I met Tyrone that he was slippery. For one, the child could barely stay in a chair. Five seconds was all he needed to toss his pencil skyward, crawl under the desk to fetch it and, en route, untie his neighbour's shoes. Perceptive, charming, happy and infuriating: all these things were Tyrone. Unfortunately 'literate' did not rank among them.

Now you may be thinking, he's five: since when is reading an expectation at such an age? It is and it isn't. No one expects the average kindergartener to be reading Harry Potter, but after nine months of being drilled on the alphabet and each letter's respective sound, most can decode a three-letter word that follows the basic phonemic rules. While I suspected Tyrone was still struggling, I couldn't be sure. Were his inaccurate responses due to inattention? Impulsivity? Poor phonemic awareness? Impaired memory? All of the above? Lucky for both of us, my exams finished last week and I had a sudden influx of something more precious than gold: time. I offered to work with Tyrone one-on-one to which the classroom teacher agreed. This moved Tyrone from Tier 2 up to Tier 3 intervention: one step closer to special education.

During our first session I quizzed Tyrone on his letter names and sounds. His score: 10 out of 26. I was stunned. How was this possible? I suspected difficulties, but nothing this tragic. He'd almost slipped through my fingers. Almost. When Mouse was one-year-old she nearly fell out a window at the Chateau de Chillon. I'd been sitting beside her at the time and had looked away. Clearly there was a grave difference between potential illiteracy and that moment, but they shared a similar element: my own culpability. Mouse didn't fall; neither did Tyrone. My judgement, however, would be honed forever by both incidents.

Tyrone and I have had three sessions and already he's showing improvement. We'll continue until next Wednesday when I'll have to bid all my Echo's good-bye. It will be a tough day.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tiers and Tears

I lost a student yesterday in the best way possible: he didn't need me anymore. According to his classroom teacher, Jacob's DIBELS scores were well into the safety zone meaning he no longer needed Tier 2 intervention: me. When we broke the news to him, his eyes got shiny and full.

"But I still want to come with you."

I said he could come one last time and his eyes cleared. Minutes later, quite on purpose, Jacob scrawled the worst letters of his kindergarten life into his Fundations workbook. I could hardly believe my eyes. He was trying to throw the game, wielding the only power he had left. The thing of it was, it was too late. He couldn't fool anyone. He'd been writing clearly and reading for weeks. The poor kid had mistaken his victory parade for overtime: his last chance to prove me wrong.

When we got back to class I gave him his workbook and a certificate I had made. "I'm really going to miss you, Jacob."

"Me, too." He gave me a hip-crushing hug and headed for his cubby to put away his things. From across the room I watched him wipe his eyes.

On my way out of class he hugged me twice more.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Off Task

"Mrs. Melissa?"

Marques calls out to me from his seat. The rest of the Echos are busy writing their capital C's.

"Marques, where is your hand supposed to be?"

"Oh!" He raises his hand.

"Yes, Marques."

"Can you eat your necklace?"


"Ah, man! That's too bad." He looks truly disappointed for me. I wonder if he would have asked for a bite if I'd said yes.

"Back to work now, Marques."

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sticker-palooza Part 2

Missed Sticker-palooza Part 1? Read it here.
I arrive the next day forewarned and forearmed, an arsenal of recognition stickers at my hip, ready to reward hard work and acceptable behavior with a flick of my wrist. Channel yourself back to your kindergarten years and you can imagine the anticipation this created. Alisha is more wide-eyed than usual. It is at this moment when I realize that this could go either way: success would bring elation; failure, devastation. I take a deep breath and signal Alisha to do the same. We'd chatted before class. She knew what she needed to do.

"T, top, /t/." I start the echos off with a phonics review, flashing cue cards as I go. Everyone stays on task. I figured they might. This part's easy. We finish off with a circuit of stickers on their incentive card. When Jamal raises his hand to ask a question he gets a sticker, too. My sense of fairness makes me want to recognize all of them, not just Alisha. Suddenly the rest of them are raising their hands, too. Alisha is shaking in anticipation. I call on her earlier than I might have otherwise, hoping to bolster her success and lessen her anxiety. It seems to help. She smiles down at her card as she counts her stickers.

A half hour later they've nearly drained me of ammo, and Alisha's reached her limit. The crayon box is out of reach when she bellows, "I want a crayon." Tears are in her voice. I don't react, instead continuing to work with Tyrone on his letter 'b' formation. A second later I hear a sweeter version of Alisha's voice, still tight with tears. "Miguel, can I have the crayons, please." I stop what I'm doing and slap a sticker on her card. "Great words, Alisha." She wipes her eyes and smiles. Her card's almost full.

I'd say the process was a success in many ways. I was consistent in my recognition and clear about what I was looking for. I also got some important information: given the right circumstances, Alisha can reign herself in and Tyrone and Marques can stay in their chairs. There were, however, a couple fatal flaws:
  1. This was clearly not sustainable. Eventually stickers would loose their effectiveness, not just on Alisha, but everyone.
  2. Were they developing self-awareness and self control? Yes and no. Jamal, who raised his hand to ask an on-topic question got appropriate feedback. On the other hand, Marques, who raised his hand just to get a sticker, had found a loophole I hadn't anticipated. Some kids are just too smart for their own good.
  3. Would they repeat this behavior in other environments without the presence of reinforcement? Perhaps, but not likely due to this single session.
I suspect, as usual, I learned more than they did. Clearly they could control themselves. The question was how to set up a sustainable environment where they could work toward their success without draining the Midwestern Sticker Reserves. Hmm... Stay tuned.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Damn those previews...

I know I must be in a minority, but I'm raising my kids without TV. Don't get me wrong: we have a television. The girls have free reign to watch an hour a day, whatever pre-recorded program we have access to, as long as it's in French from Monday to Friday and in the language of their choice on weekends. We've operated this way for years now. Satellite TV in Switzerland was expensive, especially considering it was British and, therefore, 'verboten.' We could have purchased Swiss satellite, but then what would have been the point. TV, for me, was an escape. Friends with subtitles would have undermined my denial. "How you doin'," was what I needed back then, not "Ca va?"

So, when the family and I headed out west for our attempt at a European ski holiday, you can imagine the excitement when the girls discovered their own personal TV with remote and CABLE. Not fifteen minutes had passed when the girls asked how they could skip the previews. "We just saw this one, Mommy!" Through a poorly concealed grin I had to break it to them. "They're called commercials, girls, not previews. And, no, you can't skip them." You can imagine my joy when, days later, they cried, "We hate these previews."
I hear you girls. I hear you.

You can thank me later.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Eight Weeks in a Blink

778 pages of reading
144 hours of classes
16 hours of tutoring
6 new professors
10 group assignment members.
9 papers
5 quizzes
4 exams
6 group projects
3 birthday parties
2 sleepovers
3 dentist appointments
8 piano lessons
8 tumbling classes
8 skating lessons
1 school concert
32 boxes of girl scout cookies sold and delivered
2 scout meetings

Yep...I'm tired. Thank goodness for Spring Break!

Friday, February 19, 2010

New Yorkers: Share Your Fresh Air

Sticker-palooza Part 1

Alisha was back at school by Thursday, February 11th. She had only missed one day, but somehow she had regressed a few months. "I WANT A GREEN CRAYON!", "WHY DOES HE GET TO BE LINE LEADER?" and "THAT'S NOT FAIR!" burst from her lips at the least provocation. She remembered who we all were. She even remembered her letters and their respective sounds. But her manners, her patience, and her smile were MIA.

This past Tuesday was a particularly bad session. Alisha was in tears more than half the time. A brown dry-erase marker appeared to be the trigger. Part of the Fundations program has the kids writing their letters on individual white boards with guidelines. Alisha wanted to write her l, k, and h in brown, but Miguel already had it. From that moment on she was inconsolable.

"If you really want the brown, Alisha, you may need to wait until Miguel is done."

"I don't want to wait." Her big, almost black eyes glared at me from between her braids.

I shrugged and moved on down the row of desks, giving the others stamps on their cards for their beautifully formed letters. Alisha wailed, picked up her red marker and got work. Her letters were lovely and I told her so as I added a stamp to her card. She grunted through her tears, refusing to look at me.

I left the Echos that day a tad confused. Why had Alisha regressed so much? Whatever the reason, it was getting far too disruptive. Was I unwittingly encouraging her? Did something happen at home? She had always seemed a tad immature for age five, but at what point does a child's emotional turmoil cross the line and become something requiring special intervention?

It was time to call in the troops. I spoke to the classroom teacher, the amazing classroom assistant, and three of my professors. I needed to know a few things before I could proceed:
  1. Did Alisha have a diagnosed behavioral or emotional disability? If so, I would need to see her Individualized Education Plan.
  2. Was there any recent turmoil at home that might be contributing to her behavior?
  3. Was there a change in her behavior in the classroom, as well, or only with me?
  4. Was there anything I was doing that encouraged her outbursts?
  5. Is this something that Alisha is capable of controlling?
For obvious reasons, I can't share some of the details I uncovered. Regardless, I entered the school yesterday armed and ready. It was Sticker-palooza Day with the Baby Echos. If Alisha was able to control her emotional outbursts, today would be the day.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Math Facts Go Fish

Mouse has hit the part of grade one when it isn't enough to know how to add; now math addition facts need to be memorized. To help this process along, the girls and I have started to play a modified version of go fish. The goal: to create combinations of cards that add up to a designated sum. The goal of the first hand is to create groups of cards that add up to 10.

Here are the rules:

  1. Use one or two decks of regular playing cards and shuffle them well. For the purposes of this game, Aces count as 1.
  2. Deal five cards to each player. Lay the rest of the deck face down in the middle of the players.
  3. Before the start of play, players lay down any combinations of cards with the sum of '10' face-up in front of them.
  4. The youngest goes first for the first round, after which the privilege goes to the next oldest, and so on.
  5. On their turn, a player can ask any other player for a card that would complete a pair or combination of cards that they have in their hand. For instance, if I had a 5, 2, 7, and 9 in my hand, I might ask another player if they have an Ace. If they do, they have to hand it over and I can lay my new group of 10 in front of me. If they don't I must Go Fish and chose a card from the pile. My turn is over.
  6. Oh, and about those pesky 10's, Jacks, Queens, and Kings: 10's must be laid down in pairs. The royals must be laid down as a threesome. A player can only ask another player for a royal if they have two of the set already in their hand. This means, unless you have a Queen and a King already in your hand, don't be asking anyone for a Jack.
  7. Play continues until one player runs out of cards.
  8. Scoring is as follows: each player gets one point for every card that is part of a set of 10. For instance, my combination of 9 and Ace would earn me 2 points. If a player still has cards in their hand, one point is subtracted for each. If I had three cards still in my hand, my score for the hand would be -1. Bummer.
  9. Collect the cards and shuffle well. It's time for round two: create sums of cards that add up to 11. The final round will be groups of twenty.
Right now Mouse is winning with 21 points. Emma is close behind with 20. I've got 9. I hope I have better luck tonight!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


Today I was the only female during my session with the Echos. Alisha was absent, whether due to snow or the sniffles I still don't know. That left me with five boys. When I arrived in their classroom at 12:15 they were still eating lunch. Miguel saw me first and waved from his seat. A friend at his table, Keshon, leaped to his feet to give me a hug.

"Do I get to come with you today?" he asked. Where did he learn to bat his eyelashes like that? I wondered.

"Keshon, you need to stop asking, Buddy. You know I don't get to choose. I'd take you if I could, but we're out of luck."

"Aw, man."

I love that needing a tutor in kindergarden is viewed as a treat.

The Echos and I have come a long way since the first week of November. They've learned over half the alphabet phonetically; I've learned that pee breaks need to come before the lesson. Actually, I would wager I've learned a lot more than they have. For what it's worth, here are a few pearls of wisdom for anyone out there who work with small groups made up of primarily 5-year old testosterone factories:
  1. Time is precious, especially if you get only 30 minutes twice per week. This requires structure in both the lesson plan and the behaviour management plan. Thanks to Fundations, the lesson plan is done for me.
  2. In our group, we work hard. Hard work earns praise, both verbal and, in a more 'visible' sense, stamps on a incentive card. (There are 25 squares on each card to be filled with stickers or stamps. Hot air balloons and high-five handprints are a real hit.) Our session usually requires them to complete four tasks. They earn a stamp for each.
  3. Hard work means we have to control our voices and bodies. If you control your body and voice for the session, you get an extra stamp. If an Echo can't keep their bottom in the seat, I break out my pencil and draw their attention to it. That is their warning.
  4. If, after a warning, they don't settle down, I place a check mark on their incentive card where their next stamp would go. This means they cannot earn another stamp until they model appropriate behaviour. Usually this step is enough to get the offender back in line. I erase the check mark once they are back to work.
  5. Occasionally an Echo drifts back to the problem behaviour. In this instance, there is no longer a warning and the check mark returns.
  6. If this still has no effect, a second check mark is added. This means that they must 'flip a card' in the main classroom which has consequences determined by the classroom teacher. This is devastating as it not only means less play time, but also a note home. I've done this once. Poor Tyrone. He's behaved better ever since.
  7. When an Echo's incentive card is full (this takes 25 stickers or stamps and two to four weeks, depending on the kid) they get to bring it home with a 'secret' note from me. I'm proud to say that they are beginning to read them themselves, so the secret is out. They also get to choose a new incentive card. The current favourite has an owl on it that bears a striking resemblance to Baby Echo, the finger puppet that serves as a teaching aid in Fundations.
I am amazed how effective this structure is, though I find I'm tweaking it regularly. They're learning and I'm learning. Keeping up is half the battle. My Echos earned all their stamps today. Way to go, boys!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Emotional Literacy: The Missing Link

In preparation for a presentation on the importance of emotional literacy, I came across this very compelling story of how one school's commitment to emotional literacy is making a big difference.

Monday, January 25, 2010

'Operation Smart' by Justin Meli

A good friend put me on to an interesting article on what makes a terrific teacher, at least according to Teach for America. If you are at all curious, watch this clip titled Operation Smart. If you are more than a little intrigued, read the full Atlantic article here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Three Cheers for Stuart Little

I made a pact with myself this semester to take in as many Bradley University cultural and sporting events as possible. (As the Captain would be quick to point out, my tuition is subsidizing them after all.) Yesterday we attended the theatre department's production of Stuart Little. It was a huge hit with the kids and adults alike. Today at 2:30 is the last performance, so, if you're in the area, try to take it in. If you aren't, look into live theatre performances near you. The right script and performers can unleash a child's imagination better than Pixar or Disney, even at their best.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Hitting the Books

The Cons:
  1. a dirty house
  2. unimaginative cooking
  3. group work with partners who consider watching the NFL a longstanding commitment
  4. homework and more homework
  5. lunch from a thermos four days a week
  6. less exercise, blogging and writing in general
The Pros:
  1. less housework
  2. fewer trips to the grocery store
  3. reliving my youth vicariously through my classmates and students
  4. learning more than I ever expected and loving it
  5. not taking time with my family for granted
  6. getting out and interacting with people every single day

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

5 spices, 50 dishes, and a proposal

It was a Christmas gift not unlike many others: a cookbook. But this one had strings of the apron variety: the Captain was going to cook. His first attempt — Dish 22: roasted lamb with burnt onions — was more than decent. His second go — Dish 24: new bride chicken curry — showed real promise. But Monday night's menu — Dish 23: lamb meatballs in a spicy malabari curry paired with an encore performance of Dish 37: tangy shredded cabbage salad — was nothing short of divine. One spoonful and I proposed. I figure if one of us ever masters Dish 48 — homemade chapatis — we might never eat out again.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Don't Swear With Your Mouth Full!

Don't Swear With Your Mouth Full! When Conventional Discipline Fails Unconventional Children by child psychologist Cary S. Chugh is the latest addition to the TCP Book Club.

I have to admit I'm a hard sell when it comes to books on parenting. I'm as wary of quick fixes as I am of laborious, time consuming strategies. So when I received Dr. Chugh's book for review, I knew I would have to read it with pencil in hand.

Don't Swear With Your Mouth Full! begins by challenging readers to reassess how they think about their children's behaviour and their role in correcting it. Chugh clearly states that parents "will never have 100% control over [their] child." That said, the line between reasonable vigilance and neglect is not always obvious and, when the inevitable misbehaviour happens, what then?

Dr. Chugh delves into the temperament of the Difficult Child and other factors that may contribute to chronic behaviour problems like ADHD, giftedness, special medical or developmental needs, and Oppositional Defiant Disorders. Chugh goes on to examine the spectrum of parenting styles and research on their longterm behavioral effects, all before diving into the thick of why many of the most conventional forms of discipline fail.

Yelling, threatening, corporal punishment, removing privileges, time-out, chores, sticker charts and ignoring are the eight forms of behaviour management strategies examined. According to Chugh, each is fatally flawed, though some have more redeeming qualities than others. Chugh examines four essential components of an effective behaviour plan:
  1. clarity
  2. meaningfulness
  3. immediacy and
  4. consistency
Borrowing from chapter four, lets put conventional time-out through the Chugh check-list. Let's say Emma, age eight, punches her sister and earns herself a eight minute time-out, this based on the one-minute-for-every-year-of-age urban myth. Assuming I've taken time to explain, it is clear to Emma why she is being punished and for how long. Does the punishment have meaning for her? Not really. In fact, she is probably becoming more resentful of her sister by the second...and me. Is there an immediate way in which Emma can bring closure to her punishment? No. The punishment ends when the timer goes off. Is there a consistent way the punishment ends? That depends on whether I'm present when the timer goes off. Depending on when and how often this scenario occurs, my consistency may waver.

Chugh's methodology builds upon some basic conventional methods, but changes them enough to return some of the power to the child. Punishments are no longer time-limited, but behaviour-limited; sticker charts are more aptly used as a memory aid than a score card; and restitution or corrective activities are used to increase the chances that the child will make better behaviour choices in the future. To illustrate this, let's put Emma's time-out through a Chugh make-over.

Emma punches her sister and is sent to sit at the kitchen table in time-out. Emma is allowed to return to play only after she can repeatedly demonstrate how she might use her words instead of her fists, in addition to apologizing and comforting her sister. Emma does not have to comply, but cannot play until she does.

I very much like Chugh's method as it allows for clearly delineated negotiation between adult and child. I know how easy it is to inadvertently end up in a power struggle with a pint-sized control freak. Pro-social escape routes from punishment allow kids to practice desirable behaviours and receive positive reinforcement. As there is no strict formula or scores to keep, implementation is simple and flexible. Chugh also includes suggestions on how to modify this plan for toddlers and teens.

While I can't imagine using all the examples the book offers, its underlying philosophy is compelling and will definitely weave its way into my home and classroom.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Still Growing

Tuesday was the first session for the Echos and me since the holidays. Once they were all seated, Marques looked up at me and said, "Mrs. Melissa, you grew over the holidays!"
The other Echos chimed in their agreement. "Yeah, you grew!"

I what?

"You mean wider?"

"No. Bigger." Marques stood and held his arms over his head.

Oh, thank goodness. "I don't think I'm growing any more, kiddos."

"Sure you be growing," said Tyrone. "Every year you have a birthday and every year you grow. That's just the way it goes."

The kid had a point.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My Trip Off the Blog Wagon

African Piano designed by Anna-Marie D'Cruz
in her book, Make Your Own Musical Instruments
(The Rosen Publishing Group, 2009)
Botched by Mighty Mom

South American Rain Stick

I knew, even as I set it, that a goal of 360 blogs this year would be next to impossible. I guess my point was to get myself blogging, even with the new burden of school. Blogging is my way of recording life as I see it and I didn't want to look back three years from now and have nothing saved. Well, my diligence lasted until my first interim semester course: Music in the P-8 Schools. Here's just a snippet of what was required of me this past weekend:

A Lesson Plan:

The Orchestra in Four Parts

Age Level: 7 to 9

Duration: 40 minutes


Computer with iTunes software, The Orchestra Playlist, and speakers

Worksheet, one per student (see attached)



Moss, Lloyd (1995). Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin

Garriel, Barbara S. (2004). I Know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello

Crossword Puzzle Maker courtesy of

The Orchestra Play List:

  1. Piano Concerto #20 In D Minor, K 466 - 1. Allegro by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
  2. Spring from The Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi
  3. The Coventry Carol (Brass Quintet) by Robert Croo
  4. Concerto For Flute & Harp, K 299 - 2. Andantino by Woldfgang Amadeus Mozart
  5. The Battle Of Stirling by James Horner, performed by the London Symphony Orchestra


  • Students will be able to identify the four sections of the orchestra based on their construction and method of sound production.
  • Students will be able to match the following terms to their correct definition.
  • Students will be able to place a selection of instruments into their appropriate sections.


  • Begin by asking students if any have gone to see or listened to an orchestra. Guide discussion toward the number of musicians, the types of instruments, the type of music played and whether the musicians played by themselves or in groups.
  • Play Track 1 from The Orchestra Playlist as an example of a large orchestra all playing together.
  • Introduce the concept that the orchestra can be divided into four sections. Read Zin! Zin! Zin! a Violin, asking students to look for clues to justify what instruments they would group together to form a section. Hint: instruments are grouped together based on how they make sound.
  • At the dry erase board, write the names of all ten instruments in black ink. Invite students to come to the board to circle instruments they believe are in the same section with like colored marker (i.e. all strings circled with red; all woodwinds circled with blue; all brass circled with green. See answer key attached.) Once complete, introduce the correct terms for the different sections: strings, brass, and woodwinds. Play tracks 2, 3, and 4 from The Orchestra Play list (15 to 30 seconds each).
  • Remind the class that one important section is still missing. (Percussion) Allow students to offer suggestions as to what is missing and then read I know a Shy Fellow Who Swallowed a Cello watching for new instruments they may not have seen in the first book.
  • Add new instruments to the board: saxophone, fiddle, cymbal, kazoo, and bell. Invite students to come up to the board and classify the new additions, offering their justification. Add percussion as a section including the cymbal and bell. Discuss whether a kazoo belongs in any of the sections. Play track 5 from The Orchestra Play List as an example of percussion instruments.
  • Distribute activity sheets. Allow students to work in small groups to complete. Younger students may require a word bank. Older students should be encouraged to refer to the texts. Meanwhile instrumental tracts in the background in sequence.
  • During last five minutes gather group’s attention and discuss section and instrument preferences.


  • See attached crossword puzzle. (Not included here for reasons of potential copyright infringement. While I wrote the content of the puzzle myself, I'm not sure I'm allowed to share it.)

ISBE Standard Addressed:

26.A.2c Music:

Classify musical sound sources into groups (e.g., instrumental families, vocal ranges, solo/ensembles).

As you can see in the photo above, I also constructed a few instruments, none of which particularly excited me half as much as they impressed the girls.

So that's what I've been up to. My blogging goal will most assuredly not be met, but I'll be sure to check in with a good excuse from time to time. Honest!

Simple Flute designed by Anna-Marie D'Cruz
(also known as the most annoying noise maker in the world)

Friday, January 8, 2010

Snow Day

Six inches. That's it. A whopping 15 centimetres of snow brought P-town to a halt yesterday. As a Canadian and former Montrealer, I couldn't help but chuckle. An automated phone call at 5:30 a.m. announced that all schools were closed. Needless to say, the girls were delighted by the phenomenon. Not once in five years were Geneva schools closed due to weather. Then again, Geneva never got much snow.

We passed the day shovelling and playing in the snow, sipping hot chocolate and doing all the things we could think of with the surprise gift of eight uncommitted hours. We even exploded the odd volcano courtesy of Emma's third grade science project and listened to the beginning of The Magic Flute. By seven-thirty that night the girls were in bed and I was hot on their heels. I doubt I read more than a sentence or two of Savvy before I felt my eyes droop.

Snow days...they're a killer.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Magic Flute retold by Anne Gatti

I've had a mild appreciation for opera ever since the 1984 movie Amadeus. As some of you may recall, the multiple Oscar Award winning picture included quite a few scenes from The Magic Flute. I'm proud to say that even Emma and Mouse recognize Der Höle Rache though it pains me to admit that they attribute the famous aria to Barbie's Mermaidia. (I bet Mozart never saw that coming.)

In any case, while preparing for a course on teaching music I stumbled upon a fantastic picture book and CD set. The book guides young readers/listeners through the story of The Magic Flute while referencing specific tracks on the accompanying CD. The artwork by Peter Malone is as beautiful as it is expressive and the CD is devoid of any distracting 'turn-the-page-now' indicators.

Instinctively, I would say this particular version is best suited for an audience older than eight years, but could easily be used into early high school, if only to teach appreciation of the art form.

I, for one, feel like I went to the opera today, so I thought I should share the wealth. For your viewing pleasure, I've included a YouTube clip of Der Hölle Rache, a personal favourite. I've spared you the Barbie version. You can thank me later.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The school bus lights
they wink
in the still
blue light of dawn and as
my daughters step inside
I savour
where the time has gone

It was a wonderful holiday. Thank you.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

After Tupac & D Foster by Jacqueline Woodson

I bought this book because it was a Newbery Honor title. I'd received an Amazon gift certificate from my old colleagues in Geneva and used it to feed my longstanding juvenile literature habit. Admittedly, I would not have chosen this book otherwise. What did I know about rappers? About growing up black, in the mid-nineties, in Queens? Precious little. But, despite my ignorance, this story moved me in a way it couldn't have six months ago. You see, last July I didn't know anyone like D Foster, a child too old to be cute any more, bouncing from one foster home to the next with only her girl friends to keep her steady. Today, after having spent the last semester in P-town schools, I know at least one young woman who might see herself in these pages. It looks like tomorrow I'll be making a special delivery.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Meet the Austins, Take Two

I read Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle as a teenager and fell in love. I don't believe it was for the story per se. The plot was fairly simple: a large New England family takes in a spoiled only child after the death of her parents and all must learn to adapt. What truly grabbed my attention was L'Engle's portrayal of life in a large family. I was an only child, you see, and would have given my eye teeth for a sibling... or a puppy. The Austin's had two — dogs, that is — and four kids until Maggie-the-Terror arrived. In any case, Meet the Austins gave me the taste of family life that was a little less Brady than I'd otherwise been exposed to. I'm reading it to the girls right now and I can't help but chuckle. A family with five kids and two dogs? I think I'd lose my mind.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The First of 360: Rules by Emma and Mouse

It's a new year everywhere by now, even here in P-town where it is either 12 below or 10 above depending on which side of the metric divide you stand on. The house smells of curried leg of lamb and burnt onions courtesy of the Captain who is comfortably ensconced in the living room with the latest Dan Brown. The girls are snacking on cheese cubes and baby carrots and I'm recovering with a beer after having spent a humbling day sewing curtains. Honey's keeping me company, likely hoping I'll drop a pita chip in her general direction. It's been a lovely, quiet New Year's Day.

I love the blank slate of a New Year, the endless possibility of time not yet spent. I've decided to blog more, hence this post being the first of 360. For their New Year's gesture, the girls decided to write up rules for their rooms. With their permission, I've shared them below. As long as you remember that farts are permitted in Emma's room, but not in Mouse's, the rest are almost the same. The Captain has decided he wants to cook more. I suspect my resolution might help his along, especially if my readership is keen on inflicting some public ridicule his direction.

The girls have moved on from their snack and are now alternately wearing my witch's hat, sorting each other into the houses of Hogwarts. Emma sorts Mouse into Ravenclaw and she whines in protest. She wants Gryffindor. Don't we all?

Happy New Year all! See you tomorrow.

Rules by Emma:

Rules by Mouse