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