Thursday, February 26, 2009

Times Like These

Why, when you think you have it together, do you start rethinking everything?

Words fail me tonight. I can't find them when I'd most like to. I'm thinking of do-overs and looking ahead, some kind of change. Maybe I just need to go for a long walk in the sunshine.

Here is Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters singing "Times Like These". I believe he is singing what I'm feeling.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

En el medio

The middle sister – a small fairy-like woman
her body is wrapped in the arms and legs of her youngest
who twirls his fingers in her short, black hair
finds comfort in her soft neck
whimpers in pain, wanting

the sister in the middle – a strong, athletic woman
her heart is weakened by the growth spurts of her daughter
who rolls her preteen eyes, pulling at her, and pulling away
tests her mother with words and attitude
shrugs off a reprimand from

the middle sister – a determined, concerned woman
her thoughts are consumed by her own middle child
who flips pages in fishing magazines
squints at big words, trying to please
asks for help at homework time from

the middle child,
who used to make her mother cry and her father’s blood boil
sought attention,
rebelled, then returned as

the middle one – discovered by a man
for the treasure she is

a centered woman now –
pulled in many directions
but her hands reach, touch, fix, and heal
love completely.
She is a warming-core,
the center of family.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Latin Baby Book Club

I've been invited by Monica at Latin Baby Book Club to be a contributing blogger. I'm happy to accept the opportunity, and invite you to go there to hear about a book that celebrates the beautiful people who gather the food we enjoy on our tables. Gathering the Sun , by Alma Flor Ada, is a bilingual alphabet book I use as a mentor text in my classroom.

Latin Baby Book Club is a blog that promotes pride in the Latino culture and most importantly in our stories. LBBC is a valuable resource for both parents and educators who wish to nurture a love of reading, bilingualism, and diversity.

I'm honored to be a part of this endeavor.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Latina Bloggers - ¿Dónde están?

Carrie at Bilingual in the Boonies had the great idea of looking for all the Latina bloggers out there. Thanks to Carrie, I've discovered muchas interesting and inspiring blogs written by Latinas. Please check out Carrie's blog and link up if you are a Latina blogger.

Si pudiera hablar

Me duele la lengua de tanto morderla
la tengo roja y quemante
nadie ve lo gruesa que se me ha hecho
cómo la paro antes que me perjudique.

Las palabras
Optando por ser gente
no dejo que sepas lo
poco que pienso de tí.

Ves mis labios, mis dientes
pero no creas que te estimo.
Yo también sé jugar ese juego.

My tongue hurts from so much biting
red and burning
no one sees how thick it has become
how I stop it before it gets me in trouble.

Honest words,
remain hidden,
Choosing to be polite
I don’t let on
how little I think of you.

You see my lips, my teeth
but don’t think I respect you.
I know how to play that game.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Riding the train

My students and I had a great week of technology-infused learning.

First, I had the pleasure of wheeling the wireless lab (a cart containing laptops) into my classroom. Until now, other teachers had been monopolizing the cart; I would see it being moved from here to there, to the same rooms every time. I always wondered how those teachers were using them. After talking with the computer teacher, I signed out the lab and was pleased to learn I would be able to keep it for two weeks. Awesome!

So this past week, during the literacy block, I had planned to use the interactive website Into the Book to review and practice using specific reading strategies, such as making connections and visualizing. The site allows students to read passages and practice applying these strategies for comprehension. However, once every student had a laptop at his desk, I was reminded of all the little things you have to go over with 13 kids who are using laptops for the first time. And in my case, it's ELLs who have not had the same access and experience with computers to begin with.

"Open it like this."
"Turn it on... press the power button."
"Press Ctrl and Alt and the same time...where are the keys?...... Here, and here, and here..."
"Enter the log in..... enter the password.... take Caps lock off!.... Didn't work? Try it again....."
"Type this address into your browser.....

And on and on it went.... 13 times. Wow.

When we finally got going, the kids loved Into the Book. There were, of course, some passages and vocabulary they needed my help with. Overall, the site was useful for my ELLs. We also reviewed some keyboarding skills, so they'll be ready for next week, when we'll try using them during Writer's Workshop.

The second highlight of the week was the grand entrance of the Smart Board, brought to us by the Math coach. We had planned for her to do a 45 min. lesson on attributes, but when she saw how excited my kids were, she ended up staying all morning. She showed us how to set it up, how to use the various functions, and she also did several activities involving math and language arts. The Smart Board is amazing! I was so grateful to her. It was like having my own real-world hands-on training. I'm ready to use it every week in some way. I know I will.

If we are to move our students along academically and linguistically, each and every one of us ought to try new things. I for one do not want my students to be held back by language; technology is for everyone. I know there is some reluctance out there, people who are not yet ready to give things a whirl. And I certainly recognize that time is a factor; I always wondered how I would ever "integrate" technology into my teaching.

Now, it's even more clear to me. It's about making some thoughtful changes and keeping the kids engaged. It's reaching out, teaching, and encouraging each other. This kind of teaching is like jumping on a train and going to exciting places with the most enthusiastic, wide-eyed travel companions.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Diversity Book Review: China Boy

I’ve finished reading China Boy, which I selected for the Diversity Rocks Reading Challenge. This autobiographical novel by Chinese-American Gus Lee caused me to tear up a couple of times. I recognized the experiences of immigrant children in Lee’s story, and made a more real connection now, as one of my students is growing up without a mother’s love.

In this novel, Kai-Ting is the prized and only son in a Chinese family, who has arrived to 1950s San Francisco, after an escape from civil war in China. Small and treasured, Kai-Ting enjoys the indulgent love of his doting mother, who succumbs to cancer when the boy is still small. Left with his inattentive father and three older sisters, Kai-Ting is unaware that his mother has died, as it is custom for this news to be kept from small children.

Soon after this loss, Kai-Ting's father takes a new wife. She is cruel and hostile, and she is American. Edna does everything possible to erase all memory of Kai-Ting’s real mother, and physically disposes of all things Chinese that remain in the home. She forbids the children to speak their native language. To make matters worse, she locks Kai-Ting out of his house daily. He is to remain outside until she calls for him. This places him in harm’s way, as the boy gangs in the neighborhood see him as an easy target and beat him daily. Bloodied and vulnerable, Kai-Ting gets no sympathy from Edna, who steadfastly refuses him safe harbor.

Kai-Ting seeks his mother in the faces of several characters in the story, who in their own ways supply what is missing in the boy’s life. Kai-Ting also goes to the YMCA for boxing lessons, with the hope of learning how to defend his puny frame against the bullies in the street.

You can't help but wonder why Kai-Ting's father appears to be so inattentive, unwilling to protect and nurture his only son. The reader feels like reaching in and rescuing poor, pathetic Kai-Ting. In the story, many characters outside the family are concerned for Kai-Ting, but none of them intervene. I suppose it was the way things were back then. I also noticed that Kai-Ting had an incredible time learning English, while at the same time losing his native Songhai, language of Shanghai. His garbled, mixed-up attempts to communicate were often humorous. As a bilingual teacher, I'm pretty sure Kai-Ting did not have access to ESL services.

I enjoyed this book very much, and highly recommend it.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sweets and Memories

My parents returned recently from a trip through Brazil, Argentina, and Chile. Lucky folks - they're retired and now enjoy the great pleasures of traveling the world.

Mami and Papi remembered my gustitos (things I really like) and brought back a box of alfajores from Argentina, and a bar of Mantecol, a chocolate and peanut candy bar.

These treats are like gold to me. First, because they are riquísimos! Secondly, most importantly, they bring me back to a most wonderful childhood, when our family traveled to Bolivia every year for summer vacation. While in the city of La Paz, my siblings and I basked in the love - of abuelitos, who adored us as only grandparents can, our tías who cooked delicias for us, our tíos who spoiled us with fun outings and several pesos to spend, and our primos who included us in their school functions, their parties, their circles of friends, and brought us along on the adventures of growing up.

My little stash of alfajores is gone. I savored each one, and enjoyed the last with this morning's coffee. But my bar of Mantecol still sits on my shelf. Sentimentality has gotten a hold of me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

The Golden Rule

The Book Fair is being held at school this week.

"Who has money?" asks the librarian, and like a kid, I raise my hand. Books do that to me. I have a twenty dollar bill in my pocket, and a plan to buy a book for my son, one for my classroom, and one for me. I can't wait to browse. "Don't open a book unless you intend to buy it!" the librarian warns.

"This one sounds interesting!" and "I'd love to read this one" and "Oh! I have to get this one!" are my attempts at getting the kids to feel what I feel when surrounded by books. Some of the books, well - I open them, hold them up to my nose, and smell them. My students are used to this. I love the way new books smell. Fresh, new, clean, hopeful, possible.

There are so many, I want them all. But I hold back. Better to go back later. Then, Mr. B, a fellow teacher and one of the friendliest folks at school, points to this silly-looking book, telling me he owns it. I open it and smile, inside and out.

Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller is a book about manners. A family of otters moves into the neighborhood, and Mr. Rabbit wonders how they'll get along. The illustrations and captions are both amusing and cute. There are several playful expressions and "ways of saying" things that I find useful for my English language learners.

I love this book. I bought it for my students and myself. We can talk in class about how to treat others, what to expect from others, how to live by example. I might even have my students create their own "How to treat others" books.

I would give a copy of this book to each of my colleagues, if I could. But I wouldn't give one to Mr. B. He already knows how to treat otters.

Monday, February 2, 2009

When sins were small

I sat in the wooden pew, my legs hanging over the edge, toes barely touching the kneeler. My shiny, black hair was still tied back in the braid my mother had twisted that morning, and my plaid jumper retained its pressed pleats. The vast room was warmly lit, by flickering candles on the altar and dusty rays sifting in through colored glass. Whispers and mutterings floated around, telling small children to sit still, wait their turn. I glanced up, saw him approaching, and hurriedly repeated to myself for the hundredth time, the words I would say when the time came.

He leaned over me, arm on the back of the bench, and spoke kindly, though I quickly forgot what he said, for the smell of coffee and tobacco on his breath. But his voice was kind, soft, and Irish. His reddish cheeks, wire-frame glasses over greenish eyes, and tousled brown, wavy hair were endearing to me, a little girl who had her first confession to make. He was Father Matt, my favorite of the three black-clothed men that lived in the rectory, next to the church, by my school.

“Why are you here my child?” he coaxed, as he sat beside me.

“Father, I have sinned.”

The first act of penance followed a script. His turn, my turn, his turn, my turn. I confided in him that I had said a bad word, and that I had stolen a cookie when my mother was not looking. What I was not brave enough to confess was, that I had pinched my baby sister’s leg to make her cry, and that I had snuck into my mother’s bedroom to play with her make-up, dropping a bottle of blood-red Cutex nail polish all over the floor, which I later blamed on my other little sister.

But he forgave me, placing his wide, heavy hand on the top of my head. I received my blessing and walked toward the others, who were in various stages of waiting, reciting, praying, and fidgeting. I kneeled in my assigned row, folded my arms on the bench in front of me, and rested my head. Up high in the choir loft, a lullaby soothed, smoothing my eyes closed. Through sleepy eyes, I watched while the others confessed their baby sins to men, their wrong-doings erased with old words, sent away with smoking incense.