Saturday, October 31, 2015

A Halloween Ghost Story: Well, Rabies Story, For Anyone Who Hike In Wooded Areas Where Furry Critters Reside.

Yesterday, while walking the dog, I listened to their special program of spooky stories, And The Call Was Coming From the Basement, when I heard this radio tale, The Hills Have Eyes (click on the link to here it in its entirety). This is the second time I've heard this narration and both times it both entertained and horrified me.

The one stuffed animal I had as a kid was Roscoe, a raccoon puppet pet that my Grannie Annie got for me. He sat next to Cubby, a lion cub stuffed animal that she also purchased for her only grandson. In elementary school, whenever I could do biology reports on animals, I always chose lion cubs and raccoons.

Casey, my little sister, knows how much I hate tales of terrors and I'm still horrified by monster movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Sleep Away Camp, and Troll. But this story is more believable and whenever I'm running, I imagine rabid squirrels, bats, and rabbits attacking me from all angles. I know, if such an occasion was to occur, there'd be nothing I can do.

I woke up this morning imagining packs of raccoons were waiting for me under my bed and even as I walked down my steps on this Halloween morning I envisioned a posse of eye-bandits waiting by my Raisin Bran and coffee pot.

The story above (click it - I encourage you to click it) is 13-minutes of pure, humorous terror. I think what amazes me about the tale is that I can imagine it happening every time I leave my house for a stroll or jog.

Happy Halloween, Everyone! 

Friday, October 30, 2015

Professional Development for Blockheads: Inspired by the O.B. - DJ DogByte and Ready For One Frame At A Time

Brian Vance aka DJ DogByte, the O.B.
(Original Blockhead)
Next week I'm running back-to-back workshops on informative and argumentative writing. Of course, the teachers have also requested more strategies for teaching narrative writing, too. Hearing administration and teachers, reflecting on K-8 work in other districts, I began to think about the earliest writers and the necessary scaffolding it takes to get a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade to develop their ideas.

It made me think of the digital writing workshops I've led and the importance of thinking in audio, visual and spatial frames. This made me pontificate how Kwame Alexander's illustrator, Tim Bower, helped set up the narrative of Acoustic Rooster. I realized I wanted to do an activity that asked teachers to "block" their own thinking so they'd be better able to "block" out thinking with students.

Of course, as soon as this idea came to me, Brian (one of my favorite students of all times, beside the fact he spells his name wrong) posted this photograph online. Brian was not enthralled with English class, but he had tremendous wit, work ethic, and integrity. We got along marvelously and I asked him if I could use his photo to help me make my case. All writers, which includes developing writers, need spaces to put their thoughts (I liken it to Dumbledore's pencieve). Such dumping grounds can be visually blocked as young writers try to sequence their thinking.

This couples well with the idea that language began as grunts, moved to cave drawings, found its way to hieroglyphics and sanskrit, moved into alphabets, and now, well, has evolved to html, QR codes, and emojis. We communicate in a variety of ways.

Still, story matters. Perhaps a flaw of CCSS is the way we are expected to divide up narrative, opinion, and informational writing, when all three typically can be found in all genres. I'm going to make my case by showing a few brochures and highlighting a couple of commercials, including one recommended by a literacy consultant at the school: The Subaru Dog Commercial.

To tell the story, the thinker must follow frame by frame. There's a narration here. Ah, but there's opinions coming through and the intent of the commercial is definitely to inform. Isn't the goal of all K-12 teachers to get youth to think critically?

I'm also armed with digital stories from work at other schools and can't wait to see how the two, 3-hour workshops are received. More fun, I suppose, will be when I do a follow up lesson with students later in December and January.

Oh, and it's Friday. I hope everyone is ready for the weekend!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Reality, and a Cookie Poem (Also a Reality) For an October Thursday of Winds and Rains. #Fall

Autumn Cookie Monster

It was raining,
the wind was whipping me into
  shape more than my 43-year old pig pace,
     running laps around aging, genetics,
       and an untiring drive to work.


But I remembered I once said, 
"October is an honest month,"
with leaves falling red and orange -
   reminding me of empty branches,
   snowbanks, and chills biting my bones.
   There's truth to trees,
   and though I ran wet in the pre-hibernal breeze,
     I still maintained my pace.

Ah, the race. The race.
   Deadlines, debates, all the trying-to-be greats,
   and all I can think about is what a cookie monster I am,
   how the e m p i r e belongs to me.  

Purple. Passion. The strength of Mother Nature, Maude...
  and I think to myself, "Man is truly a fraud."

Okay, I'm done with my poem. The real reason I'm writing is that I was writing all day yesterday in between Glamis attacks and tirades. What's a man to do when it's pouring outside, and not even a dog wants to see its feet in grass? I did my best to keep her at bay, but then I found a wad of plastic - no, it's not bubblegum. Glamis ate my caveman figurine given to me by Kathy Silver as a housewarming gift (in a plant while hunting a dinosaur). Well, he's now dead. 

Why am I writing such silliness? It's Thursday in October. I need it. I'm sure you could use a cookie, too. And with that I admit, "I watched Taraji P. Henson last night." (No, I didn't. The World Series was I watched the Republican debate)

(and I'm laughing...when I tweeted this out last night, it went out as "this photograph may contain sensitive material." Well, plastic cavemen that have lost to the prying jaws of an over-energized dog who just wants to play).

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

A Temporary Break To Cross An Item of the Bucket List: Carving a Pumpkin With Chitunga - His First

I bought two pumpkins for the holiday season and mine deflated like a sad balloon two days after I bought it. It had some sort of disease and ate itself from the inside, sinking into its misery like a popped bicycle tire.

Ah, but one remained and last night I said, "It's now or never, kid. You up for it?"

He was. And after perusing Google possibilities for a pumpkin, he opted for a traditional scary one which he carved with finesse, craft, and pride. The highlight came, of course, when we put a candle inside and let the light do its magic.
We officially have a Halloween decoration for Saturday night (in which I imagine we'll be inundated with Tricksters and Treaters, as the new home is in the mecca of child/teen activity).

And I need to remark on cleaning out the inside of a pumpkin. I think gutting a fish is less messy and sticky then de-seeding and pulling pumpkin guts out of an orange gourd.

Of course, I purchased a few of them, too, to sit beside the pumpkin face on Saturday night. I've got the candy and the spirit, so I'm ready to go.

Now, if only I mastered chicken noodle soup in the crockpot in the same way Tunga excelled with the pumpkin, I could rack this Autumn week as a success. The soup is good, but not exactly the flavor-fest I wanted (even with soup starter). I'm guessing it is because I boycotted celery. I hate it. Maybe that is what gives the extra flavor to a good chicken noodle soup. I did a much better job with creamy gorgonzola and spinach.

Happy Hump Day, Everyone!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Working With K-5 Writers on Blocking Out Informative and Argumentative Text. What Do They Have To Say?

I met yesterday with district leaders in Trumbull Schools to discuss next steps of professional development in support of K-5 writing practices in the age of Common Core State Standards. The goal, of course, is to assist teachers in finding ways to inspire their young writers to do research and to back up their opinions as they both make an argument and inform their readers. I agree with Andrea Lunsford on this: Everything is an argument.

And here I include a comic strip. Calvin explains to Hobbes that he's on the precipice of a "graduate thesis" after the tiger stuffed animal declares that his buddy has only one declarative fact to make his case. Of course, my goal with young writers is to have a few more than one fact to make a case to declare that their thinking is the right way of knowing.

Perhaps this is the writing teachers conundrum. It is not about offering young writers the exact facts to include in informative/argumentative writing. Rather, it is sharing with young writers that the composer looks at multiple angles of any situation to justify their stance. Of course, Watterson is impishly implying that sly Calvin thinks he can get away with minimal work, but my intent of sharing this cartoon is to imply that there needs to be multiple facts listed to justify a single point of view. That is the nature of writing -- it is the development of thought to articulate what one knows to make a larger statement for why others should know this, too.

I believe I will look at commercials and brochures with K-5 teachers to help make this case. In addition, I'm hoping to use comic strip parameters to help a writer to organize the argument they wish to make with the information they provide.

My fear? Ah, the K-5 intellect and how much young people are able to comprehend and understand within such assistance. That is why the next couple of days I'm going to be thinking critically as an elementary school student to assist me in developing the skills necessarily to achieve in these genres. It's only Tuesday, but that is where my mind is.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Sunday Coffee with @hickstro and @digitalbonnie (Well, Not Really...but Sort Of). Loving Their New Book.

Hicks, T. (2015). Assessing Students' Digital Writing; Protocols for Looking Closely. New York: Teachers College Press and National Writing Project.
I was excited to be called to the office with news that "a book" was placed on my desk after accidentally being delivered to a colleague. Although my research trajectory went the course of writing with relocated, refugee youth, my early interests began with new literacies and Teaching the New Writing (Herrington & Moran, 2009). In 2007, my students and I began writing about the multimedia presentations they were doing as partial requirement for senior research papers and culminating projects. Written my last year in the classroom, I concluded that my personal pedagogy quickly altered when the infusion of digital stories, photo-essays, Powerpoints, and cyber-portfolios entered my English classroom. In addition to literary tools, my teaching shifted to the mentorship (and digital citizenry) of technology. Of course, such technology has changed even more - this was pre-smart phones, the beginning of YouTube and Google, and without all the incredible resources available to teachers today. (Truth: most of the technological work that occurred at that time resulted because I handed my personal laptop around the room and shared with my students).

That is why I am thankful for Troy Hicks and the teacher research he presents with fellow educators in Assessing Students' Digital Writing. This follow-up text to The Digital Writing Workshop (2009) and Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media and Genres (2013), arrived to my office at the perfect time. I've used Hicks' work intellectually to guide yearlong professional development through a 2013-2014 High Need Supporting Effective Educator Development grant and throughout the 2014 Invitational Summer Institute at the Connecticut Writing Project. His influence on digital writing, too, was instrumental to receiving a 2015 LRNG Innovation Challenge grant with six high schools in our state. In all incidences, teachers (and their students) created a plethora of digital work and we have only just begun to analyze and think through all the products we've received. Assessing Students' Digital Writing, then, is timely. Once upon a time Looking Together at Student Work (Blythe, Allen, & Powell, 2007) was the heart and soul of the work my colleagues and I did in Kentucky, so I was thrilled to see a new text that introduces an aim of focusing on digital texts.

In agreement with Richard Beach's forward, I feel that teachers need assistance with how to give feedback on digital writing and ways to look closely at how "audience, purpose, and situation-constituting contexts mediated by uses of digital tools to motive their student writing" (ix) are created. The case studies of six teachers provided in Hick's book models innovative classroom teachers and their analysis of digital products created under their instruction. In both Christina Cantrill's prologue and Troy Hicks introduction, a notion of how to "look closely" (p. 1) at 'new writing' is emphasized. I agree with them both that digital writers compose in an ecosystem that transcends traditional boundaries of classroom practices (shoot, maybe this is why I've been drawn to blogs all these years). As Hicks notes, 
In the age where digital is, we can no longer afford to look at student work in the ways we have in the past. In the compositions our students create with tools ranging from word processors to video editing suites, in genres ranging from traditional essays to podcasts, posters, and short flims, "the skills and capacities essential to new digital literacies can be directly at odds with norms and expectations that undergird most assessment programs (NWP, DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, & Hicks, 2010, p. 92). (p. 2)
I'm excited about the contribution being made by Troy Hicks and the others, because I now have a tool, a text, that I can use with my own teacher researchers when evaluating written products born from their instruction. Actually, I'm really excited about using this book with the six teachers who participated in the LRNG work at CWP-Fairfield and can't wait to look at the TedTalks, Blogs, Ethnographic maps, and Radio Plays composed by hundreds of students and showcased at the Writing Our Lives-Digital Ubuntu conference at Fairfield University. With them, I want to ask,
What do you see/notice?What is working in this piece/composition?What does it make you wonder/what questions does it raise?
Yet, I am also curious how the teachers I've worked with would respond to our additional questions,
How do digital outcomes answer our essential question, "Why are you here?" How do the digital compositions represent a sense of community in Connecticut?
I've learned from Hicks that it will be at least 18 months of work (insert smiling emoji here and exhaustion). I recognize, too, like Hicks and his team, that looking at student work can be incredible professional development for teachers, especially in regard to the writing processes students employ.

I appreciated that Assessing Students' Digital Writing recognizes that these are political times in education. Still, they professionally collaborated to share what they learned about teaching and student writing. No, it was not yearly assessments and a microscope to claim what intelligent educators can do in their classroom. Rather, it was the commitment and dedication of experts willing to explore student work in their own rooms, both formatively and summatively.
While reading this collection of work I couldn't help but see it as an extension of Kristina Rizga's Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried To Fail It, and The Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph
Teacher research, although not a "gold standard" (5) should matter to the everyday routines of schools. As Hicks remarks, "In an era of intense teacher evaluation, it is admirable that teacher researchers are still willing to put themselves under the microscope" (6). 

With apologies to the other stellar writers in the collection, I was first drawn to Chapter 4, written by Bonnie Kaplan and Jack Zangerle, and Chapter 6, written by Stephanie West-Pucket (mostly because of my secondary school and college English responsibilities). I do know, though, that the chapters depicting digital work of younger students will benefit me and the professional work I do in K-5 schools (to be highlighted at another time). 

In Kaplan and Zangerle's chapter, they describe the digital composition of Katie to conclude, "The focus on high-stakes testing at Dover Schools and most schools around the country doesn't seem to hold a sense of urgency with many students like Katie, who are more interested in using technology to create and to learn in the world" (79). Similarly, West-Pucket depicts the digital composing of Zeke and a This I Believe essay to write, "One of the most difficult challenges of teaching 1st-year writing at the university level is moving students from a set of tightly held, prescriptive beliefs about what constitutes good writing into a space where they can broadly consider the unique rhetorical situation of every composition" (99). Our students will benefit from broadening the assessments of what composing is in 21st century classrooms through interrogations like that provided in Assessing Students' Digital Writing. I also appreciated West-Pucket's discussion of Connected Learning theory (Connected Learning Research Network, 2013), a template I also used in designing grant work in Connecticut. Our work aims to be production centered, peer-cultured, openly networked, academic, student interest-focused, and with shared purposes. 

In summary, then, this is a thumbs-up for the book that landed on my office desk. How we define writing needs to be expanded and the processes we promote in our classrooms need broader definitions and understanding. In the words of Hicks, 
We can no longer hide behind our own classroom doors and grading policies. Students are writing for a global audience, and whether we support them in that process, making it transparent and engaging in our writing classrooms, is up to us. The world judges our students on their writing, and we must take the old adage of "teaching the process" much more seriously, especially with the use of digital writing tools. (p. 123)
Hicks concludes with three recommendations (that I won't share here) and leaves readers with a practitioner-friendly, useful book that I imagine will be of high interest to other teachers.

My critique? Well, I read the collection with zest and enthusiasm. I have to tame my excitement, however, when I consider the realities I see in American schools (especially urban schools). For example, I witnessed a year's worth of professional development on digital writing derailed when the school's computer labs were declared 'off-limits' to creative projects (like those that are highlighted by Hicks and his colleagues). The technology was to be used only for state tests. Seriously. Teachers weren't allowed in the computer labs because the machines "weren't to be tampered with." They housed all the new testing software!

Similarly, I am cautious about getting too gung-ho with my technological enthusiasm because I recognize that digital divides are ubiquitous. The refugee students I work with need to first learn and write in Any language (as their schooling was disrupted and limited before they arrived). Their first experiences with indoor plumbing and electricity were when they arrived - The Hunger Games? There are more pressing tools needed by them than I-Movie, Wordpress, and Garage Band. It is the hope that they one day might gravitate to Western digital luxuries, but they have more pressing priorities in their education.

Still, I'm an optimist and am thrilled to have Assessing Students' Digital Writing in my library. It is a hit!

Blythe, T., Allen, D., & Powell, B. S. (2007). Looking Together at Student Work (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.
Devoss, D. N., Eidmann-Aadahl, E., Hicks, T., & Project, N. W. (2010). Because Digital Writing Matters: Improving Student Writing in Online and Multimedia Environments. San Francisco, California: Jossey-Bass.
Herrington, A., & Moran, C. (2009) Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom. New York: Teachers College Press and National Writing Project.
Hicks, T. (2009). The Digitial Writing Workshop. Portsmouth, New Hampshire: Heinneman.
Hicks, T. (2013). Crafting Digital Writing: Composing Texts Across Media and Genres. New Hampshire: Heinemann.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Reflecting on Violence and Those in the Line of Fire. Uncovering Numbers And Thinking About Teaching Writing

After I listened to President Obama's post-Oregon speech in regard to gun violence in the nation, I thought about an intellectual friend and mentor, the author and activist Jan Arnow. She sent me a copy of her newest book, In the Line of Fire: Raising Kids in a Violent World - a reflection of four decades of anti-violent work.  When I first began teaching, Jan's children were in my classroom (Chloe and Abe). Fortunate for me I was also a colleague with her through the No More Violence project she built with Brown School students.

We live in a violent world. There's no denying that. I'm not sure if it is our canines or how we are nurtured through the onslaught of media. More than likely the answer rests in the middle. We are a vicious species.  As Arnow points out in her book, we are quickly pacified with violence because it is ubiquitous (and political) in every aspect of our lives. In her words,
Once the blow of the next school masacre, teen suicide, or drug deal gone badly has passed, and we drift back to believing in the illusion of safety and security in our lives, we become callused and indifferent to these topics. It is precisely during times of feeling shocked, vulnerable, and upset that these difficult topics should be discussed and debated.  (xii)
Soon after Obama's speech, I signed up for the Vicky Soto 5K run in Stratford - a fundraising event for scholarships offered in the name of the teacher heroine. Around the same time, I received a Google alert highlighting that journalists, Chiaramonte and Skinner, were reporting on Alice Linahan's aggravation with a NWP/KQED collaboration that asked American students to sift through  facts about guns in the United States. After students work through charts and bulleted information, they are invited to add perspective on gun issues in a variety of suggested ways. Linahan founded a parent's group called Voices Empower and uses democratic rights to raise concerns about education - especially with the federal government's investment in Common Core State Standards (of which I would agree). Voices Empower feels that the federal government overstepped boundaries with the NWP/KQED supplemental curriculum. Her claim is the material is "one-sided." Personally, I view the material as a  listing of facts designed to develop writers and thinkers in schools.

Nerds do what nerds do, and they read. They think. The pontificate. And they process on blogs like this (well, I do, anyway).

I looked at the "controversial" "curriculum" yesterday and noted that it is not curriculum. Instead, it is a way to assist critical thinking and analytical skills should a teacher professionally choose to use it. It is a supplement - an option. The two authors, Spall and Sloan, provide a single resource for other educators to use should they find it relevant to their classroom goals (interestingly, the authors are not public school teachers and, therefore, not required to follow a Common Core State Standards framework. They are teachers at a Catholic and charter school who, in their hard work, wrote the supplemental materials for fellow educators to think through research and analysis about guns in the United States). Censoring a "supplement" like this, I believe, is counterintuitive to the democratic concerns Linahan's raises. The material provided by Spall and Sloan offers a neutral list of numbers and resources that are designed to get young people to take notice of the world they live in...that is, the facts. The political nature of the content, I suppose, is why the story was picked up by Fox news and stands at the heart of Linehan's critique. That, however, is speculation. It is a debate about the 2nd amendment.

I've been crunching numbers about school shootings that have occurred in my twenty years as a classroom teacher and researcher. I've been trying to take a position that conversations about violence should matter to K-12 classrooms. Personally, I don't know how it can be avoided: we teach biology and survival of the fittest. We teach history and world civilizations. We process current events that, on a daily basis, cover the difficult realities of the 21st century.

Violence is everywhere. It lurks in the shadows of wherever human beings reside.

Obama (2015) said in his statement about Umpqua Community College,
But as I said just a few months ago, and I said a few months before that, and I said each time we see one of these mass shootings, our thoughts and prayers are not enough. It's not enough. It does not caputre the heartache and grief and anger that we should feel. And it does nothing to prevent this carnage from being inflicted someplace else in America -- next week, or a couple of months from now. (p. 2)
In the twenty years I've worked in public schools, there have been 12 lives, on average, lost per year to insipid shootings in American classrooms. That is 12 lives too many. It should be noted, though, that lightening strikes kill more Americans per year than school shootings (not that it lessens the ridiculousness of carnage in our schools but, like shark attacks, the probability of such occasions are rare). Still, the death of any individual in our schools is tragedy. Obama also remarked,
That means there are more American families -- moms, dads, children -- whose lives have been changed forever. That means there's another community stunned with grief, and communities across the country forced to relive their own anguish, and parents across the country who are scared because they know it might have been their families and their children. (pp. 1-2)
Those of us living in the shadow of Newtown and Sandy Hook can attest to this. Although school shootings are small in number compared to gang-related deaths, automobile-deaths, flu-deaths, and definitely cancer-deaths, we cannot deny the fact that 32,000 deaths occur each year in the U.S. because of gun violence. I know it is not the guns. It is the shooters. That is at the center of it all.

265 military lives were lost on average in global conflicts in the last 20 years -- lives taken while protecting American interests. Those numbers, however,  are minuscule compared to the 32,000, internal deaths occurring per year in the U.S. due this country.

How can this not be a central conversation for schools in the United States?

When I taught 9-12th graders in Kentucky, I asked myself a simple question, "How many lives have been lost in wars so I would have an opportunity and freedom to promote democratic thinking in my classroom?" I did the research and learned the number is 103,755,200 lives, of which 1,293,158 were American. That many individuals died so that Linehan and I can both articulate our views in a free country. That is  democracy. A lot of violence had to occur so that I would have a chance to even think about violence in relation to literacy today. The literature I taught (as expected from district, state, and national recommendations) from Euripides to Shakespeare, YA novels to memoirs, refugee stories to Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried, did not allow my colleagues and I to censor the conversation about violence in our classrooms. Dialogue about violence is par for the course when teaching literature: war, greed, hubris, rape, bullying, racism, psychology and, yes, guns.

Arnow's In the Line of Fire is a valuable resource for educators like me who work in K-12 schools. Her nine chapters unravel multiple truths about violence in our modern world. She asks readers to  keep a dialogue moving forward (in the same way the NWP/KQED writing supplement does). As I read her book, I reflected on Sandy Hook. I thought about hundreds of essays I read from my own students about the violence they witnessed and experienced in their lives. I contemplated the research I did with African-born male refugee youth relocated to the United States after surviving civil conflicts in their own countries. Finally, I thought about the 17-year old junior who was killed  a month ago as a result of violence - a kid attending a local high school where I spend much of my time working with teachers and youth.

I do agree with Alice Linahen and her critique of Common Core State Standards (I'm not one for federal control of our schools nor do I appreciate the politics behind their creation and reform agenda). I disagree with Linahen, however, about the argument that the NWP/KQED writing supplement is biased. If I was at lunch with her I'd probably ask her, "What do you think schools are supposed to do? How would she recommend we help students think about the world they live in? What responsibility do we adults have to raising young people to be aware of the world (and violence) they're inheriting?"

Coghlan (2000) wrote,
We, as English teachers, need to teach our students how to live in it [a violent world], and, more importantly, how to work to improve it. The English classroom provides a fitting place to integrate anti-violence teaching into the academic curriculum. It readily offers opportunities to teach conflict resolution strategies, instill respect for cultural diversity, provide an atmosphere for cooperative learning while acknowledgeing controversy, and heighten personalization, empathy, and respect - all factors that, violence prevention programs indicate, contribute to the reduction of violence. (85)
Personally, I'm not anti-violence, as much as I'm anti-censorship of what should be and shouldn't be taught in school. I agree with Maryum Ali, Muhammad Ali's daughter, and what she wrote in the forward of Arnow's text,
In order for us to save our kids, we must have a comprehensive undertanding of where violent thinking and behaviors orgininate. Being proactive at all states of [youth] development is the key that can unlock the door to a safer existence, but everyone must do his or her part and be held accountable for the world's children and their futures. (v)
I believe in youth development and I believe in the power of writing to help students to be empowered as active citizens. It is not my duty to teach students what to think, but HOW to think. That, I believe, is the strength of Arnow's book and the supplemental curriculum created by NWP/KQED.

And with that, I need to go for a run. In a week I will show my support for a teacher-heroine who lost her life, along with 25 others, as a result of senseless violence. While I run I will continue to think about Arnow's book, the reality of violence in this nation and the world, and my responsibility to the teachers and students who work in American schools.

Ali, M. (2015). Foreward. In J. Arnow (Ed.), In the Line of Fire; Raising Kids in a Viuolent World. Louisville, Kentucky: Butler Books.

Arnow, J. (2015). In the Line of Fire: Raising Kids in a Violent World. Louisville, Kentucky: Butler Books.

Coghlan, R. (2000). The Teaching of Anti-Violence Strategies with the English Curriculum. The English Journal, 89(5), 84-89.

Obama, B. (2015). Statement by the President on the Shootings at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon [Press release]. Retrieved from

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Well, We Didn't Care If I Ever Got Tall, and We Didn't Care If She Got Pretty At All. We Liked What We Looked Like

     Lil' Sis! Sending My Love To 
     You From Connecticut

There is something about October 24th that gets me every year. I think it is because it's my little brother's birthday...I mean sister's (I only shaved her hair once) and I know she's another year older. For some reason it makes me highly reflective of my own life. I don't usually get nostalgic or weirded out when I age another year, nor does it hit me when Cynde ages (she's the oldest...she's supposed to age), but when CASEY has another birthday,   it frightens me. She's supposed to always be my "little" sister. But now she's old like me.

Well, relatively speaking. I mean, even Rachel from Friends has aged, no?

And the older I get, the more I can state that nothing means more to me than her and my family. I love Cynde and her world (the Isgars). I love mom and dad, and their world (the Crandalls). I love Casey, and her world (the Barnwells). But I love all of our worlds together (the Douchebags).

Somewhere in Casey's basement are those birthday posters I used to make for her to hang in her Herkimer and Oswego bedrooms. On Facebook, there are probably videos showcasing the joy of her world that I've made (actually, she has VHS tapes of my videos, too). And now, I stop my universe and reflect on her birthday. God only knows what I'd be without her.

So, when I was running last night I began thinking about this one time when I leaped off the diving board at camp and, not knowing where Casey was in the lake, landed directly on her head. We were both startled, but I was afraid I knocked her out completely. I just remember feeling the impact of landing on her and thinking, "Oh, my God. I just killed my sister." A chunky, pre-adolescent blobster landing on anyone's head would be traumatic. But she lived and I'm glad for it. Truth is, I have many more great memories and the ugly ones are few. I remember:

  1. Competing with her and Cynde to be the first to run to the kitchen in Clark's Mills to smell Dusty's puppy breath when we got our first dog,
  2. Playing Devils and Angels with her and Cynde as we drove home from visits to our grandparents (Okay, so Cynde and I played and Casey got smacked around),
  3. Driving with mom in her Renault Alliance all over New York State when Casey made district All-Stars and her softball team went on a winning streak,
  4. Having 24-hour Mario Brothers marathons with Casey while eating Oreos and sipping juice boxes,
  5. Visiting Casey in Myrtle Beach and running up to her with a giant stuffed animal Salmon I bought,
  6. Exploding a giant, pregnant spider with Casey's wheelchair in Dad's garage (heck, leaving Casey stranded in her wheelchair at the bottom of strangers' driveways),
  7. Invading the home Casey now lives in during her wedding day when the limo dumped us off in front of the house in our tuxedos, gowns, and with a nice buzz,
  8. Both days Casey brought beautiful sons into the world (including the night I was watching Sean and Dave came home and said, "Your sister birthed a boxer or a pug dog. We're not sure which one yet."
  9. The 2015 pinky-incident in which Casey was my hero, and finally
  10. The night Chitunga said to me, "I really love Casey's hugs. She makes me feel a part of your world."
And then there are so many car-talks, Amalfi Drive shenanigans, and pool conversations (shoot - our greatest memories have been in water, whether at Loch Lebanon or in the back of mom and dad's yard). 

Yes, Casey. You are another year beautiful and I'm wishing you the best. I love you with all my might (funny, I don't think I've ever seen this video...I always thought the song was about us. I guess it was about Michael Jackson and Roberta Flack).

Friday, October 23, 2015

This Friday Post is For @_silvergal and The Integrity of Bassick High School Freshmyn, Class of 2019

Class of 2019, Bassick High School
When I typed this blog title and hit class of 2019, I looked over at Attallah and said, "Ah, man. I was just partying like it was 1999."

Seriously, we are almost 20 years later. Class of 2019. Oh, Myn! How time flies!

But that's not why I'm writing - I already know I'm graying and that my bones are cracking in strange ways.

Today, I wish to shout out to the amazing 9th graders at Bassick High School who greeted visitors at the door, escorted them to the floor, and celebrated proudly all that they're accomplishing under the leadership of their teachers and the support those teachers receive from Principal Kathy Silver. Her koi pond grew larger the last couple of years as she's left her art classroom to lead the entire 9th grade student body, but nurturing the souls of youth remains a primary mission.

Yesterday, Principal Silver and her faculty debuted a collaborative space created through grants and sup prom from the University of Connecticut. The shared room will assist digital projects, teamwork, collaborative writing, and many discussions that are important to the teenagers of the Bridgeport community. As Silver has known all along, "If you build it, they will come."

The karma, energy, and joy of yesterday's ceremony was a wonderful way to finish the week. The young people of the 9th grade academy have much to be proud of and I hope they continue leading in the same direction: read, write, think, compute, reflect, and grow. The surest way to achieve is to stand strong as students - stand united - and to align with the adults who best advocate for success.

I'm all thumbs up for this crew of students at Bassick High School, and am looking forward to 2nd semester when I return and continue partnering with the Bassick Lions

Thursday, October 22, 2015

It's All In the Socks. If You Have the Right Socks, You Have the Right Pep In Your Step.

I bought a pair of orange and blue socks a few weeks back; actually, I bought two pairs. I sent one to the twins for their birthday, so now there are two sets of such socks living within shoes and upon "what are those" toes. I love these socks because they remind me of Syracuse and, well, because they're not just white, nor are they plain black.

Shout out to Burlington Coat Factory for hearing my wishes for selling funky socks for men. I'm keeping them in business, that's for sure.

And I wore my funky socks yesterday to reunite with Hill Central K-8, to strut quickly through IKEA (in pursuit of a cinnamon roll), and towards campus to have an impromptu graduation ceremony for my friend Deanna who finished her undergraduate degree as a grandmother. It was beautiful to see so many line the hallway as we sang pomp and circumstance and offered Deanna a well-deserved ceremony and round of applause.

I wish I could say that the socks were more productive than they were - Glamis and I walked and then I rested them while watching Empire. I took a day off from running (even though it was 75 degrees) simply because I'm sick of this head, throat, and chest thing. Every year. Every year.

But today is Thursday and I'm heading toward it with another pair of socks, that's for sure. Most importantly, though, is that I bought Pam a pair of plastic doll hands so she can be Doneese for Halloween. One week away!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Day After #NDOW, I Realize #WhyIWrite. Writing Helps Put Together A Complicated Puzzle - LIFE.

Two days after I decided it would be funny to buy a 1,000 piece puzzle and hand every trick or treater one piece in their Halloween satchel (along with candy) - and I presumed it would be symbolic for young people to realize each of my trick or treaters is a single piece that, together, builds a community - my dog, Glamis, decided  to leap on me and my laptop at the exact moment my MacBook Pro inquired on whether or not I wanted to update the operating system.

Pant, pant.
        Um, "Ok."

The result of her intrusion was that I lost a few hours of my regular writing routine. My dog lives for one thing: to play. More specifically, she lives to play with me. Even more detailed, she loves to play with any toy she can find while she sits on my lap (and she's 65 pounds). This sometimes works in contrast to what I live for - that is, to write.

The reboot yesterday meant I wasn't able to post on National Day of Writing like I did in 2012, 2013,  and 2014, until this morning (which would be today). I did venture, however, to a local Panera to compose last night, but the lukewarm coffee, hipster music, and poor wireless connection caused me to fall into a grumpy state. I threw in the towel and left without posting.

What I would have written at Paneras is that I write because I'm merely a puzzle piece in the tapestry of a larger puzzle. The life thing has me perplexed and I compose daily to find my way through it (I used to do it in personal journals and now I do it on blogs). There are days I write to celebrate happiness, I write to complain, I write to discover, and I write to reflect. Writing, to me, is life, itself.

Writing is the fact that I just loaded a Kong with biscuits so I could have ten minutes on the laptop piano this morning without her nibbling my ears. It is the fact that I'll likely write to Panera's to complain about the awful coffee I was served yesterday. It is the compilation of research that I just entered in my Endnote to help me make sense of the ways English teachers have worked with violence in their curriculum (a writing project I'm currently working on), as well.

More important to me than writing, though, is the promotion of writing through my directorship at the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University. Leading summer institutes for teachers and promoting youth perspectives through Young Adult Literacy Labs (it's writing, Y'ALL) brings me great serenity. Why? Through the teaching of writing (and the reading of written work), I'm blessed with a multitude of puzzle pieces that come to my table to figure out. They state: This is what life is all about!

Finally, as anyone who knows me can state with 100% conviction, writing as a teacher and teaching as a writer is the influence of the National Writing Project. Simply peruse this year's blog or last, or any of the years before and you will see I am who I am because the National Writing Project helped me to realize the importance of why words matter. As a Louisville Writing Project fellow, XXI, I've been promoting their practices and professional development wherever I go.

And with that noted, the hound is back whining at my feet to declare, "You had your ten minutes. Now pet me behind my ears."

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I Supported My Local Library, And The Next Thing I Knew I Had Collaborative Partners For Possible Work

Great YA collection at the Stratford Library.
I decided early yesterday morning that I needed to get out of my house to write. I spent the morning reading 30+ articles on violence in English classrooms and I needed a space to begin processing all that I was learning. I remembered my library membership was do, so I ventured down to the Stratford Public Library to get away from the puppy who can't chew on anything unless she's in my lap, in my ears, or up my nose.

All the tables were taken, so I looked around and saw there was a TEEN section, ventured over, and found a space there. It was during the school day, so the area was quiet. When a librarian walked over and sat at her desk, I introduced myself and the next thing I knew I was hearing about all the fantastic teen programs the library has and how they have been looking for an organization to partner with so they'd be more competitive for local, state and national grants. Lightbulbs began going off all over my head.

I laughed, too, because when I arrived, there was a copy of Matt de la Peña's The Living lying as a book on CD. I thought to myself, "I've found a home away from home." 

The librarian then introduced me to other librarians and before I knew it was given a tour of the facility and all the possible locations I might use for graduate courses or writing programs. I was told that the Stratford Public library has the largest teen collection of young adult literature in the state and that they've been celebrated for almost 30 years of teen programming (similar to CWP-Fairfield). We exchanged cards and I went back to annotating my research.

That's when I came across a short piece written by my intellectual mentor, Dr. Alfred Tatum. All roads lead back to the sage and I was pleased to read in one of his pieces a poem that he'd written (man! he's a poet, too...what can't he do?). Although I didn't complete all my academic goals for the day, I feel the sculpture is a little more nicked and molded. 

In an early assertion, I can say that there's been a few articles depicting the importance of wrestling with violence in the English classrooms, but I've yet to read one that demonstrates the deconstruction taught to me by Jan Arnow in my years of working with the No More Violence program. That is why I think it's important that I keep hammering away at what it is I want to say.

Kelly always said I was a writer who wrote to find out what I know more than others she's worked with. Following Sari Biklen, I simply cast the net wide and see what I can pull in. I have a satchel full of thoughts, articles, experiences, and studies. Now I need to make sense of them and chisel out a piece of writing that articulates what I've set out to find out.

Monday, October 19, 2015

It's Definitely Autumn and Yes, I Turned On The Heat (I Mean, We Had a Frost and My Toes Were Cold)

The good thing about the Kelly family having their house for sale in Monroe, is when they have a showing they need somewhere to go. They bring Jake and Mae down to Stratford to run with the Glamis in the backyard, and I get fresh bagels, orange juice, and chives and onion cream cheese.

Then we go for a walk, they leave, I run, and I'm invited with Chitunga for Lasagna and the Patriots game.

I can take that. It's not a bad day to spend a chilly Sunday, and Kaitlin and Chitunga can compare Patriots hats.

Still, the pumpkin out back hasn't been carved yet, but we're saving that for Chitunga so he can add that to the list of accomplishments on his bucket list of things he's never done.

The temperatures are supposed to go up by midweek and reach the seventies, but today was definitely a soup and lasagna kind of day.

And I didn't turn the heat up too high...just to 62 to get the chill out of the air. But we did use the electric seat warmers in the Subaru. That felt real good.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

"I Have Maggots in My Scrotum" and Other Reality Checks From the Book of Mormon, The Musical

Trey Parker and Matt Stone have one thing going for them: They appeal to my 'Forever 15' mindset with their writing, wit, music, and stupidity. Maybe that is why I was turned onto The Book of Mormon when Leo first introduced it to me in 2012. Leo, a lover of religion and music, was mesmerized by the soundtrack and loaned me his CD - for a week (cough cough), month (cough cough), okay year (cough cough).

I remember the day Beverly, his wife, called me and said, "Leo is having a very difficult time without his Book of Mormon CD. I had to give it back.

Last night, somewhat spur of the moment, a crew of us spent a paycheck and got tickets to see the show as it swung through New Haven. No, our seats were not ideal and we climbed Mt. Everest to get to them, but it was worth every sent. I think having the music in my head for the last 830 days, then seeing the music come alive in a theatrical production, was somewhat mind-blowing. We packed out mini-van with morons and Leo installed a fart machine to play a joke on Sharon and we were off.

The humor is totally adolescent, but to be honest, the impishness is uber-intellectual, too. In the same vain as Team America, the message(s) of Book of Mormon run deep, especially in terms of missionary work, colonialism, race, global reality, belief systems, philosophies of life, gender inequality, and all the other big topics Trey Parker and Matt Stone rarely shy away from. They may do controversial and offensive work - but the thinking mind will see that what they truly are doing is comic genius, political, and extremely thought-provoking.

They also, I'm sure, finding their work lucrative....after all, we attended one of 8 sold out performances in New Haven, alone! And this is the off-broadway tour.

So, like Leo, I believe. It's unusual to get me to 'treat' myself to a special night in the world, but last night we did. And it is a memory I will cherish forever and always. I've got maggots in my scrotum!

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Thinking Ahead to a 5K in Memory of Victoria Soto. Next Month, I Run For Teachers and Heroism. #NoMoreViolence

I have been writing a piece in my head since 1998, when Jan Arnow adopted me to work with the No More Violence curriculum at the J. Graham Brown School. For years, we traveled with our students to ask other students to deconstruct violence in their lives and to delve deep in the socio-cultural-historical layers that lead to violence acts.

When Sandy Hook faced tragedy on December 14, 2012, 13.1 one miles north of my home, I had the No More Violence curriculum in the front of my mind. How? Why? To what expense?

Looking for answers, I began to do research in English Education and Literacy to see how other communities responded. It was natural for me to turn to the National Writing Project for answers and to see what sites in Oklahoma, New Orleans, and near Paducah, Kentucky, did when natural and man-made tragedies occurred in their regions. I also collected research where scholars and teachers wrote about coping with horrendous acts in American schools.

My personal response was to contact Trina Paulus and to work with her on doing a butterfly release of Hope for the Flowers in southern Connecticut. My colleagues, Emily Smith and Paula Gill-Lopez began asking their English Education and Psychology students to collaborate curriculum together for areas that address distressed schools. Other colleagues, Carol Ann Davis and Elizabeth Boquet set out to begin the Newtown Poetry Project. All of us looked for ways to help our neighbors to cope and heal through dialogue, writing, and reading.

Next month, I am running a 5K, a fundraiser for the Vicki Soto Scholarship - a graduate of Stratford High School and a hero during the horrible day in the classroom three years ago. I decided I needed to run the race, albeit it ten minutes slower than when I first began running 5Ks as a teacher, because although my pace has lessened, violence in schools has not. I am using this experience to begin a longer race of writing a piece that outlines how my colleagues and I responded, but also to think critically about sifting through violence with youth in our American schools. I would hate to see another tragedy, but history is showing us that such violence occurs regularly. I am sure there are other educators like me who would benefit from having a piece to use with their students and colleagues. That is my goal - one that I put on the radar for my sabbatical. In my office is a stack of publications to help me and I've ordered Jan Arnow's latest book, In The Line of Fire.

Last night, a colleague called me and asked for help after her mother-in-law passed away. I quickly hit the stove, went to the grocery, and arrived to her house to help her clean for tomorrow's post-service celebration in her home. The call sparked a humanitarian drive within me and served as a reminder that above everything else, we should be living to help one another out.

That's why I'm running on November 7th. I need to feel a sense of community and to belong to something that is right. In my emails Thursday and Friday, I was alerted to the NRA's attack on curriculum co-written by the National Writing Project, claiming it to be biased and anti-guns. I've looked at the curriculum and it merely lists facts and asks students to take a stand on these facts, a writing task that most of us are expected to require from students. Our job is to keep them informed and to offer them a location to express their thoughts in genres that others can read.

I'm not anti-gun. I'd be a hypocrite if I said I was. I am, however, anti-crime and anti-stupidity. In this way, I am anti-violence. Knowing that I write to know what I know, I'm setting out this weekend to begin a piece that is 15 years overdue. I know I'm taking this evening off, but Sunday it begins.

My legs may be slower, but my mind and fingers are not. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

I'm Late To Meeting Dooneese, But Can Say That I Have Now Watched Every Dooneese SNL Skit

I may need to turn in my politically correct sense of humor and license. I'm not sure if it is appropriate to find the SNL skit so funny, but I do. I think it's because they usually feature a Lawrence Welk style to have Dooneese sing about her squirrels, panties, and worms. It makes me think of watching Lawrence Welk before the Waltons and Sunday night popcorn with my sisters and mom.

I typically cannot stay awake long enough to catch SNL, but last Saturday something intrigued me about seeing what Miley Cyrus would do on the season opening so I stayed up. Before it showed, though, they shared Best of SNL and I saw my first Dooneese skit. I'm sorry, but having doll hands is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. I probably shouldn't crack up as I do, but I do.

And the musical lines hit my funny bone, too. In fact, I could live the rest of my life in a room of Dooneeses singing to me. That would make me happy.

Well, Olivia Pope would make me happy, too. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

#WeAreLRNG. One Way To Meet an Innovation Challenge @CWPFairfield. We Too Are Connecticut! The Webinar

A year ago, six teachers from Connecticut schools collaborated with CWP-Fairfield to apply for an LRNG Innovation Challenge Grant, funded by the John Legend Campaign, MacArthur Foundation, and National Writing Project. Knowing our collaborative work with the CT Mirror for Special Report: Education, Diversity, and Change in Fairfield County,  we wanted to find a way for students in our schools to have a similar opportunity for partnering with each other in and out of our classrooms.

The result was We Too Are Connecticut, a project that reached several hundred young people at Bassick, Staples, Joel Barlow, Darien, Central and Global Studies High Schools. The work culminated, too, at Fairfield University with the Writing Our Lives - Digital Ubuntu conference. There, author Matt de la Peña keynoted and featured We Were Here and Robert Galinsky arrived to offer workshops on public speaking and performance. We achieve our goal of providing writing opportunities for youth from a variety of schools to share with each other. Teachers mentored TedTalks, blogging, ethnographic mapping, and radio shows. The amount of writing produced by their wonderful students is admirable and humbling. It is, however, the result of incredible teachers and the willingness of LRNG to invest in them.

Last night, Educator Innovator featured three projects that benefited from the LRNG investment, including We Too Are Connecticut. I am extremely proud of Kim Herzog of Staples High School and Megan Zabilansky of Joel Barlow High School for the sharing they did for the webinar community.

Featured here are what they had to say. I can write on and on and on about their work, but the interview says it all. 

We Were Here, indeed. Very proud to post this on a Thursday morning.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Learning with Lisa M. Borders, Chair, the @CocaCola Foundation, at The Bridgeport Public Education Fund

Yesterday, I had the fortune of sitting at the Fairfield University table in support of the Bridgeport Public Education Fund who brought to Connecticut the wisdom and global expertise of Lisa M. Borders from the Coca-Cola Foundation.

Every year, BPEF under the leadership of Marge Hiller, sponsors an inspirational luncheon to unite community leaders in support of Bridgeport youth. This year's keynote, Lisa M. Borders, did an amazing job outlining the ways Coca Cola is investing in water, women, and wellness. Her cross-generational narrative (with tremendous advice from grandparents and parents) provided much for her audience to think about and I have to say, I've witnessed few who have the presentational command of Ms. Borders. She was smart, knowledgeable, strong, and persuasive. I now see exactly why her words were brought by BPEF to motivate powerful people in Connecticut to make social change.

From the program, it was noted that Lisa M. Borders,
has worked in her community primarily focusing on family issues in the areas of education, healthcare and housing. She serves as a trustee at The Westminster Schools, an emeritus board member at Clark Atlanta University, a member of the Board of Ethics at Emory University, a founding leader of No Labels and a board member of the Atlanta Downtown Community Improvement District (ADID). She is a member of Leadership Georgia and recruits and interviews students for her alma mater, Duke University. She has received numerous honors and consistent recognition for her corporate and civic work.
What I personally noted from her presentation is that setting goals is a priority and measuring one's success to reaching those goals is a necessity. Her commitment to the Coca Cola company (of which one of my students, Anmol Tabassum - a stellar graduate of Bassick High School and the Dual Enrollment program at Fairfield University - benefited) was obvious. The investment made by Coca Cola is with sustainable programs that have al arge, empowering impact.

I'm a Diet Coke drinker, especially when I'm in need of carbonation. I loved how Lisa M. Borders introduced her organization's foundation work with the recent backlash against their product by declaring that Coca Cola is a wonderful company that makes a stupendous product. "The issue," she admitted, "is not that Coca Cola is nutritionally bad, but that we have not become more responsible about how much we consume."

Truth. Don't regulate my choices, especially when they're delicious ones.

I left the Bridgeport Holiday Inn thinking, "I wish Lisa M. Borders lived locally. She is definitely someone I can learn from." She possesses unique leadership skills and I was immensely impressed by her delivery to a diverse audience when reaching the message she was there to deliver.

All of us are in this together. This is why I remain a huge fan of the Bridgeport Public Education Fund (and was thrilled, too, to hear a recipient of their hard work, Daniel Ndamwizeye, speak about his work with the Daniel Trust Foundation, Incbefore the Keynote took the podium).

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Mid-October @NCTE and @WritingProject Planning Meeting in Stratford, Puppies Included. Can't Wait.

We took advantage of a gorgeous fall day, Columbus Day, to get together to discuss strategy for the NCTE and National Writing Project Annual Convention. Lucky for our crew, we have our hands full of presentation opportunities. We'll be gung-ho to discuss our LRNG work, but also our political Op-Ed work through CWP-Fairfield.

In truth, though, I wanted to take advantage of a wonderful night to cook on the grill for stellar Connecticut teachers. I mean, how often do busy teachers get invited over during the week for a four course meal: soup, salad, cheeseburgers, and apple crisp. The Mt. Pleasant (a variation of the John Legend Moscow Mule) was another great addition. Kim, announcing she is with child, had to bypass on the booze, but she had her happiness in tact. Megan brought her new puppy, Boomer, and Glamis was in dog heaven having a friend to play with. Then Kim brought her dog, Noodle, and the backyard turned into a canine festival.

All were happy.

We are definitely excited to continue our planning for the Minneapolis experience, and we'll get practice this week with a Webinar, followed by an episode on NWP radio.

In the mean time, I'm thinking about a dog who is totally wiped out by the energy spent chasing tennis balls, each other, and the squirrels last night. I think she will rest all day today, too.

Monday, October 12, 2015

A Twenty-Four Year Old Flashback: A Dream, A Memory of Being 19, and A Curiosity of What It Means Now

I'm not sure if it came to me in a dream, on my run, or with a heart-to-heart conversation with Chitunga about being 19, heading forward, and wondering what it all is supposed to be.

At 19, I didn't have my head around The Great Whatever yet, but in the back of my mind I was always curious as to the purposes and meanings of the world.

While in London, our Binghamton abroad program provided opportunities to get out of the city, where we saw the countryside and got more of the English landscape. One night, a rainy and cold night, we found ourselves at a hostile with our professors drinking bottles of wine and good ol' British ale. For some reason, our crew of about 24 decided to walk down to the Bay of Tintagel after the rain subsided and we played  in the wetness of the beach and in the ocean. It was 11 p.m. and we were young, carefree, and absolutely in love with the adventure we were on. I also remember that it was very cold, but all of us were so happy.

I went to London wide-eyed and curious, and very unknowing of the world. I met many spectacular people on that trip and my memories of that time are crisp and alive with me today. I remember on that night, when Gina Amaro announced that she was Diana, Princess of the Sea, and that I was Sea Horse. Why? She said, "You have a nurturing soul, Crandall. It's uncharacteristic of a male creature and that is why I name you Sea Horse." The two of us laughed and I felt a tremendous kinship with her at that moment. "A sea horse will always be with me in the sea," she said. (Ha, she now works for Google, authored Practical Genius, and has moved to the West Coast).

When I was thinking about that memory, I realized we only saw Tintagel at night. We had no idea what the bay looked like during the day. I looked it up last night and found a photo. It sheds light on the darkness of how I remember that evening - it was gray, misty, damp, and dark. I found it mildly comforting to see it illuminated during the day.

Then, I was the age of my niece. I was the age of Chitunga. It was the age I was when I stepped out of childhood and looked at adulthood from a new angle, one that was separate from the love and security of my home in Clay. I realized my journey was a solo-act, launched from the love of family.

I'm thinking a lot about being 19 as I witness the questions and wonders of Chitunga, as he's making sense of his world. I've been reflecting on who I was at his age, and what philosophies I was beginning to live by as I adventured into the world.

I'm a talkative individual, but oddly my memories of this time are of being quiet, receptive, open, and absolutely in awe of the greatness of the world. I see it as a time when I was a sponge for absorbing everything. I'm sure others would say it was typical Crandall and I never sat still or was quiet. I think it would be interesting to see 19-year old Bryan in action. It's amazing to me to think about how much life has occurred since then. And I know I wouldn't be who I am today if it wasn't for that special time in my life.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Honks, Strings, Bones, Squeaks, Balls (x2) is What My Saturdays Have Turned Into. Ah, But It's Sunday

Weekend mornings now begin with FaceTime calls to the family and updates on our lives, which mainly consist of "I'll show you my dog if you show me yours." Of course, Glamis is petrified of vacuum cleaners and yesterday when I cleaned, she jumped our fence and ran to the front lawn. She was punished most of the day by being locked in her cage.

Then I felt guilty and headed out to Burlington where I bought her a couple of toy replacements (this time without strings or stuffing). Obviously, they know what dogs do because they market the goods with "No Stuffing!" and "No Strings!" They know gullible customers like me who peruse the aisles to find something that will last more than 24 hours. Of course, her new monster comes with a "Squeaker: Guaranteed to Still Squeak After Puncture."

I'll believe that when I see it.

The clown circus has entered my house again and it sounds like a preschool bike convention or a goose orgy. I have to laugh (and thank whisky. Whisky helps, too, cough cough, with my allergies.

Once upon a time, Saturdays were meant to get into my own mischief and trouble. Now, there's nothing more appetizing than having an excuse to be indoors, in my house, and with the noise of a playful pup.

I've officially entered middle age excitement. I mean, the toy doesn't have bulging eyes she can pop out of its head or a tail that she can tear into tiny parts to leave all over the house. It just has a horn and she is so in love. Every once in a while she looks up and me with eyes that say, "Thank you, Dad. Thank you. This is the greatest." Of course I also imagine her telling me, "I'm so sorry for escaping the back yard. I will not do it again. I promise. I have a toy now. Everything is perfect. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."

I thought the giant rubber ring would be her new thing, but thus far that has been left on the kitchen floor with the deserted toys of yesteryear (um, last week).

And I'm shaking my head thinking, "Lord, Crandall. You've done this to yourself.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

I'm Laughing - I Am Worth More When I'm Gone Than When I'm Alive, Says the Investment Specialist

Now, the woman who does my taxes is a retired philosopher who never did find work with philosophy. I learned yesterday that my financial consultant is a stand-up comic who went into finance after four years of doing the comedy circuit in L.A. I don't know these trivial facts when I make acquaintance with those I work with - they just sort of leak out as we sit around discussing options in my life, whether with taxes or investments.

It cracks me up.

I set a goal this fall that I would resurrect the investment portfolio I began when I was a teacher in Kentucky. The doctorate procedure didn't allow me to think much about what will happen when I'm older, but with five years on my feet again, I am thinking about the future. I contacted Valic, who handles my small, but somewhat responsible planning, who put me in contact with David, who has been visiting me from time to time to go over what I'll need by the time I'm ready for a nursing home. He has pointed out to me that I will be much more stable economically after I die. I guess that is good to know.

Seriously, though, there's always this buzz about savings and life insurance and what-if paranoia that has kept me curious about what I'm supposed to be doing in case something horrible happens. The house needs to be paid off, I need to make sure I'm not a burden on anyone, and if there's loose change, I should be thinking about a legacy (which, to me, is ownership of my grandmother's ceramic frogs that are anatomically correct - that's about as classy as this guy gets).

But I'm laughing. I love that a comic is offering me financial advice and that, as an undergraduate, he was a theater major. "Well," he admitted to me. "That doesn't pay the bills." He went on to earn an MBA and has been working for Valic ever since.

We are expensive creatures (and no, you can't write off a new dog. I tried. They are a loss with their milk bones, veterinarian needs, destruction, and toys). What I've gained from the conversations through such consultancy is that most people live so that they one day can get out of expensive states like Connecticut and find themselves living in Florida.

The Florida part I like, but I'm not sure anyone in my generation will ever be able to retire. Even so, I'm planning ahead in hopes that someday, perhaps, I actually will.

In the meantime, back to work.

Friday, October 9, 2015

I Know It's Fall Because the Mucinex Monsters Have Returned To My Chest From Allergy Drip. Wee Hoo.

We've entered the season where I feel I'm living Groundhog's Day. I can predict that as soon as I open my windows for fresh air (and great cool nights for sleeping), the leaf dust and post-summer, lawn-mowing shenanigans enter my house, into my nostrils, and upon my sinuses. I get clumped up.

It starts with a sneeze. Then it moves to a clogged nose, and it finally filters itself over a period of days into my chest. I've nursed it over the last week because my schedule has been tight, but last night I decided to give in. I have Thera-Flu PM, cough medicine and ginger ale (with whiskey). I know how to find those monsters without paying a Mucinex price (although I usually give in and buy that, too, to help me cough out everything that Autumn stores inside my chest).

The good news is that once I kick it out of my system, I can move on to enjoy the pre-hibernal months and I get my brain back. A clogged nostril passage means headaches and a frozen brain, too.

I'm spending Friday lying still and writing. I don't want to move too much until I remove Chewbacca from my chest. I am thankful it waited until last night to get really bad.

I'm sure if I look at my blogs over the last eight years, I'd see a similar entry as this. As the groundhog exits its hibernation each spring, so enters my allergies every fall. I am thankful, though, because all of this pales to the breathing life of the Ohio Valley in Kentucky. That was always, ALWAYS, torture.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Demo-Lessons or Demolitions? Day Three of Back-To-Back Writing Lessons with 3rd, 4th, & 5th Grades

Since the beginning of the school year, CWP-Fairfield and I have worked closely with district leaders in Trumbull Public Schools to enhance writing instruction, K-5, and to build teacher leadership and confidence with writing across the content areas. Unique to the plans has been using data from the teachers to address the needs they have (rather than the needs tests have). In month three of our partnership, everyone seems to be happy: teachers are reporting they love the workshops and conversations, the students seems to be picking up their writing pace, the district leaders are doing a wonderful job tying heir willingness to take risks to pushing towards more success with lifelong writing, and the administrators are smiling.

This week, I was invited into school to do demonstrations n narrative writing. I met with teachers for 45 minutes and discussed what it looks like to teach narrative at each grade level. The district paid for subs so that teachers from several schools could attend the one demonstration where I taught one class of kids. Then, kids came. The teachers predicted what they'd likely see and then, after the lesson, reflected on what they saw while they helped me to think about how I could tweak the teaching. We anticipated a 45 minute lesson, but each session has gone longer. Yesterday's session kept the kids engaged for 90 minutes, in fact, which the teachers couldn't believe.

My favorite part of such work, however, has been hearing the teacher who brings her kids to the library reflect on what she witnessed as her students participated with my instruction. It is so rare to have an opportunity to see the kids we teach without having to be in direct supervision of teaching them, too. It allows for new eyes, additional perspectives, and other angles to see what it is our kids are actually capable of doing.

I have been amazed at conversations and insight arriving from each 3-hour jam session (and I'm exhausted. I've been doing two a day)

When I entered on day one and learned what they wanted me to do I knew I was about to have many eyes upon me. "Shoot," I thought to myself. "Did they say demo-lesson or demolition?" I didn't want to ruin the kids or look the fool. The risks could have gone either way.

Lucky for us all, though, it's gone favorably. And today, we finish this next round of work.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Small State: Big Debate - Race, An Important Conversation Thanks to @CTMirror and Brett Orzechowski, CEO/Publisher

I have spent almost 2000 days as a resident of Connecticut (5 years) and learned quickly the politics of the tiny, yet powerful state. As I've worked to understand education policy, my search brought me to the CT Mirror,
a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet with a very clear mission: Produce deep reporting on government policies and politics, to become an invaluable resource for anyone who lives, works or cares about Connecticut, and to hold our policymakers accountable for their decisions and actions.
I read CT Mirror daily, and find it as a source for inspriing my thinking on a number of issues.

In 2014, several teachers attending a 5-weeking invitational summer institute for writing, partnered with the CT Mirror to contribute to a powerful collaboration called Special Report: Education, Diversity and Change in Fairfield County, an interactive website detailing statistics of educational disparities in southern Connecticut while addressing changing demographics in our schools. Several teachers worked with Brett Orzechowski and me to publish their thinking on school issues in the state. Hi staff did a remarkable job launching the one-of-a-kind location for sharing insight on education policies and realities.

It was no surprise when, yesterday, Brett Orzechowski brought a successful CT Mirror's debate on race issues to Fairfield University. Keynoted by New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, the forum invited leaders from a variety of professions to address political (and racial) issues on education, health care, housing, disparities, prisons, and opportunity. Unique to the discussion was the unique location where leaders interacted and discussed with policies to better assure democracy remains at the forefront.

One would think change would arrive to a citizenry that desires it, but it quickly became known that even when individuals have a passion to alter current state of affairs,  historical institutions are deeply rooted in traditions, economics and, at times, ignorance. This, sadly, causes more of the same. Race matters. Coupled with this, the pernicious inequality existing in a land of zip-code apartheid and financial disparity needs further debate.

Charles Blow was the highlight of the event with thoughts on the Black Lives Matter movement, the history of violence on black bodies, and the ways history should not be divorced from the inequity experienced in Connecticut today. He spoke passionately, intelligently, with integrity.

For me, however, the day goes to the planning behind the debate by the CT Mirror led by Brett Orzechowski. In my five years as the Director of the Connecticut Writing Project at Fairfield University, I've gravitated towards individuals who work tirelessly to bring groups of people together to discuss the vast disparities omnipotent in Connecticut. Brett Orzechowski is a man of the state and his work for the Mirror deserves a round of applause and a standing ovation. Sure the crowd cheered Charles Blow for his words of wisdom, but my hat is off to Brett and his team for the phenomenal day at the Quick Center.

I hope the dialogue continues - it is healthy for us all.