Saturday, September 13, 2008

Rolling sweetly off of vine....

We played stick ball.
Down the hill from where I lived,
we played stick ball on a side street two up from Main.

Heading out the door with sticks in our hands,
a rubber ball in our back pocket
and a cap upon our heads,
my two brothers and I went running down
that dirt road path to the place where the magic was.

The kind of magic that sits and waits and sings
to you in the early morning; the kind of magic
that with every breath you take brings joy; and
the kind of magic that every time you pick up the stick
and swing, brings the roar of the invisible crowd to life.

This magic lived within us then
because we were glove carrying,
baseball loving,
home run sliding boys,
rolling sweetly off of Vine.

McMahon, Salazar, Johnson and Mahoney,
they were already there, warming up as they
did when the darkness moved away into light
by bouncing the rubber ball against the cement wall.
They were already there practicing their slide stopping
run to home plate and shouting,
"hey batter, hey batter, hey batter!"

The kind of shuffle that took the crowds breathe away
because we were glove carrying,
baseball loving,
home run sliding boys,
rolling sweetly off of Vine.

first up to bat,
twirled the rounded stick in his hand
taking the stance from the big leagues
by cuffing his feet against the dirt.

And Mahoney, he was king of the hill that morning,
cupping the ball in the palm of his hand.
Then, like a well-oiled machine,
he side-swiped his way to glory
by moving his arm behind his back
letting the ball side-wind down the pike
towards home plate.

Salazar, that boy could swing, and I, in center field,
could hear the CRACK!

The kind of THUNDER that echoed
all the way to Main because we were
glove carrying,
baseball loving,
home run sliding boys,
rolling sweetly off of Vine.

Salazar, he took off running.
He took off running touching the cement wall
with the tips of his fingers,
and then,
in a straight line
kicked the can in the middle of the street,
round the bend to the front porch tenement steps,
til' finally,
he sprinted the last leg down the chute to home plate.

I chased after the ball as it bounced its way down the street,
and then,
scooped it up in my hands.
I stopped,
turned around,
and then lobbed it to my brother who was waiting.

Waiting in the wings like a prayer
because we were
glove carrying,
baseball loving,
home run sliding boys,
rolling sweetly off of Vine.

Salazar did the dance and with a thud,
the ball landed in the catcher's mitt.
We stopped,
and then,
McMahon did the sweep of his hands
shouting "SAFE".

That slide.
That home running slide to home plate
left dirt devils in its wake
dusting Salazar from the bottom of his toes
to the top of his neck.
He took his cap and cuffed it upside and down
until the wind was dancing all around.

The wind was dancing all around
because we were
glove carrying,
baseball loving,
home run sliding boys,
rolling sweetly off of Vine.

Glove carrying,
baseball loving,
home run sliding boys,
rolling sweetly off of Vine.

Rolling sweetly off of Vine.

The genre of introductions: another one...

And another one.....

Some of you may be wondering why I have chosen to wear a tie this morning except for you Norma who might surmise that I wear one everyday. Norma, I must confess. This is not the case, but what I do want you to know is that I am wearing this tie because I am practicing.
I am practicing.
Tomorrow I fly back home again. Back to the small pocket of the world known at the Northeast Kingdom. It is a beautiful time of the year in Vermont as it is where Norma lives. A time of the year that while living there I often took for granted.That happens sometimes especially when we don't realize all that we have until it is gone.
Up north this time of year the world is changing. It is showing all its beautiful colors of wonder in differing shades of reds and oranges and faded yellows. Going back home again, I too, realize that I have also changed.
No longer the boy who stopped speaking because every word he spoke got stuck on his tongue; no longer the boy who when he put the words on the paper they came out backwards; no longer the boy who sounded out the words but could not see; and I am no longer the boy who was told at school to stop looking out the window when it was the only song that made any sense.
Remember the little bunny who was left alone and went into Mr. McGregor's garden even when he was told he couldn't.
That's him.
Peter Rabbit just had to go under the fence because somebody told him he couldn't.
He did it anyway.
He broke the rule and somehow he turned out OK.
Peter Rabbit showed me what comes with practice. He showed the boy who stuttered how to read the words and see.
A few years ago in the mountains of North Carolina I had the opportunity to listen to Norma's story and in our conversations over the past few months about literacy instruction, I have come to know that Norma is truly an advocate for the the Peter Rabbits of the world, and she does this with practice working alongside teachers as they get to know the children without the tie discovering all the wonderful shades of reds, oranges and faded yellows before they fall to the ground. She gets to know them by crawling under the fence and when they practice what she has left behind the Peter Rabbits of this world thrive.
I introduce you to Norma.

I am one of the lucky ones....

I am one of the lucky ones. In the work that I do, I get to see and listen to the voices within classroom walls. And when I sit side-by-side with students, I ask them what they are learning and it is amazing what they tell. Sarah and Angela invited me in one morning and this is their story....

I am one of those observers who values discourse. I come from the stance that in order for learning to be increased, social interaction needs to occur. This means a multi-layered view of interaction: interactions between students, interactions amongst students and teachers, and finally, the interactions that occur between co-teachers within an inclusive classroom setting. At certain times, I believe that this discourse can be carefully planned, intentionally executed, and thoughtfully nurtured to maximize learning potential.
The two teachers that I observed, Sarah and Angela, seemingly played off of one another. If I had not known these individuals prior to the observation, I would have been hard pressed to distinguish who the "regular classroom teacher" and who was the "children of promise" teacher. Each had a distinct role within this classroom; yet, at the same time, both became interchangeable as they guided students through the direct teaching of the lesson to an indirect model with collaborative groupings. It provided an opportunity for the "taught" curriculum to be scaffolded based on the needs of the group.
As the groups of children began working on the extended engagement, (when given a photograph or illustration of an individual, real or imagined, students will create a poster by identifying two character attributes that individuals possess.) Angela began her morning with this group of students. Each had a behavior chart that was reinforced with words of encouragement and choice. One of my striking observations was in the development of relationships with her students. One child was experiencing a crisis and therefore was not at the table. Instead of reacting negatively, Angela allowed this child to join the group on "his time".
Working side-by-side with the students, Angela created a purpose, a goal for the students in this small group to reach, and along the way, posed open ended questions to extend the original thinking of the directed teaching. At the same time, Sarah was circulating around the room, brainstorming with her charges possible next steps.
When there was a problem at another table with students' inability to collaborate in an acceptable manner, Angela and Sarah switched places, drawing on each others strengths. Angela intervened by working directly with the students experiencing difficulty, and Sarah, she carried on with the small group of boys.
Throughout the lesson, roles were established within the group; goals were set for students to reach; and before sending them off on their own, a standard was established by clearly articulating the outcome. Finally, they encouraged and nudged along the way providing a means of wholeness sometimes difficult to find.

Friday, September 12, 2008

If it's rap, it ain't no poetry....

If you listen, there are stories waiting to be written down on the page. I remember when I wrote this. I was an interim teacher for a week because there was a shortage within this one school and since I was tired of living in a cubby, I volunteered for the assignment. It actually happened. The words written were the one's spoken during the 1999-2000 school year. Unless it was written, I believe the clarity would have been lost. And then, this memory would have faded. Instead, whenever I read it, I am reminded if it's rap, it ain't no poetry.....

- If it's rap, it ain't no poetry
Turmaine said to me
first day of school.

Schools been going on.
Been going on since 7:30.
In walks Turmaine.
Cool as cool can be.

Yeah, I'm cool.
I'm cool.
My classroom.
I'm cool.
Cool as cool can be.

Turmaine comes walking in.
Cool as cool can be.

Reading poetry.
I am reading poetry.
To the class I am reading
and from the back I hear.

- Man, I hate poetry.
Poetry is for SISSIES!

I read on to the end.

- Hey, Turmaine.

- You listen to music?
-Yeah, I listen to music.

-What kind of music you listen to?
-Rap, man! I like RAP!!!

-Rap is poetry.
-Rap ain't no poetry.

-Yes it is. I betcha if you ask the artists who create it they would tell ya it was poetry.
-No way, Rap ain't poetry.

Reading poetry.
I am reading poetry.
To the class I am reading
and Turmaine is still muttering

Share some books:
Fox and... got it.

-Go to the group you want to go to.
I say.

Turmaine goes to...
You got it.


I watch,
and then smile and say

-Hey Turmaine
didn't think you liked poetry.
I say, smiling.

Turmaine takes a book.
Tongue Twisters he takes
and sits on the floor with

I sit down.

-Sounds like rap to me Turmaine
-This ain't no rap. This is poetry.
he mutters.

We share the tongue twisters.
Out loud we share.

-Great Turmaine. You're doing great.
I say.

He reads aloud again and again.
End of the day.
Reading poetry.
I am reading poetry.
To the class I am reading.

-Can I take the book home?
-No way man, that's poetry
I say.

And then I call him up to the front of the room.

-Have at it Turmaine
Handing him the book.

-But Turmaine.
This ain't no RAP
This is poetry.

The genre of introductions...

Over the years, I have been asked to introduce keynote speakers to an audience. Writing introductions is a particular kind of writing with a different style. And in the drafting and revision process, the words weaved seamlessly together in creating a snapshot of a life....

Dori Sanders Introduction
The house was new, but an old person lived in it. There were all the visible signs. A young person would have followed the carefully balanced landscape plan of the builder, but these flowers and shrubs were carted in from the old place, planted like browning snapshots in a poorly arranged old photo album, a little ragged around the edges and straggly, like orphan plants with their support systems removed. The plants were very much like the owner of the house, a woman named Mae Lee Barnes. Her children, who had grown up surrounding her like plants in a carefully tended perennial bed, had removed themselves and left visible the now uneven edges of her life....
So begins Her Own Place by Dori Sanders and one can't help but wonder if a little piece of Dori is shared with us through the eyes of Mae Lee Barnes. One can't help but wonder if Dori herself knows all about carting plants and shrubs from one place to another; giving them their own place amongst the shade of the peach trees; honing the uneven edges with great care as they are placed in the soil one by one. One can't help but wonder, if by chance, you happened to drive by the Sander's Peach Shed, and then decided to stop and chat for a bit, what conversations and stories would be shared.
There must be magic for her there, living in her own place, knowing and telling the stories that the peach trees have witnessed for generations. It can be no other way. We, too, share in the stories that she tells. And the voices of generations, we have come to know that Dori lives an ordinary life. Through her writing, deep down we realize that this once thought of ordinary life is far from ordinary when p laced on the empty page.
I believe this is what writing is: taking the uneven edges of a life, crafting them, just being there, waiting, listening, and watching until it is time for them to be planted in the soil of the earth.
And as you listen to Dori Sander's story, imagine yourself in Gaten's hammock stretched between two of the trees, and if by chance, these two trees just happen to be peach trees, listen carefully and you too will realize that its "almost like old times."
I introduce you to Dori Sanders....