Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Helping Kids Learn Discussion Etiquette

I'm finding it challenging to help my seventh graders learn to discuss in their Lit Circle groups. We have the same problem with whole-class discussions: everyone starts talking at once - as a friend put it so well recently about a conversation on an email group: "Everyone wants to be heard but nobody wants to listen." One thing that has helped there has been having students write down their ideas before a whole-class discussion. When it comes to Lit Circles, the kids have prepared the selection and each has had a specific role, so that they are theoretically showing up with something to say, and not just inventing something on the spot. Of course, several came unprepared, so that didn't help.

I'm still working on this and I'm open to helpful hints. Here are some links I found:

Teaching Kids to Discuss.

Making Discussions Work.

Discussion Skills. (For older students, but some good ideas.)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Sad Teacher Story

Ms. Cornelius shares this terrible story about a teacher who confiscated an iPod and ended up with a broken neck. And the teacher's response to the incident is the most amazing part.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale

Book #23 of the year is The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield.

Here's Kelly's review from A Spacious Place. Here's the review from At a Hen's Pace. And here's the one from Mental Multivitamin.

Everyone appears to love this book. I enjoyed it too, but don't have the time tonight to write a full review.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


Our electricity is fixed! I am so happy! The electrician came over this afternoon and climbed up on our pole to fiddle around with things. We didn't know if he had been successful until the power came on around 7:00 and ours came on too!

The electrician mentioned to me that he hasn't had city power in his house for five years. A transformer blew out and the company didn't have any more. They still send a bill every month, though. The electrician was fortunately able to hook into a neighbor's supply. The neighbor had bought his own private transformer and charged a hefty fee to let others share it.


No power at home, but the generator's on at school and I'm working in my classroom. Semicolon is taking a hiatus from blogging for Lent, but still posting the Saturday Review of Books. Amy is also taking a break for Lent, and Alana considered it. All these people are making me feel guilty. It occurs to me that I ought to be taking my temporary trials in the same spirit, as in, I guess I've inadvertently given up electricity for Lent. How nice. No doubt this will reap all kinds of inner growth. Well, I'm trying. I really am.

Part of my Bible reading the other night (I'm following the Lectionary from the Book of Common Prayer) was from Habbakuk. Here's a bit of it: "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior." (Habbakuk 3:17-18)

Yeah, I know, I'm pathetic. I haven't even missed a meal and there are plenty of sheep in the pen and cattle in the stalls, metaphorically speaking. (Thankfully I have no actual livestock to deal with.) I have plenty to be joyful about. Sometimes my rejoicing is a little forced, though.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Electricity, Yet Again

Anybody who's reading this is probably tired of this topic, but once again we have no electricity. Today makes a week. Until last night, there were several other houses affected. We could see the streetlight across the street, but we weren't the only house with no city power. Last night, though, when the power came on, the neighbors had it and we didn't.

For some reason, I find this very difficult, even though we still have power in the batteries, so we have lights and fans and even computer, and the generator is working. I just can't stand the fact that we're the only ones with no city power. Misery loves company, and all that.

Every night I call the company, and every night they promise they will come and fix it. I've called "our" electrician, too, but there's only so much he can tell when the power is off everywhere, as it mostly is until the middle of the night, when nobody wants to be out on the street.

I get very tired of this. No, it's not life-threatening, but it sure is annoying.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Professional Development

I can't say or think the words "professional development" any more without thinking of this post from Graycie at Today's Homework. However, unlike theirs, our sessions today were helpful - at least I thought so. We'll see if I feel the same after tomorrow's sessions are finished. Our kids have the whole week off for Carnival.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I finished Auden's For the Time Being last night, and enjoyed it. Here are some bits I liked:

Gabriel, during the Annunciation:

"Since Adam, being free to choose,
Chose to imagine he was free
To choose his own necessity,
Lost in his freedom, Man pursues
The shadow of his images:
Today the Unknown seeks the known;
What I am willed to ask, your own
Will has to answer; child, it lies
Within your power of choosing to
Conceive the Child who chooses you."

Simeon, after Jesus has been presented at the Temple:

"The tragic conflict of Virtue with Necessity is no longer confined to the Exceptional Hero; for disaster is not the impact of a curse upon a few great families, but issues continually from the hubris of every tainted will. Every invalid is Roland defending the narrow pass against hopeless odds, every stenographer Brunnhilde refusing to renounce her lover's ring which came into existence through the renunciation of love.

Nor is the Ridiculous a species any longer of the Ugly; for since of themselves all men are without merit, all are ironically assisted to their comic bewilderment by the Grace of God. Every Cabinet Minister is the woodcutter's simple-minded son to whom the fishes and the crows are always whispering the whereabouts of the Dancing Water or the Singing Branch, every heiress the washerwoman's butter-fingered daughter on whose pillow the fairy keeps laying the herb that could cure the Prince's mysterious illness.

Nor is there any situation which is essentially more or less interesting than another. Every tea-table is a battlefield littered with old catastrophes and haunted by the vague ghosts of vast issues, every martyrdom an occasion for flip cracks and sententious oratory.

Because in Him all passions find a logical In-Order-That, by Him is the perpetual recurrence of Art assured."

Herod, bemoaning the difficulty of turning his people from superstitious religious people into civilized people of Reason:

"Legislation is helpless against the wild prayer of longing that rises, day in, day out, from all these households under my protection: 'O God, put away justice and truth for we cannot understand them and do not want them. Eternity would bore us dreadfully. Leave Thy heavens and come down to our earth of waterclocks and hedges. Become our uncle. Look after Baby, amuse Grandfather, escort Madam to the Opera, help Willy with his home-work, introduce Muriel to a handsome naval officer. Be interesting and weak like us, and we will love you as we love ourselves.'"

I love the combination of whimsy with serious ideas. This is very much worth reading. "The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all," says the Narrator, and we all know that's true.

Other things I've been reading are books #21 and #22 of 2007: The Arraignment, by Steve Martini (OK, but not really my kind of book), and Rise and Shine, by Anna Quindlen. Rise and Shine was excellent; I was drawn into lives which are very different from mine and came to care about the characters. I found the book satisfying and I will look for more by Quindlen.

It's a Carnival after Carnival!

This week's Carnival is hosted by History is Elementary. Many interesting links to be had here.

It's Ash Wednesday. Where I live, Carnival is a lot bigger than Ash Wednesday - maybe that's true everywhere. Most people concentrate a lot more on the sinning than on the repenting. In any case, things are very quiet on the streets this morning. I'm spending the morning in my classroom, grading - an appropriately somber activity.

When I called to complain, yet again, about our electrical problems last night, the guy taking calls sounded much more cheerful than usual. I could hear music in the background - either he was partying or watching partying on TV. He assured me that the power would be on in a couple of minutes. When I remarked that I had been calling every night since Saturday and that happy result had not yet been achieved, he said that he was sure in a few hours we'd have electricity. We didn't, but it was a nice thought.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


I've been reading Auden's For The Time Being. I haven't gone all the way through it yet, but in reading around I found this quote which I liked. Mary and Joseph are about to flee to Egypt:

"Safe in Egypt we shall sigh
For lost insecurity;
Only when her terrors come
Does our flesh feel quite at home."

This seems appropriate for living in Tecwil. Although sometimes I would like to live in a place where things work and life is more predictable, there's something to be said for unpredictability as well.

I really like Auden, though I often feel I'm missing some of the background knowledge necessary to understand everything. I don't have an edition with good notes, just this book that I found somewhere or other.

I like this one. And lots of others.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Sunday Night Blues

I don't want to write about the rat that built a nest behind our giant, heavy bookcase and used portions of my children's toys, socks, paper, and other unidentifiable objects to do so. I don't want to describe the mess, the smell, and the work involved in ridding the house of the remains of this nightmare. I don't even want to get started on my complaining about things that aren't working, and the fact that it's Carnival time and everybody is going to be too busy with debauchery to come fix anything. At least the internet is up, and there is enough power in the batteries to fuel my surfing.

Here are some things I've enjoyed reading this evening:

Semicolon linked to this funny article on how to talk about books you haven't read - and there's even a book about it!

Here are two new-to-me blogs that I'll be visiting again: Bluebird's Classroom, Chicken Spaghetti.

What books do you hate? Cindy, over at Dominion Family, courageously posted about the books she hated that everybody else seemed to love. Apparently this struck a nerve, as there are 60 comments at last count.

Can I just say how glad I am that when I get a haircut, it's not international news? The worst I have to deal with is having one of my students say, "Oh, you got your hair cut. Why?"

Here are some DP blogs that made me smile today: Budapest, Cambridge, Istanbul, Seattle, and, of course, as always, Sharon, CT.

Well, I'm feeling more cheerful than when I started this post. I think I'll go to bed!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Thursday, February 15, 2007


This is why I'm thankful to live in the tropics!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day

I'm so tired I can hardly see straight. Today my seventh graders had a bake sale, and I was running back and forth dealing with that, there were various Valentine's Day festivities, such as a high school student entering my room repeatedly to deliver roses, my kids had all eaten way too much sugar and were distracted by the unusual goings-on, and it's Teacher Appreciation Week and we're being appreciated into a stupor. I didn't get much actual teaching done today, but it was exhausting anyway. But fun.

And if that isn't enough, here's a Carnival!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007


I finished my two readalouds so I guess they count as #19 and #20 for 2007.

The Third Secret

Book #18 of the year was The Third Secret, a book with such a ludicrous plot that it made The Da Vinci Code look like the kind of thing that just happens to most people every day. In fact, the dust jacket had a Dan Brown blurb on it, not for this book, but for another by Steve Berry. Maybe they are buddies. They definitely have a similar way of looking at the world, as one big conspiracy.

I did find the papal election interesting. Berry has apparently done extensive research on the history of choosing popes and the procedure used today. But what kept me reading this book was the desire to find out what exactly the third secret would be; the novel's premise is that the third secret of Fatima was never fully revealed. But now it will be. And oh boy, is it a doozy. Heaven has all new stuff to say about women in the priesthood, abortion, celibacy, and, well, you name the controversial issue facing the church. Unfortunately the only appropriate response to Steve Berry's version of what Heaven has to say is, "Yeah, right."

Water Again

It has finally started raining after months of drought. Dry, dry, dry, and dusty. Everything in the house was covered with dust a few minutes after being mopped.

We have a large cistern, but it was way down. For the first time since we've lived in this house, we had to buy water trucks. We ended up buying three before the rain started last week. Each truck contains 3,000 gallons of water, and costs about $40 US. That seems expensive, but most of the people who live in this city don't have a cistern to store water in and have to buy theirs by the bucket. In this interesting article, I read the following: "Sometimes, the poor have to pay 10 or 20 times more than their well-off neighbours for safe water, according to UNDP statistics: those on-tap normally pay far less than those buying from street tanks and by the bucket." We're not exactly "on-tap." We are connected to city water, but it only comes a couple of times a week, and then we have to store it. But the fact that we can buy a whole truck at a time means that we get a much better deal.

Here's an article on water in Lagos, Nigeria.

Here's one on water in Haiti.

Here's a link to the BBC's series "Water Walks."

I posted about water before here.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Working Six Days a Week

Am I the only one?

I spend almost every Saturday morning in my classroom working. If we're going away somewhere for the weekend or are going to be otherwise occupied, I practically kill myself getting caught up during the week before, and still, I generally feel behind all the next week.

Today I spent five hours working, from 9 AM to 2 PM. Admittedly, two and a half of those hours were spent writing progress reports, which were supposed to be done already, but last week was our Read-a-thon and I spent all my extra time entering everybody's minutes spent reading into an Excel file. Most weeks, I just work until noon or so.

I'm sure some teachers in the US work on weeknights to finish work in their classrooms, but our generator goes off at 4 PM and I usually head home shortly after that. On Saturdays, the generator is run between 8 and 12, so today I worked a couple of hours without lights or fans.

I don't work on Sundays. I have to have at least one day off.

Before somebody asks, no, this isn't my first year of teaching, or my second, or even my tenth. It is only my second year teaching this particular subject, and I did change the way I do lots of things this year. Even so, I can't imagine getting everything done during the week. On Saturdays I have time to clean up the accumulation of the week's junk, put back all the classroom library books that didn't get reshelved, catch up on grading of late work, do my lesson plans for the coming week, take inventory of the supplies I need, get my copies done. When could I do all of that otherwise?

So, teachers who are reading this - do you work in your classroom on weekends?

It's Saturday...

...and that means sleeping in until seven, working in my classroom to catch up on everything I haven't had time to do all week, and The Saturday Review of Books.

Friday, February 09, 2007

The Constant Princess

Book #17 of this year is The Constant Princess, by Philippa Gregory.

I've read lots of novels about the Tudors, and Katherine of Aragon is a familiar figure to me. However, this book put her in a whole new light. That's what I've enjoyed most about these Philippa Gregory books - she takes a story you thought you knew all about, and then shows you something you never considered before.

For example, of course everyone knows Katherine of Aragon was from Spain. I've read before about the intrigue with her ambassadors, the messages smuggled out of England, the upright Catholicism which guided her every action. But I'd never really thought about what some of the influences on her must have been. Gregory calls her "Catalina" - see, doesn't that make a difference already in the way you see her? She tells about her childhood growing up as the daughter of the warrior queen, Isabella of Spain, and her husband Ferdinand. She even brings in the Moorish influence which must have been part of her childhood, since she was quite young when her parents conquered the legendary stronghold of Islam, Granada. In Gregory's version, the Moors themselves are thrown out of Spain, but the royal family benefits from many of their inventions, such as running water (and, thus, frequent bathing). There's even a scene where Catalina sings a Moorish song she learned from a servant. I don't know if this ever happened, of course (and to some it may smack of political correctness), but I find the thought absolutely delicious.

In most versions of Katherine's story, her marriage to Arthur, Henry VIII's older brother, is glossed over quickly. After all, Arthur died just a couple of months after the wedding, and Henry is the husband that history remembers. But Gregory turns Catalina and Arthur's marriage into a love story, giving a fascinating interpretation to the historical controversy that follows - was the young couple truly married? Whether they were or not was important because of getting a dispensation for Henry to marry his brother's wife, and again became very important when Henry wanted to divorce his first wife to marry Anne Boleyn.

I'm tempted to go on and on, but I don't want to spoil the story for anyone who hasn't read it yet. I enjoyed this book the most of the three Philippa Gregory books I've read so far.

Here's some of what Gregory has to say about the background of this novel.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Great Readalouds

I'm finishing up two readalouds at the end of this week, both of which have been an enormous success.

With my seventh graders, I've been reading The Book of Three, and with my eighth graders, I've been reading Al Capone Does My Shirts.

The Book of Three is wonderful for its character development. It's fun when the students start picking up on the quirks of all the different characters, to the point that they can recognize who's talking before the name is mentioned. You can talk about how the author makes the characters come alive. One of the kids said the other day, "You know, every time Eilonwy talks, she know, compares things." Similes, anyone? And I like to tell the kids, as they go to break, "Enjoy your crunchings and munchings!" There are lots of other things to discuss, too. I love the way the characters have expectations of each other, most of which turn out to be wrong. Taran's ideas of heroism, before and after he goes on his own adventures, are an example of this. Another is everyone's concept of what exactly an Assistant Pig-Keeper is like.

Al Capone Does My Shirts is popular with my eighth graders in spite of the historical setting, which they usually don't appreciate much. It's not the distant past - just the 30's - but that might as well be the middle ages as far as they are concerned. But they like the quirky setting (Alcatraz) and the autistic sister, Natalie. Most of them beg for more when I quit reading each day (with some notable exceptions, I have to confess - not all of them are quite that impressed).

Does anybody else have some readalouds that kids of this age have especially enjoyed?

Carnival Time Again

Somehow a week has gone by, and it's time for another Carnival. Check it out here.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Super Bowl Roundup

OK, I know the Super Bowl is already over. Somebody told me who won but I don't remember. And frankly, I care very little.

But some other people posted some good stuff about the Super Bowl, so I'm going to link you to it.

Troy didn't get to watch it. (Notice that his focus is in the right place, though - on the snacks.)

Alana shares how nerds watch football. I would feel right at home at that Super Bowl party.

And Ms. Cornelius passes on this fascinating story about Super Bowl parties and how they may actually be illegal under certain circumstances. I'm a strict constructionist when it comes to copyright. I'm always arguing with people who say, "But Tecwil didn't sign the international copyright agreement." My response: "So? It's a moral issue not to steal people's livelihood by making illegal copies of their books and movies and music." But even I don't understand how watching something that is broadcast on network television could be construed as violating copyright.

And that's all about the Super Bowl. Now we don't have to think about it again until next year. Isn't that great?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Daily Photos

I like to go to the Daily City Photo Blog site, where you can see thumbnails of the latest photos posted on the DP blogs. I click on the ones that catch my eye. Here are some that you can see there right now:

Yesterday's photo from Anderson, South Carolina.

Today's from Port Vila, Vanuatu. (There are lots of gorgeous photos here - Here's my favorite.)

Today's from Mumbai.

And, of course, here's today's from Sharon, CT.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Reading Update

Book #14 of the year: The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory. I enjoyed it but I recommend it a bit more hesitantly than The Virgin's Lover because it is considerably more bawdy. (Surprisingly, given the titles of the two books.) The Other Boleyn Girl is about Mary Boleyn, who was Henry VIII's mistress before her sister, Anne Boleyn, who became Henry's second wife. Today I started The Constant Princess, about Katherine of Aragon, which I'm enjoying hugely. I'll post about it when I'm finished. And yes, I'm reading them in reverse chronological order. That wasn't planned that way!

Book #15: Specials. I'm planning a post about the whole trilogy, so for now I'll just say I liked this one the least of the three.

To see what others are reading and reviewing, take a look at today's Saturday Review of Books.

Guest Speaker

My eighth graders are writing informational articles right now, and I invited a journalist to come to speak to them. I've been wanting to have a professional writer visit class for a while, and particularly a male one. Most of the teachers at our school are female, as is fairly typical, I believe, and I wanted my kids to see that you can make a living writing and that real men sometimes do so.

This visit went so well that I will repeat it every year if my guest will agree to come back. My students listened politely at first but got more and more interested as he went on. When he was finished they were full of questions. Not only did he say some of the same things about writing that I've been saying to them, but he did a wonderful job of conveying what it's like to be a journalist here in Tecwil. Read: extremely dangerous but just about the most exciting thing you can imagine.

Hooray for my guest speaker!