Top Picks for Boston Book Festival 2015

2015 will be my fourth year attending the Boston Book Festival, yet this is my first blog post about this special event that has become a fall tradition for me. After the past three book festivals, I was so overwhelmed that I could not even craft a post that summarized this spectacular experience.

This year, I am older and wiser, and therefore I am posting before I go into a “reader’s coma” on Saturday evening. I just finished handwriting my Boston Book Festival schedule (below) on the back of my copy of fellow Boston teacher Jennifer De Leon‘s “Home Movie”, this year’s  One City, One Story selection, and I am sharing it with you, dear reader, so you can see my “Top Picks” for this year.

See you Saturday in Copley Square!

BBF2015

A Letter to My September 2013 Self: Talks with Teachers May Challenge Week #1

I am currently on medical leave from my job as I prepare for the arrival of my twin daughters. However, I have used some of my time on leave to investigate online resources for teaching, and I was fortunate enough to discover the Talks with Teachers website, and I have entered the Talks with Teachers May Challenge.

The challenge takes place on Facebook, and it enables me to connect and reflect with teachers from all around the country. I am so happy to have this online environment to stay connected with my passion for education.

The theme of the challenge for this week is REFLECTION – very appropriate for the end of the year. Each week, participating teachers are provided with resources as well as a project to complete. This week’s project is to write a letter to oneself at the beginning of the school year. Below is my letter to my September self.

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September 2013: Bending over, circulating, and actively interacting with students

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April Me: 7 months pregnant, posing next to affirmations in my colleague Melissa Shearer’s classroom

Letter to September Self from May Me

Dear Jennifer in September:

Do you remember the end of last school year when Ms. Lugira advised you to “sit at the table”? You have begun to take that advice to heart – beginning your metamorphosis from an inspired teacher to a teacher-leader. In the past, you did great work inside the classroom, but now you are expanding your sphere of influence at the school level and beyond. You are about to embark on a year of reinvention and achievement, a year full of change and surprise.

This year, you will finally became a union representative, something you had always thought of doing! After your election, you will help to organize your school’s first ever faculty senate. Every Friday morning, you and your fellow elected leaders will meet with the brand-new school administration to plan special initiatives and discuss issues connected to the faculty and students. Your collaboration will result in faculty senate breakfasts, teacher-led professional development, special events, long-term planning, and improved communication with the school’s governing board. You and your colleagues will bond more than ever this year as teacher voice begins to shape the present and future of the school.

You have begun your journey as a leader in other ways. You will formally mentor a fantastic second year teacher (Alice Laramore) who has masterfully transformed a seventh grade class with many needs into a community of scholars. You will receive notice that you have earned your National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Certification. You will serve on the Teacher Advisory Board of the Boston Foundation. You led a PD for your colleagues on Positive Behavior Intervention and Support.

But most importantly, this year, you will to be a creative and inspired teacher for your fabulous middle school students! This year, you will implement your knowledge from your reading specialist certificate into providing word study services to your students, and by April, your students will improve by 1 to 4 grade levels in reading! You will successfully engage students with language-based learning disabilities in learning phonics and building fluency – and all of them will build their confidence and ability in reading! You will connect with Boston Partners in Education to provide 1:1 support and attention to students who need it most – and you received the very best tutors! (Ms. Tarsha, Ms. Karen, and Ms. Moshay). You will organize field trips to 826 Boston, American Repertory Theater, and the Boston Book Festival. You will coordinate an author visit from local author Michael Patrick MacDonald, and you will host guest speakers Ms. Berta (your own mentor) and Ms. Emily (the fantastic librarian from the Uphams Corner Library). You will plan arts-integrated lessons for and publish writing projects with the students in your ESL class.

 

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Ms. Emily, Upham’s Corner Librarian Extraordinaire, with the 6A cohort students

But this year will not be without challenges. Your biggest challenge will be learning to rely on other people for help. Guess why? You will be the pregnant teacher. Not only will you be the pregnant teacher…you will be the teacher pregnant with twin girls. You will be exhausted, but you will also be very lucky.

Your students will help you carry your bags whenever you need it. The 8th grade girls will ask you a million questions about your babies, and you will be the center of attention. The boys will be disappointed when you announce that you are having two girls. The students will argue about your babies’ names. They will tell you to relax and promise that no one will behave badly because they don’t want to stress you out.

Your colleagues will remind you to take it easy, and they will help to cover you when you have to go to about a million doctors’ appointments. Still, you will feel guilty for the (less than 10) sick days you take when you are too exhausted or when you have back to back doctors’ appointment. You will cry when your doctor tells you (after hospitalization for pre-term labor) that you can’t go back to work and you will use your last ounce of energy to get your students’ grades in on time for report cards. Every morning at 9:25 am, you think about the smiling students at morning meeting, chanting the Academy 2 Creed: WHO is success? WE ARE SUCCESS!

You will realize that you have the best students and colleagues that anyone could ask for and you will realize how much you miss them. You will think – when I go back to work in January, I will be a teacher and a mother. And you know that your career has prepared you for your role as a mother because you will know how to educate your daughters and prepare them for school. You will be prepared for the turmoil and excitement of their adolescence. And you will better be able to connect with your students’ mothers because they will see you as a mother too.

Good luck and enjoy the journey,

Jennifer in May (31 weeks and 5 days pregnant)

 

Teaching Is…

To celebration Teacher Appreciation Week, which takes place May 5th through May 9th, the Center for Teaching Quality is encouraging teachers to share their ideas about what teaching is via social media.

I went back through my photos of the past year, and I dug up some images of my everyday work with my students at the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School, a Boston Public School located in Grove Hall, Dorchester, Massachusetts. I selected photos that represent my daily work rather than photos that seem profound in any way. It is important for people to see how joyful and interesting it is to teach every single day; I could argue that almost every day is a special occasion. There is not a theme or particular order to these photos; they are just images I enjoy.

Teaching Is Teamwork.

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My colleagues are my rocks. This photo shows me with Jozefien, my fellow Boston Teachers Union Representative. We try to keep everyone on our faculty feeling supported and cared for in our school community.

 

Teaching Is Inquiring.

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This student came to my room for the purpose of taking a mandated test on the computer. I noticed his bass case and asked about it. I was treated to a performance of Metallica and Nirvana songs. A boring test day was relieved by a brief sing-a-long. This young man always says hello and updates me on his playing when we pass one another in the hallway.

 

Teaching Is Welcoming.

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This photo is from the first week of school. Students in my ESL class are meeting and greeting newcomer ESL students from the class next door.

 

Teaching Is Performing.

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This photo was taken at the television studio at Roxbury Community College. Students had prepared a script using lines from The Autobiography of Malcolm X to perform on a local television show. I accompanied the students using a hand drum. Interestingly, Roxbury Community College is located on Malcolm X Boulevard.

 

Teaching Is Exploiting Our Democracy.

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I consciously prepare students to be future voters. In this photo, students are researching Boston’s 2013 Mayoral Candidates online.

 

Teaching Is Publishing Parties.

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I love having publishing parties for my students. In this photo, students have just received copies of their “This I Believe” publication. We always have cake at these parties, and you can see the cake on the table in the background.

 

Teaching Is Getting The Whole Community Involved.

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I invited Ms. Emily from the Uphams Corner Library (a Boston Public Library) to read to our 6th grade students, who have completed over 1300 minutes of independent reading this year so far.

 

Teaching Is Movement.

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Students embodied action verbs found in D’Aulaire’s Book of Greek Myths and created movement presentations that showed the Labors of Heracles. Here is a shot from one group’s rehearsal.

 

Teaching Is Dedication To The Advancement Of Learning.

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For the past two years, I have organized a Saturday trip to take students to the Boston Book Festival.

 

Teaching Is A Source Of Pride.

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I (far right, pregnant with twin girls) was very proud to accept a citation from the Boston School Committee for achieving my National Board for Professional Teaching Standards certification in English as a New Language.

 

Teaching Is Identity.

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You can learn a lot about Angel’s values by looking at his identity sculpture. The base is a skateboard. It is covered in family photos, and he painted a box with a Puerto Rican flag. What does this say about Angel?

 

Teaching Is Getting The Students There.

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Quddus (far right) was accepted into Grub Street’s prestigious summer writing program. His mom could not take him on the first day, so she called me to help out. It was no problem to take the train downtown with him, and he had a great experience in this program.

 

Teaching Is Time.

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Every week, I offer a couple hours of homework help to my students. Mostly, they enjoy just having a quiet place to work after school, and I usually give them some kind of snack.

 

Teaching Is Making The Call.

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Last year, I called the Girl Scouts, and they sent a wonderful volunteer to run a troop for our school. All it took was a call to start a program that is still going strong for our girls.

 

Teaching Is Getting Down.

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Why sit and “do” character analysis? Here students participate in using a full body outline to display quotations and inferences about a character from a class novel.

 

Teaching Is Knowing Your Students Will Always Surprise You.

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Jose often avoided my classroom last year, preferring to hang out in the hallway and peek into the window. Once we began our unit on architecture and engineering, beginning with the exploration of tetrahedrons, he couldn’t get enough of the class.

 

Teaching Is Getting Out Of Your Comfort Zone.

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Last year, I was told I had to teach a math unit as part of my ESL class. I dreaded doing this, until I learned of the novel All of the Above. Prior to reading the book, my students built tetrahedrons and explored their unique properties – unlike a pyramid with a square base, the tetrahedron can balance on any side.

Teaching Is Getting Out Of The Neighborhood.

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Every year, we take our 8th graders to explore the African American Heritage Trail in Beacon Hill. Here students learn about the African American debate tradition from a park ranger.

 

Teaching Is Arts Integration.

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Early in the school year, my students created identity sculptures and then wrote about them. I am not a visual artist, so I enlisted the help of my colleague, art teacher Lynn Rosario.

 

Teaching Is Including the Whole Family.

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For the past few years, Mr. Patlan (far right) and I (far left) have taught Tech Goes Home, an evening technology class for students and parents. Here we are celebrating the graduation of 6th grader Randi and her mom Michelle.

 

Teaching Is Knowing What Students Value.

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Before launching into writing essays about beliefs, it was important for my students to identify, share, and discuss their personal values together.

 

Teaching Is Doing Something Different.

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My students went to see a classical guitar concert as part of a Hispanic Heritage Month Celebration at the Boston Public Library in Grove Hall. It was a soothing experience for all of us, and we connected in a different way.

 

Teaching Is Facilitation.

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This photo shows reader’s workshop in my classroom. Students have a reading and can choose to work on their own, with a partner, or with a small group to discuss the reading as well as answer and generate questions.

 

Teaching Is Celebrating Success.

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These students were recognized as outstanding leaders in our school community, so they got to go to a special lunch at Burger King before attending a concert at the library.

 

Teaching Is Getting Help From Your Students.

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My colleague Alice Laramore enlisted the help of 7th graders Gladmaya and Rebecca in reorganizing her classroom library.

 

Teaching Is Creative Organization.

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I could never figure out a way to organize my students’ headphones well until one day I saw this vitamin box at CVS, and I invented this headphone case.

 

Teaching Is Alternate Assessment.

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After performing the play “The Conquistador’s Wife” (about the encounter between the Spaniards and the Mexica in Mexico) with the group Spirit Series, my students created memoirs of their experience as actors. A wonderful young man, Jesus, who is also severely dyslexic, created this cover that shows the battle between the indigenous people and the conquistadors with the feather serpent Quetzalcoatl in the center.

 

Teaching Is Enlisting Experts.

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My students have made many trips to 826 Boston, a writing center in our community that offers specialized writing workshop field trips. This photo is from a scriptwriting workshop that my students took with an expert writer.

 

Teaching Is Therapeutic.

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I purchased jewelry making materials for 8th grade girls to use after school. These girls were having some difficulties, and I needed a way to re-engage them in school.

A Literary Surprise on a Tuesday Night

On Tuesday evening, my phone rang, and it was a number I did not recognize. I usually never pick up for unknown callers, but for some reason, I did. The voice on the other end asked,”Do you accept book donations?”

I didn’t have to think for anymore than a split second.

“Yes!” I replied affirmatively.

“Can I drop them off to you today?” asked the voice.

“YES!”

The caller was a very generous Roslindale resident and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt employee named Emma R., and she left a beautiful collection of books on my front porch. Her donation will be shared with my middle school students at the Lilla G. Frederick and with clients at the Roslindale Language and Literacy Center. Thank you, Emma!

A sofa full of new friends.

A sofa full of new friends.

Box

A Box Full of Joy

Open the Door To Liberty: A Biography of To

Open the Door to Liberty! A Biography of Toussaint L’ouverture
This book will be a part of my ESL unit on reversing the narrative about slavery to demonstrate the strength of those who were treated as slaves  in the Americas and the Caribbean.

No DAmsels

No Damsels in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Women
This book will be a part of my ESL unit on mythology and folklore that I am planning in collaboration with 826 Boston.

Change Agency: 826 Boston, Egleston Square’s Inspiration Center

I was really surprised to find myself out on a school night, especially after the very first day of school last Thursday. However, the lure of free pizza, visiting a book store, and talking with writers at non-profit youth tutoring and writing center 826 Boston‘s Write-A-Thon launch party proved irresistible.

826 Boston’s field trips allow classes to create their own publications with each student writing his or her own ending.

“3035 Washington Street,” I told my husband,”It’s right by that Dunkin’ Donuts at Egleston.” We walked toward the building, right on the corner. “Oh, it’s right here at this bank,” I said, as we walked closer. GREATER BOSTON BIGFOOT RESEARCH CENTER read the letters on the front of the building. “Well, this is 3035,” said my husband, ringing the doorbell for 826 Boston. A smiling woman greeted us and quickly escorted us through the “research center” – which turned out to be the clever disguise for 826 Boston’s very own bookstore, full of books published by the organization’s students.

As we entered the back room, the center’s tutoring center, we were presented with hard-cover writing journals as well as name tages to write our pen names – our childhood pet’s name as the first name and our childhood street name as the last name. Assuming my new identity as “Birdy Thornbrook”, I sat down and helped myself to a slice of pizza while I scanned the room. I noticed a cartoon drawing on a white board, a story being typed and displayed on a projector, and another display of a Skype homescrren.

Before we arrived, the other partygoers had created the beginning of an extremely silly story – this particular story was about an animal named Petunia who hoped to become a shortstop for a Syracuse sports team. Then, each participant wrote their own ending to the story, and several of the endings were read to a bearded and bespectacled editor via Skype. It turned out that this activity is exactly what 826 Boston youth visitors experience when they come on school trips to 826 Boston headquarters, and they then receive a copy of the beginning of the story as well as a book with their ending. If the laughter and smiles of adults are any indication of what children experience at the center, it must be a very joyful place.

This assumption was affirmed by my conversations with 826’s volunteers and staff. Northeastern University student Toby Fox, age 20, volunteers at 826 as part of the Civic Engagement Program at the university. He says that he enjoys leading field trips and tutoring students, and he loves seeing the stories that the students write. Although Fox studies environmental science, he says that his experience at 826 has inspired the desire to continue volunteering with youth.

Northeastern University student and 826 volunteer Toby Fox feels inspired by the students at 826’s Egleston Square writing center.

When asked about her favorite publication in the Bigfoot Research Center Bookstore, Store and Events Coordinator Sarah Skolnick responded by showing me A Place for Me in the World, a collection of interviews and prints written by the middle school students at the Mission Hill K-8 School. The interviews focus on the theme of career, and the interviewees consist of professionals working in cake decorating, marine biology, and even government – the grinning jowls in the print portrait of Mayor Thomas M. Menino are immediately recognizable.

Store and Events Coordinator Sara Skolnick (left) and writing teachers Aria Hamada-Forrest (center) and Julie Drench (right) pose with the center’s latest publication, written by Mission Hill School middle schoolers.

826 Program Coordinator Karen Sama claims to face an addiction to the center’s students. She displays her favorite publication, a well-designed palm-sized volume titled A Handbook of Practical Knowledge for the Modern Spy, which I purchased for $5. The book is full of ciphers (I spent about twenty minutes trying the first one, and I plan to return to it later) as well as stories about spies. Sama recalls a memorable student: “His name is Kamari. I remember he never wanted to hear the feedback. He just wanted to finish his stories, and that’s it – just to get them done. Then, one day, he went to put his folder back. It was almost put away, and then he pulled it back close to him. He said he just wanted to add something to his story. It was a great moment.”

Program Coordinator Karen Sama sits among student publications holding her favorite 826 volume.

Note: I have set a goal of raising $250 for 826 Boston’s Write-A-Thon. Please support me in this endeavor if possible.