My Zero-Dollar Designated Creative Space

I wanted to write everyday, but it was impossible to get to a coffee shop or library to do so. It involved a baby-sitter or husband/daddy getting in my scheduling loop. The library has great study carrells, but the hours are limited. And it is just a nerve-shattering act to try to do something uninterrupted at a coffee shop. The general public simply has lots of questions for you once you are seated. Quite frankly, these questions were wearing me to a nub.

“Can I use this chair?”

Obviously! I’m not patrolling the chairs, people – I’m trying to construct a sentence.

“I’m just going to sneak by you.”

Umm…do you even know the meaning of the word “sneak”? It has to do with STEALTH, and you clearly have NONE!

The reality was that I needed to find a way to cope with writing in the house. As the omniscient yet mythological “they” say, necessity is the mother of invention, and thus the Dines Family Designated Creative Space was born. Here are the 2 steps I took to birth the Designated Creative Space:

  1. I made a sign that included the expectation around maintenance of the DESIGNATED CREATIVE SPACE!
  2. I cleared off the table. While the pictures below show the table top in plain view, it was previously covered in high chair trays, junk mail, kids’ clothes, and a myriad of chargers for various devices.
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The Sign – Note the use of the adorable but underused little verb “shall”!

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The Space is prepared for my writing time with my journal, book, and laptops.

I was very careful, deliberate, and strategic about not having The Making of the Designated Creative Space become yet another project. My projects are my written pieces. I don’t need to have 5 kinds of highlighters and different choices of paper. Or a special kind of seat. Or a unique style of seat cushion. Or a Hemingwrite (which I have considered purchasing about 1000 times but never will actually buy).  All I need is a place to put words in print or in a computer document. Simple. Minimal. Clean. Clear.

This space is not just for me. My husband uses it for his reading and graphic design work. My daughters use it as a supply table and drying rack when they are art-making in their high chairs. And we all make sure that the space is spick and span after it is used.

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Right now, my husband is cleaning up. The baby is sleeping, and the twins are watching something on tv. And I’m sitting here, writing, right in my own kitchen. This table is my own little nook of the universe, and I feel perfectly at home.

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.

I want YOU to travel to Greece this April!

In the Spring of 2012, I participated in an amazing program called The Examined Life: Greek Studies in Schools. There were two parts to the program.

First, I participated in an online course which required me to read the literature of Ancient Greece, including The IliadThe Odyssey, and several plays and short works. The course also included discussions of the literature in an online forum.

The second part of the program was actually traveling to Greece, something I had never imagined was possible for me in my wildest dreams. I spent ten days traveling with a group of educators and children’s authors to various cities and historic sites. My unforgettable memories of this trip include:

  • the scent of orange blossoms that waft through the air throughout the entire country
  • sitting on a hotel deck roof at dawn and watching the sun rise over the Parthenon
  • singing Madonna’s “Express Yourself” at the Theater of Epidaurus
  • seeing the road where Oedipus traveled and met his father
  • learning that Greek statues were not white, but painted in garish colors (the paint faded with age)

Additionally, this trip had a significant impact on my teaching practice. In grappling with challenging texts, I was able to not only empathize with my students who struggle with grade-level reading materials, but I was able to share my “Reader’s Notebook” from the course with my students and have them try out some of my reading strategies. I remember my students being very impressed by all the notes I had taken, and I shared with them that reading is a lifelong process. Furthermore, I grew in my level of comfort in presenting students with Greek traditional literature because I am able to understand the cultural and historical context of these stories better and provide more adequate and accurate background knowledge.

The good news is that now YOU can participate in this incredible journey!

From Associate Program Director Extraordinaire Connie Carven:

GREECE ONLINE GRADUATE COURSE (JAN. to MAY, 2014)

INCLUDES STUDY TOUR TO GREECE (APRIL 17 to 27, 2014)

Great opportunity — and the experience of a lifetime!

See teachgreece.org for details or contact Connie Carven

connie_carven@teachgreece.org    

Itinerary for 2014 Study Tour

Itinerary for 2014 Study Tour

A few videos from my trip:

Dines Family Book Club October Selection: Bad Land

Bad Land:  An American Romance by Jonathan Rahan

Ginger poses with Bad Land in the Dines Dining Room.

Ginger poses with Bad Land in the Dines Dining Room.

My Review from My Goodreads.com Account

This book mirrors the landscape it describes: slow, meandering, and seemingly endless. Although the tragedy of the Montana homesteaders is worthy of a place in American history, the author fails to make the personal connections between the reader and the subject of the book. Raban interviews many different people along the Montana plains, but his writing fails to make the reader feel as if he or she knows the people. It seems more like listening to snippets of a public radio broadcast than making connections with human subjects. The book gives the impression of an overzealous Brit exploring the wildness of the American West in a cheesy PBS documentary, yet, to Americans, it is the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder minus the compellingly simple narrative arcs. Raban meanders through the “Bad Land” of Montana, and every inch seems miserable and gray.

Post-Reading Discussion Questions 

by Jennifer and David Dines

1. Compare the effects of the Homestead Act on the railroad industry to its effects on individual homesteaders.

2. How did personal pride and independence influence homesteaders?

3. What is the role of faith in American invention?

4. How does the Wollaston family’s lifestyle contrast with the environment in which they live?

5. How did the homesteaders’ view of themselves differ from the government’s view of the homesteaders?

6. How did advertising serve as a catalyst for the settlement of the railway?

7. What is the role of debt in middle class American adulthood?

8. How are the grasshopper plagues a metaphor for the homesteaders themselves?

9. In what way is self-sufficiency threatening to organized government?

10. Did the homesteaders realize the extent of their effect on Boston and New York-based investors?

Index Card found in the used copy of the book purchased at Brookline Booksmith

Index Card found in the used copy of the book purchased at Brookline Booksmith

A Trip to the National Book Festival

On Saturday, my mom, my husband, and I visited the Library of Congress‘s National Book Festival, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. This post is a brief photoessay about our wonderful day at the Book Festival.

 

Let's Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.

Let’s Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.

Let's Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.

Let’s Read, America!: The 2013 National Book Festival was a two-day celebration of American literary life.
Upon arrival, this wonderful volunteer presented us with our orange bags and the beautiful book festival poster.

Upon arrival, this wonderful volunteer presented us with our orange bags and the beautiful book festival poster.

We added a new member to the Dines-Westervelt Family: The Cat in the Hat!

We added a new member to the Dines-Westervelt Family: The Cat in the Hat!

We also spotted that curious little monkey...Curious George!

We also spotted that curious little monkey…Curious George!

Inside the Pavilion of the States, visitors could learn about authors from each U.S. state and territory.

Inside the Pavilion of the States, visitors could learn about authors from each U.S. state and territory.

The states and territories were arranged by region.

6 Young Man with Map

Visitors could get a map and receive a stamp from each state. This young man, a student in the D.C. public schools, was proud to tell me that he was almost finished!

13 New Mexico Display

Each state had its own display table.

12 Massachusetts

At the Massachusetts Table

At the Hawaiian table, volunteers wore beautiful tropical dresses.

At the Hawaiian table, volunteers wore beautiful tropical dresses.

7 Your Map to Some Great Books

My completed map with stamps from all states and territories

What Book Do You Think Shaped The World? (My Answer: The Odyssey by Homer)

What Book Do You Think Shaped The World? (My Answer: The Odyssey by Homer)

9 What is a Book

What is a Book? I loved reading the responses written by visitors for this display.

I came home with about 40 pounds of teaching resources including a dozen full-size posters, over 500 bookmarks, and at least 30 large state maps. I hope to make the National Book Festival an annual family tradition!