We Need Your Help – Building Tetrahedron Pyramids to Build Community in ESL

Update: This project was fully funded on September 1, 2018. Thank you to all of our generous donors! 

Dear Readers: Please consider making a donation to my classroom via Donors Choose. Click here to donate and to get some very good karma! I need your help!

Support Our Tetrahedron Pyramid Project!

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Inspiration – a beautiful tetrahedron sculpture build by the Alexander Hamilton Middle School in Cleveland, Ohio

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Flashback Friday – Tetrahedron Building with students in my classroom back in 2013.

My students need paper, markers, tape, and colored pencils to create and connect tetrahedron pyramids that show their identities. The books will supply background knowledge about pyramids and provide reference for symbols.

My Students

I teach middle school ESL to students new to the United States. My students are highly motivated to learn; they are eager to learn all they can about the English language, as having proficient academic English is a marker of success in their new American lives. A challenge I face is ensuring that each and every student feels connected to the classroom and school community, as my students are completely new to the United States and the English language. My students come from Haiti, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Somalia, Cape Verde, and Vietnam. They are typical middle school students – energetic, funny, and eager to figure out who they are. Our school is an urban 6-8 in a large city school system. It is a loving place where the staff does all they can for the students, and the students work hard to achieve success.

My Project

My students will draw symbols to represent their personal identities on the brightly colored paper, which they will fold to create tetrahedron pyramids. The small pyramids will then be connected to one another with tape to create a sculpture.

The pyramid sculpture that the students create will become a classroom display representing the power of community and teamwork that is necessary for all students to feel comfortable in a new country and language.

As I get new students throughout the year, each one will add a tetrahedron to the sculpture. Through building something as monumental as a pyramid, students will recognize that they are an important part of the classroom community.

The books about pyramids and symbols will serve to build background knowledge about pyramids and pyramid builders, and the book about symbols will provide ideas for drawing.

I Am a Writer. Writing as a Mother of Three Under Three

Happy Halloween Eve, Dear Reader!

Being a writer has been a lifelong dream for me. As far back as I can remember, I always had my pens, pencils, and notebooks at hand. When I was 7,  I was paid a dollar in cash from the Howard County Times to publish my poem “Camp”. In high school and college, I had editorial positions on the student newspaper, and I also wrote a few interviews for the music pages of the Weekly Dig back in the early 2000s. I started this blog in 2012, and I have written steadily online since then.  So why have I only recently called myself a writer?

As a mother of 2-year-old twins and a 1-year-old, my brain and my body operate much differently than they did before I was a parent. I have to sprint through my writing because I know that I will be interrupted sooner rather than later. (My kids burst into the kitchen within seconds of me writing that sentence.) Where I once had several hours each weekend available to read and write, I now have perhaps an hour or two. I collapse into bed each night and much earlier than I did in my non-parenting days. When my children go down, I go down shortly after. On Friday night, I was asleep by 7:45 pm. And so, I need to tell the world I am a writer to hold on tightly to this now-essential piece of my identity.

This blog is now called “Literacy Changes Everything!”.  This title reflects my life as it is at present. With less free time and much less extra spending money, my physical life exists within the handful of miles between home and work. Reading and writing are my primary sources of escape to a world beyond the city limits. My twice-a-week visits to the library, my 5 a.m. morning pages, and my newly-minted designated creative space (more on this later) cost nothing, yet they mean the world to me as a much-needed outlet from my responsibilities as a teacher and as a mother. Best of all, my daughters have begun to imitate my writing habits, which makes me feel l’m not less-of-a-mother for taking the time for what I love to do.

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Like Mother, Like Daughters: My three little ones share my writing life with me.

It is my hope to write more and more often, and I will be sharing our family’s favorite picture books and literacy-oriented activities, in addition to musings about my own reading and writing life and my role as an educator in the Boston Public Schools.

I look forward to sharing my tiny corner of the world.

Best, Jenn

Boston Teachers Union Parent 2 Parent: Literacy Materials for Families

I was asked by the Boston Teachers Union to create this list of literacy resources for Boston Public Schools families attending the BTU’s Parent 2 Parent Conference tomorrow at Madison Park High School. Please click here to download a printable PDF of this list.

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1,000 Books Before Kindergarten (Age 0-5)

http://1000booksbeforekindergarten.org

This website helps you to accomplish a goal of reading 1,000 books before your child begins Kindergarten. This is only 1 book per night for a little less than three years! Your child will gain vocabulary and sit and focus ability, not to mention a love of books and a special bond with family members over book sharing.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: I have three children under age 2, and we share our books when my children are in high chairs for meals or when they are in their cribs before naptime and bedtime.

AdLit.Org:Ready for College Resources – Books for the College Bound (Grades 4-12)

http://www.adlit.org/ready_for_college/

AdLit stands for Adolescent Literacy. This website has a wealth of information about teaching and learning for students in gr. 4-12. The “Books for the College Bound” booklists are wonderful for finding challenging books that will prepare your child for college-level reading in various subject areas.

Boston Public Library

http://www.bpl.org

Visit the local branch of your public library to browse for books with your children (and yourself!). Ask the librarians for recommendations. Each branch has a bulletin board with a list of events for children and families.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: When it is especially hot weather, I go to my local branch with my children to hang out in the FREE air conditioning.

MobyMax.Com (Grades K-8)

http://www.mobymax.com

This website allows for students to practice skills in many subject areas – including reading! A free trial is available. Please contact me at jdines@bostonpublicschools.org if you need assistance with this site or would like a full membership.

Reading Is Fundamental Monthly Activity Calendars (Age 0-5, Age 6-15)

http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/activities/monthly-activity-calendars.htm

These printable calendars contain suggestions for daily seasonal activities and books. The calendars available in English and Spanish.

*Parent 2 Parent Tip: When I print out the monthly calendar, I visit bpl.org to reserve the picture books for the month and pick them up at my local library branch.

TechGoesHome.org

http://www.techgoeshome.org

Visit the Early Childhood section to find an annotated list of free and inexpensive apps for ages 3-6. Visit the Courses section to find a list of free technology classes (with the option to purchase a netbook computer for $50) available for children and adults at schools and community centers throughout Boston.

Receiving the #Pages4Progress Education Activist Award at World Education’s Annual Dinner

Last Friday evening, I had the honor of attending World Education‘s Annual Dinner at the Artists for Humanity Epicenter in South Boston, where I was the proud recipient of the #Pages4Progress Education Activist Award. It was an incredibly energizing feeling to be a part of an event full of humanitarians dedicated to global education, not to mention the abundance of food and drinks, the futuristic gallery atmosphere, and the rhythmic live music.

I was really stunned when I visited the World Education offices a few weeks ago, and Erin Doheny and Danielle Klainberg presented me with an invitation to the Annual Dinner and asked to recognize me for my #Pages4Progress Summer Reading. Reading is an absolute pleasure for me, and it was not at all difficult to log my pages. However, receiving this award certainly made me feel validated that writing about my love for literacy on this site is, in fact, making an impact. I also think that, in my work with K-8 students, it sets a great example to show them that, just because of reading and writing, I was able to connect with people and attend an incredible celebration. Thank you to World Education for making me feel so proud!

Here are some of my favorite photos and even a video from the event!

My Husband, David

Thank you so much to my husband, David, who always picks up my books from the library. I would not get all this reading done without him.

Literacy Selfie: David Dines and Jennifer Dines (me!) – We were so happy to be out on a Friday night!

Artists for Humanity

Artists for Humanity is a Boston-based organization that provides underserved youth with arts-based employment. Their LEEDS-certified Epicenter felt modern, spacious, and airy – and absolutely full of life!

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Proudly Holding Up the Program at The Artists for Humanity Epicenter

Group Saloum

Afro-Pop band Group Saloum provided the evening’s soundtrack.

Table Eight

David and I were seated at Table Eight with some wonderful company.

I was so happy to see a familiar face – Pamela Civins, Executive Director of Boston Partners in Education. I have had Boston Partners tutor volunteers  in my classroom. They always treat my students like gold, and the students always look forward to the day when their special tutor comes ! My students and I have also been fortunate enough to participate in The Big Cheese Reads.

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Pamela Civins (left) and I (right)

We also made some new friends!

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Me and Dr. Thomas Winters of the Occupational and Environmental Health Network

lori and nanette brey magnani

Me, Lori Winters, and Nanette Brey Magnani

World Education Award: Mr. Abdou Sarr

The evening’s primary honoree was Mr. Abdou Sarr, Country Director of World Education Senegal. The audience was disappointed to learn that Mr. Sarr was unable to personally attend the event because his visa had been denied due to concerns regarding Ebola. Moussa Sidibe, Honorary Consul of Senegal, accepted the award on Mr. Sarr’s behalf. Although Mr. Sarr has established and developed an array of social and economic programs in Senegal, I found it most interesting to learn about his work in supporting women in radio production, journalism, and community discussion.

Abdou Sarr video

A video of Mr. Sarr was presented in lieu of a personal appearance.

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Moussa Sidibe, Honorary Consul of Senegal, accepts the World Education Award from Shirley Burchfield, Vice President of World Education’s Africa division.

EmpowermentThroughMedia Women as Reporters Community Listening#Pages4Progress Education Activist Award

I was so nervous to go up on stage in front of all of the extremely accomplished in the room. However, I just put on my biggest smile, and I tried to stand up as straight as possible. I felt so inspired by the incredible accomplishments of Mr. Sarr. As I accepted the award, I thought: “There is so much more work I need to do!”

It was especially humbling to meet World Education President Joel Lamstein, an incredibly accomplished humanitarian who was in fact present at John F. Kennedy’s announcement of the creation of the Peace Corps in 1960.

Here I am, standing tall, and accepting the award from  World Education President Joel Lamstein.

Here I am, standing tall, and accepting the award from World Education President Joel Lamstein.

It was so exciting to see my name in the program.

It was so exciting to see my name in the program.

There’s No Place Like Home

After the big event, David and I returned home to find our little girls sleeping! Before going to bed ourselves, Dave had me pose once more with my award. We plan to hang it in our home next weekend. Thank you, World Education, for giving us such special memories.

Standing Proud Next to the Piano

Standing Proud Next to the Piano

The Eclectic Mae Claire: “Taboos need to be lifted via pen and paper.”

Author Mae Claire is as multi-faceted as the island of Hispaniola itself. A Haitian orphan, Mae was adopted by Christian missionaries and raised on the Dominican Republic’s North Coast. After attending college in the United States, she returned to the Dominican Republic to teach history and English at an international school. Mae has also become a mother to three adopted children, and, in 2012, she met her partner, Mary. So, is Mae Haitian? Dominican? American? Black? Polyglot? Mother? Lesbian? Christian? Atheist? One thing is certain – Mae Claire is not easily categorized.

Mae Clair has written several novels and memoirs, including Jogging to HellWhat Part of Me Is Saved?, and Larimar. Her books are available through her shop on lulu.com. In this exclusive interview, Mae discusses her 2010 young adult novel P.S. I’m Eleven: Surviving Haiti’s Quake.

Mae Claire, A Novelist of the Caribbean

Mae Claire, A Novelist of the Caribbean

P.S. I’m Eleven is written in English, yet the narrative is certainly not an American style. Would you say the book is set up as a diary or does it follow a narrative pattern particular to the Caribbean?

This book is written in the form of a diary as I traveled to the border of Haiti and jotted down my observations. At some point in the book, when [the narrator] Antoinette is in school, she says that she is writing down everything that happens to her, and that one day she hopes to get it published.

Antoinette’s narration assumes that the reader is quite privileged for being in possession of a book. How do you see reading as a privilege? Do you think reading is a right? 

It is miles and miles to get to a source of education for Antoinette and her best friend. The assumption is that if you have a book, you have the means to get it whether it being via car, bicycle, or horse. In Haiti, checking out books is not a familiar concept. People read the books in the building. I went to visit my oldest daughter in college in August, and I noticed that the facilities are wonderful. I stepped into the library, and it was huge, all air-conditioned and fancy with wireless internet, desks, and everything the kids could ever want. But books? They were behind the circulation desk and were rarely permitted out of the building. Books are sacred, and only privileged people get to read them.

So for [Antoinette], having a book means you are either privileged, or, the concept of book-keeping is quite different. I currently teach 4 year old underprivileged children. Every morning, my routine includes reading a book. My [students] are fascinated by them. [One of the students] does not have any books in her house. When she comes to [my tutoring center] though, she is surrounded by books. Books are also super expensive, and there is usually only one copy of each, so to lose them would be a tragedy. One book would cost about 800 pesos ($23.50 in U.S. Dollars). I sell P.S.I’m Eleven for about 450 pesos ($13.25 US)  and people don’t even dish out the money.

P.S. I'm Eleven  - in Spanish and in English

P.S. I’m Eleven – in Spanish and in English

The book is full of religious imagery – mostly Christian. However, when the Haitian women are burying dead from the earthquake, a polytheistic chanting ritual is performed. I have read that Catholicism is the more official religion of Hispaniola, but what other religious practices exist on the island? Are non-Catholic or Christian practices considered taboo? How do missionaries influence the religious practices of Hispaniola’s residents? 

I think I have infused a lot of my personality and vision into Antoinette’s character, and this is where Christianity has become part of the imagery. I imagine myself in Antoinette’s position. If I had not been adopted at such a young age, I could see myself being her, being all of her.

Religious taboos are not really part of Haiti; if anything, the religions are a mix of everything and anything. They contact the gods, wherever the gods are, at any time, and in any situation. If the Christian God shows himself, then they talk to Him or Her. If the Buddhist God shows up, then that is who they work with. There seems to be little to no discrimination when it comes to their gods.

Missionaries have really created a discriminative perspective on spirituality as they claim that only Jesus can give you life to the fullest. But we know this not to be the truth, as there are many people groups and religious groups experiencing life to its fullest in a much larger spectrum. Missionaries have taught the people of the Hispanola to hate, judge, and discriminate against their own people. Christianity has not taught them to love one another unconditionally, but only to accept one another under certain conditions. Missionaries are the ivory of the ages. They offer food, drink, clothing, and health, and then open up their agenda book. They provide the physiological needs to later say “I told you so”.

What is your writing process like from the start of to the completion of a book? How do you plan your books? Do you have a writing routine? 

My writing process has evolved greatly. As an English teacher, I use writers’ workshop to teach my students how to create a good plan, complete the first draft, work on the second, revise, then edit with a teacher, and then, finally create the publishable draft. But the more I think of that process, the more I realize that not everyone thinks in such a sequence. It is a good idea in theory, but not in life. For me, i always start with an idea, and i build my writing around that one idea. The book I am currently writing, Gracias A Dios, is based on people’s opinions about a God who helps some and not others. I am using my experience and that of other people to formulate and finally create the book. I used to begin by starting at the beginning. But now, like in P.S. I’m Eleven, I at times start at the end. Sometimes you need to know what happens at the end to be able to create a wonderful beginning, middle and refined end.

You seem very in tune with the mind of an eleven-year-old. The book’s narration seems extremely authentic as Antoinette has many understandings of the world, but she still seeks guidance from adults. How did you find Antoinette’s voice? Did anyone in particular inspire you to develop her character? 

Before writing the book, I made a trip to Haiti’s border and spent time helping in a triage two days after the earthquake. I watched and listened and learned. I spoke with kids, around the age of 11. I then documented what i saw, felt, touched, and heard. I came home and then I worked with [cover model] Rocheyli in the summer. Rocheyli is part of the Mariposa Foundation. I spent time with her, at her house, with her family and got an idea of what she wanted in life. I found her character similar to my personality, and the character and voice I wanted for this narrative. I also considered this to be a book I wrote for my 6th grade students at the time. There was one student in particular who reminded me of Antoinette, and so I expounded on that. In short, three to five different kids influenced my writing and making of this character.

P.S. I’m Eleven addresses many topics that are normally taboo in young adult novels: perversion, menstruation, molestation, and lesbianism. Yet, these topics are extremely relevant to the lives of young people. Do you think it is an author’s responsibility to lift taboos? What prompted you to address these ideas through Antoinette’s character?

Taboo is a big word, especially when it comes to children and education. No one wants to step on people’s toes. But, I believe that taboos need to be lifted via pen and paper. If kids are reading it, parents can’t necessarily claim that a teacher has “said” this or “said” that. Alice Seabold’s Lovely Bones is a prime example of topics that are really poignant. My book was not openly welcome even in my school as the principal was afraid to answer questions if parents were to ask. But it is in their library, so kids can choose to pick it up if they please. These topics need to be discussed because children go through these things that are so relevant in their lives. In public schools, kids are dealing with all these topics and more. In private conservative homes, kids are dealing with these topics and more. So sometimes, if a child can read about it, and realize that the main character made it through, they may also acquire the hope that they too will survive. I wanted to address these ideas because i can’t leave them out. If I’m writing about Haiti and poor kids, then the need to include it –  it goes hand in hand. I want my book to encourage kids to ask questions. And hopefully, there is someone who can answer them.

How does the impact of the 2010 earthquake still affect Hispaniola today?
Kids are still homeless, parentless, motionless. No jobs, no money, more prostitution. More fear. Harder to adopt due to new rules, fewer buildings, but a new sense of hope, faith, love.
 

Our Little Free Library: Built by the Dines Family, Powered by the Roslindale Community

Hello, Literacy Change readers, I’m Jenn’s husband, David, and I’ll be guest blogging for this post.

We’re excited to finally give our Little Free Library its proper debut! While it’s been open for business for about a month now–and it’s definitely seen its fair share of activity already–we didn’t hang up the official sign until this weekend when I put the final touches on the paint. We think it looks great and are so happy that three generations of the Dines family collaborated in putting it together.

The Little Free Library on Cornell Street

The Little Free Library on Cornell Street in Roslindale, MA

Like Jenn, I’m an avid reader and all-around lover of books. When Jenn proposed hosting a Little Free Library at our home, I was 101% for it. I’ve seen other Little Free Libraries in Boston and loved the idea of providing our neighborhood with an inviting space to discover and share books. I’m so happy with the response it’s received so far.

I love checking it in the morning and finding a new set of books in it in the evening when I come home from work; while Jenn and I add a few books to the collection, it’s clear our neighbors are eagerly wasting no time in making this their own. I’ve met a few neighbors as they drop off books, with a few driving from a few blocks away to add to or take from the collection. I’m told by a neighbor across the street that he’s seen the same young boy take a new book from the library each day for the past week or so. I have no idea what books he’s taking home, but I couldn’t be happier knowing that this little fella takes advantage of the opportunity to find and explore new books.

Building the Library was a lot of fun.  My dad, who you can see below, is a great woodworker and must be credited with a majority of the work in putting it together. Jenn had sent some pictures of other libraries to him, and he took the idea and ran with it in his designing of the Library. He lives in Portland, Oregon, and thus had to do all the prep work over there so that we could assemble and install the library over the weekend when he visited recently. (Thankfully, his luggage came in a fraction of a fraction of a hair’s weight under the 50lb limit for checked luggage!) We assembled the library that weekend and I took a few hours here and there over the next few weeks painting it to match our house (which was it’s own small project), as I wanted it look like part of the neighborhood. You’ll see the handle I picked out below, which I think lends the whole thing its proper gravitas.

If you’re in the neighborhood, please stop by and visit our library, located at 185 Cornell Street, which is always open to share and accept what could be you or your neighbor’s new favorite book. Or, if Roslindale is a bit of a trek, check out the Little Free Library website and find one closer or host one of your own.

-David Dines

The humble beginnings of the library in our ad-hoc basement workshop.

The humble beginnings of the Library in our ad-hoc basement workshop.

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Humble beginnings part 2. We only found out that weekend that post/stand for the Library would take up most of our time, but it seems to be fairly stable and hopefully permanent now.

The regal lion who grants entrance and guards the valuable treasure inside!

The regal lion who grants entrance and guards the valuable treasure inside!

Rob "Pop-Pop" Dines standing proud and tall with the assembled Library.

Rob “Pop-Pop” Dines standing proud and tall with the assembled Library.

Adding the first books to the Library.

Adding the first books to the Library.

Three generations of Dineses helped put it together: Jenn was the Brains, Dave and Rob were the muscle, and Francine and Sophia provided moral support and final approval.

Three generations of Dineses helped put it together: Jenn was the Brains, Dave and Rob were the Muscle, and Francine and Sofia provided moral support and final approval.

Even before the Library was painted it was filled with the neighborhood's books!

Even before the Library was painted it was filled with the neighborhood’s books!

Adding the final touches to the paint this weekend. While it was functional when it was un-painted, it seemed a little shabby not having it painted.

Adding the final touches to the paint this weekend. While it was functional, it seemed a little shabby not having it painted.

Completed and Official!  The Little Free Library on Cornell Street in Roslindale, MA.

Completed and Official! The Little Free Library on Cornell Street in Roslindale, MA.

One Thousand Seven Hundred Thirty Nine Pages

Do you remember way back in July when I promised to read 25 pages a day for pages4progress? I did it! Well, I actually did a little more. Between July 13th and September 7th, I read 1739 pages – an average of 29.9 pages per day.

My Reading Ritual: Coffee, Post-Its, and Brookine Booksmith Bookmark on My IKEA Bird Tray

My Reading Ritual: Coffee, Stickies, Pen, and Brookline Booksmith Bookmark on My IKEA Bird Tray

Books I Finished During This Challenge

10% Happier by Dan Harris (non-fiction): A news reporter commits to a meditation practice.*

Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey through His Son’s Addiction by David Sheff (non-fiction): A family struggles to comprehend a teenage son’s addictions to heroin, crystal meth, and alcohol.

The Clue in the Crumbing Wall by Carolyn Keene (YA fiction): Teenage sleuth Nancy Drew searches for a missing dancer who is also the heir to an estate.

Con Cariño, Amalia by Alma Flor Ada and Gabriel M. Zubizarreta (Spanish intermediate fiction): A sixth grade girl deals with both her grandmother’s death and her best friend’s out-of-town move.

The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante (realistic fiction): A woman verges on madness after her husband leaves her.

Silent Dancing: Partial Rememberances of a Puerto Rican Childhood by Judith Ortiz Cofer (autobiographical sketches): Through poetry and prose, Ortiz Cofer recants her childhood in Puerto Rico and New Jersey.

Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess (professional): A veteran teacher shares techniques for increasing student engagement.*

The Year of Our Revolution by Judith Ortiz Cofer (YA realistic fiction): A Puerto Rican woman living in New Jersey comes of age during the 1960s.

Books I Had to Return to the Library Before Finishing (And Have Re-Requested)

I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (autobiography): A young Pakistani girl risks her life for her education.

Trout Fishing in America/The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster/ In Watermelon Sugar by Richard Brautigan (fiction, fiction, poetry): Through short tales and poetry, Brautigan captures American life in the 1960s.

The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square by Ned Sublette (non-fiction): This book provides a historical account of New Orleans from colonization through the Louisiana purchase.**

Books I Own But Did Not Finish Because I Was Trying to Complete the Library Books I Had Out

Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros (realistic fiction): A Mexican-American woman narrates her family’s history.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio (fiction): A young boy with a skeletal facial difference begins middle school.

*Read as a Talks for Teachers Summer Book Club Reading Selection

**Inspired me to make Shrimp Gumbo

Sofia: "Mommy - Count Me In for Next Year's Challenge!" Mommy: "Ok - I will!"

Sofia: “Mommy – Count Me In for Next Year’s Challenge!” Mommy: “Ok – I will!”