Funke inspiration

While the woman now on the stage had a magnetism that had drawn our eyes to her even when she had been over in the shadowy corner, I was, to be honest, a little nervous.

img_8730After all, I had take half of a personal day and pulled my children out of school for this. And not every author is a great speaker. But the kids had begged. “Please,” said Eric, turning his big brown eyes on me, “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” His brother, more self-possessed, simply added, “I really really want to go.” 

So I had bought tickets to see Cornelia Funke, author of the Dragon Rider and Inkheart series (among others), in the middle of the day on a Monday.

I need not have worried. Cornelia Funke was, frankly, amazing. Relaxed and funny, she filled the room, putting the young moderator at ease, telling us stories, opening her writer’s notebook for the next Dragonrider book to let us see her sketches, her playfulness. I thought Eric might fall out of his seat with excitement when she opened the notebook to show us a giant jellyfish she had drawn. Thomas craned his neck to see what else she had taped into those exciting pages. And then she read to us. Her hands moved, her eyes twinkled, her eyebrows raised and “she even did the voices!”

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The room was full of mostly adults and some teenagers, but Funke was keenly aware of my two boys and one other little girl, all seated in the front row. The little girl asked the first question during the Q & A and Funke complimented her, “What a great question! No one has ever asked me that before.” Afterwards, when we talked to her as she signed books, my boys were a little shy, but they warmed up enough to tell her about the sand sculptures they built during our winter vacation – sculptures of the characters from The Griffin’s Feather. They made me show her on my phone. Delighted, she gave them an email address and told them to send them to her so she could put them on the website.

As we left, Thomas said, “I’m so glad we went. She was… inspiring. It’s like I want to draw and write more just from listening to her.” Me too, as it turns out. Me too.

 

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https://twowritingteachers.org

Tidying up #SOL19 24/31

Buried deep in the folds of a soft blanket on the couch, Thomas whispered, “She’s so nice” and I knew we were in trouble. He was at home sick for a second day, something I can hardly remember happening before, and he had turned on Marie Kondo’s show on Netflix. It was that bad. Also, he was in love.

Thomas is our tidy child. He likes predictable days, down time and organized spaces, so I should have known that Marie Kondo would appeal to him. Once he felt better, he surveyed our home with barely hidden disdain and declared, “Our house is WAY too cluttered. We need to declutter and tidy up.” He was relentless and March Break was coming, so we spent a fair amount of March Break decluttering, as per Marie Kondo. And Thomas. 

On day two, I attacked the papers. Twelve years ago I moved from Paris to Ottawa. The year before that I moved from Washington, DC to Paris. In both cases, I had to fill out reams of paperwork – visa applications, work permits, teaching certifications, permanent resident applications, banking information, moving documents… Getting married in the middle of all this meant marriage certificate, followed by birth certificates, passport applications, dual citizenship forms… My whole life seemed to depend on a flurry of papers, originals and photocopies, sorted and organized into binders and folders and sent to various agencies or presented at kiosques to people who made decisions based on paper.

So I didn’t throw much out.

Actually, the evidence suggests that I stopped throwing out any paper at all. I had a lot of paper.

My husband and children gave me some space (hours and hours) and I went through the papers, a history of my life in documents, keepsakes and cards.

A horoscope, ripped from the newspaper and squirreled away for reasons I can no longer fathom
More than one to-do list, partially checked off
A moving announcement – the toddlers in the picture are now in middle school; the family has moved twice since this announcement – and baby photos of children who are now in high school
A Father’s Day card which I’d swear I’ve never seen before from my mother to her father when I was a few months old
Multiple bookmarks and untouched writing notebooks
French poems, papers, and general teaching materials. I haven’t taught French in nearly a decade.
A 22-year old checkbook register
Handouts from a course I’d forgotten I’d taken
A printout of an article I was quoted in from the Chicago Tribune
Patterns for sweaters that I am frankly glad I never made
Annotated texts I taught 20 years ago
Evidence of early decluttering attempts – saved, of course
More than one article proving that I’ve been worried about my weight forever. Sigh
Approximately a million cards from friends, family and former students. I was not able to throw away any of these away. 

In fact, Marie Kondo would be horrified by how much of this I kept, and I pretty much can’t let Thomas into the attic for fear of the righteousness of a 10-year-old, but I was pretty proud of how much I recycled and shredded.

And I was rewarded for all my hard work. In the middle of the keepsakes and the papers, I found a small envelope with a pink border and my name printed in pencil. It was thick enough to make me curious, so I opened it and found… 500 euros! Triumph! We just won’t discuss the fact that I haven’t been to Europe in 12 years and I have no idea who this came from or how long it’s been there.


This was obviously the ideal place to take a break. And after a few hours away, I realized the break could possibly extend for months, or even years. Those papers are still up there waiting for me, but that money is in the bank. And hey, someday maybe the memory of that will encourage me to follow more of Marie Kondo’s advice. Next thing you know, I might be letting my socks breathe or spacing my t-shirts out. Not so sure about keeping up with the papers. 

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Hey, Turkey! #SOL19 23/31

After yesterday’s post, which included turkey vultures, the children would like me to explain how turkeys have come to figure prominently in our family jokes.

Our camping trip had been largely a bust. We’d had a good first day, but now everything everywhere was wet. The rain came sporadically – just enough to keep us from doing anything but not quite enough to send us home. Mercifully, our tent wasn’t leaking, but keeping an almost-4-year-old and a 6-year-old occupied in a tent was taking a toll on everyone. Finally, after an aborted attempt to tell yet another story, Andre declared that it was “just water” and loaded us all into the car to go find a trailhead and take a hike.

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The children were shocked.

“But it’s raining!” protested one.

“And muddy!” objected the other, looking at me because I, too, was grumpy and this sudden decision to hike in the rain struck me as, um, unwise. I kept my mouth shut and tried to be impressed by Andre’s enthusiasm, but I was mostly annoyed as I imagined more mud in more places.

We shoved everyone into rain gear and drove the five minutes to the trailhead in silence.

As we got out of the car, the drizzle began again and a breeze shook water from the trees onto our heads. Commence loud complaining. Andre, whose ability to be creative and funny in the face of daunting circumstances never ceases to amaze me, stepped onto the trail then stopped short and said, “Ssh… you don’t want to scare the turkeys!”

Wait. What?

He crouched down a little and looked towards the forest as though turkeys might appear at any moment. “Ok,” he whispered, “these are special giant turkeys unique to this region. The biggest ones can get as big as a small car. Actually, one was nearly as big as our car.”

The boys looked doubtful. I was trying very hard not to laugh. Andre continued, “If we want to see them, we need to proceed carefully. And we need to call them. Do you know how to call a turkey?”

We all shook our heads no. Andre, still crouched and tiptoeing, started to gobble while the three of us, convinced he had lost his mind, just stared at him. Then I thought, what the heck, and I started to gobble, too. Thomas watched us briefly and joined in. We proceeded cautiously towards the trees, gobbling like maniacs. Only 3-year-old Eric hung back.

Andre turned around and said quietly, “C’mon, Eric, don’t you want to help call the turkeys?” Eric just stared at him. He shook his head.

Thomas and I chimed it, cajoling, “Come on, it’s easy, you just say ‘gobble, gobble’.”

Eric shook his head again. He was not going to gobble. The rest of us might have gone insane, but he was maintaining a firm grip on reality.

Andre tried one more time, “Ok, Eric. If you don’t want to gobble, how do you call a turkey?”

Eric fixed us all with narrowed eyes, put his hands around his mouth, leaned back and bellowed, “HEY! TURKEY!”

The rest of the hike was lots of fun.

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Bedtime Routine #SOL19 22/31

“I would like to be chased upstairs by turkey vultures.”

If this were Survivor, the contestant would be sweating. In our house, it’s bedtime.

Allow me to explain.

We have a really long bedtime routine at our house. It takes at least an hour – usually more – and, in addition to the standard washing and brushing, includes the kids reading out loud in French, me or their dad reading out loud in English, and often time for reading quietly in their beds. And lots of snuggles, some of which are code for “for the love of all that is good, stop moving your body.”

From an outsider’s perspective, that may seem excessively long, but last evening alone perfectly illustrates why our children need so much time to settle down.

7pm, our kitchen

I look up from commenting on a blog post. “Thomas, you know the rule: no handstands after 7. Are you done making your lunch?”

“Yes. Just let me get in one more good one. Wait – will you take a picture? No wait, a video. You can put it on your blog.” He continues to do handstands. Up. Down. Up. Down.

I stare implacably. No, wait, I don’t. I actually say, “Sure, one picture” because I am a sucker and I am tired. Plus, I am twenty-two days into a month-long blog challenge, so I will take almost any topic. Three handstands later, I crack, “Enough. That’s all the handstands for today.”

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In the background, his father is unperturbed. This child does a lot of handstands.

Thomas pleads: “Please…. Just one more. Wait, that one wasn’t good. One more good one.”

This time I hold firm and shoo him up the stairs. I am turning my focus to child #2 when my husband jumps in to help.

“Mr. Eric, do you need to do any more on your lunch or would you like to be chased upstairs by your father screeching like a Tyrannosaurus Rex?”

Long pause. Eric tilts his head and shoots his father a mischievous look. 

“I would like to be chased upstairs by turkey vultures.” He tears out of the kitchen.

And dad is up, running through the house, lifting his knees high, gobbling like a turkey while flapping his “wings.” Eric runs shrieking in front of him, swings around the newel post and flees up the stairs.

Don’t judge, it’s the fastest way to get him up to bed. But it does make a for a long bedtime routine. Good thing we all like the snuggles.

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Both…and #SOL19 20/31

In the next room, my younger son is saying “win-dow.”
“Good! Tap it,” responds his tutor.
A few minutes later she says “pay-per. Now, would you double that?”
“No!” He is confident.
“Right! Explain why!” she cheers.

They will continue on this way for the next hour. It’s a lot of work for him, but he loves this phonics-based tutoring and looks forward to his tutor’s arrival twice a week. Because of this intensive intervention, he is currently reading at grade level. We plan to keep it up and hope that eventually his brain makes all the connections he needs to be a fluent reader.

As they work, my thoughts keep returning to a Twitter “discussion” I was involved in this weekend. A well-known figure in the world of education tweeted a quote from a speaker at a conference she was attending: I would argue that most students who are in intervention wouldn’t be there if we just had good classroom libraries.

I nodded in agreement as I read this, but something niggled at the back of my brain. What was bothering me? I am actively working to develop my own classroom library, and my kids’ bedrooms are filled with books – “bedroom libraries,” I guess. For Christmas, a group of us parents gave one of our kids’ elementary school teachers a bunch of books from her wish list and a gift certificate to purchase more because we wanted to support her classroom library. All evidence shows that I clearly believe in classroom libraries. Yet my younger child, surrounded by books, still needs intervention in order to learn how to read.

I rarely respond to people on Twitter, but this time I really wanted to say something. After all, this person is widely followed; lots of teachers would read her tweet. So I tweeted back:

As the mother of a child with dyslexia & an English teacher with a classroom library I’m proud of, I really want to emphasize the “most” in this tweet. No number of good books will make my child a reader. He needs phonics for that. The books, however, will keep him reading.

This did not seem revolutionary to me.

Her quick response was XXX was not talking about children with disabilities, with IEPs, with dyslexia. Of COURSE all kids need explicit, systematic phonics instruction. But they also need time to read books they can and want to read.

All three tweets received some attention – a lot by my standards, probably not much by hers. And really, the tweets are all true enough. But…the more I think, the more my mind fills with questions.

  • How many kids who are in intervention do NOT have some sort of disability? I’d bet many of them do have disabilities. So… intervention might be necessary, right? It’s not a bad thing. And probably having a classroom library in and of itself won’t fix that.
  • How many kids are receiving “explicit, systematic phonics instruction” in school? Mine did not.
  • How many kids have access to good classroom libraries? I honestly don’t know. Probably not nearly enough.
  • Is having a classroom library enough to build readers, as the original tweet implied? Because I think we’re using “classroom library” as shorthand for having teachers who love reading, have the time to read regularly and share the books they discover with their students. And libraries also imply funding and time. I don’t want to undersell what teachers actually have to DO with classroom libraries to help kids learn.

I don’t know the answers to all these questions. To begin with, I teach high school, not elementary school, so my perspective is different. I’m not trained in teaching reading. (…yet! I’m signing up for a course that starts in April.) And I live in Canada, not the US, so I think intervention has a slightly different meaning.

Nevertheless, as I listened to my son learn, the niggling in the back of my mind finally resolved itself: the tweeted response – the one that says that the speaker was not talking about kids with disabilities – I don’t like that. I am uncomfortable with solutions that work for everyone except kids with disabilities. We already risk leaving these kids as afterthoughts when the truth is that students who fit this description are in most classes, and they deserve solutions that work for them, too. Equating the mere presence of classroom libraries, even good ones, to a dramatic decrease in the need for reading intervention veers dangerously close to the idea that these kids just aren’t working hard enough.

“Just have a lot of books available” sounds great on Twitter, but for up to 20% of our students (dyslexia alone affects between 5 and 20% of students depending on whose research you read), that’s not enough. My child is lucky: our family has the time and money to support his learning. I see high school students every day who have not had the same access to research-based reading instruction and who are suffering because of this. My classroom library will never make up for this, no matter how many good books I put into their hands.

That said, I don’t want to undersell classroom libraries. My son’s reading is thriving in part because of the books available to him, and I can personally point to high school students who have grown enormously when allowed to choose books that have meaning for them. I’m looking for a both…and solution. I want literacy instruction that helps all kids become readers – and I really don’t want the “all” part to be an afterthought.

I could keep thinking myself in circles here – though writing this has helped straighten my thoughts a little. I have considerable respect for the tweeter (and I’m not familiar with the presenter she quoted, but I’ll bet she’s thoughtful and concerned, too). I know that Twitter can erase nuance through enforced brevity and rapid responses. For me, this tweet seemed worth digging into.

In the next room, I hear clapping.
“Pi-rate,” says the tutor. “Which syllable has the stress on it?”
He can’t quite figure it out. They practice saying the word different ways and in funny voices, and he giggles when they get the stress wrong. Then, they do it again.

Phonics, multi-sensory learning and a lot of books.

He’s going to be a reader, this kid. He really is. 

 

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Tippy Cat #SOL19 19/31

This is our cat, Tippy. img_8330

She is not particularly interested in being introduced to you, but since I’ve insisted, she’s allowed me to post a few photos. She knows she is beautiful, you don’t need to tell her. (She’ll listen happily if you do say it, it’s just that she already knows.)

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She was a stray – a dilute calico with Scottish fold ears; the vet says she may have been bred by someone. She has really bad teeth, which are the only reason we can imagine that she ended up at the Humane Society.

When we got her, she was skinny and so sick that the vet thought she had a deadly virus called FIPS. They told us she would die within months. She had other ideas, and perhaps out of sheer willfulness, she lived and then thrived. She now looks at each day as a potential new adventure – or a time to sleep. Kind of depends on her mood.

Her early adventures might also explain why she turns into a crazy cat at the vet’s. They call her a “fractious kitty” and she’s only allowed to go to the vet for emergencies. Ahem. Oh, and she will knock anything she can possibly move off of any surface she can possibly reach. Paper, mugs, plants, containers of all sorts and more have met untimely ends since Tippy moved into our house.

She really, really likes children. She likes to play with them. (I swear this video is worth 10 seconds of your time.)

 

We cannot let her out in the mornings because she will go from bus stop to bus stop to wait with various children – then she will ignore traffic and walk into the street as though cars just aren’t a thing. She goes into the home of the neighbour girls. Just waltzes right in and hangs out with them. She once spent the night in an apartment nearby. They told us she just came in. When she was younger, she ended up on a community Facebook page because she was laying about in the street, reveling. People were worried about her. They also wanted to adopt her.

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Tippy really knows how to sleep

We tried to turn her into an indoor cat, but she was not interested in that plan. Now, she goes out and then knocks when she’s ready to come in.

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Knock, knock

She is a completely ridiculous cat.

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Ready for routine #SOL19 15/31

Quiet. 10:56 am on the last weekday of March Break and the house is quiet.

I woke up just before 7 and came down to enjoy a little quiet before I wrote today’s slice of life. I fed the cats, put on some water, opened the computer and started to read. I’d read two other posts when the first child joined me and took advantage of our alone time for a long snuggle before he went off to find his ipad. A friend who slept over last night shuffled into the kitchen a few minutes later, bleary-eyed and happy, and was soon followed by my older son, who arrived complaining that a loud noise “like a radio and a crash” had woken him up. I surmised that my husband was also awake.

Before my husband materialized, my mother-in-law came downstairs. She arrived late last night for a week-long visit, and I had been hoping she would be able to get a little more sleep. Unlikely once the kids were up. Hugs and exclamations filled the kitchen. “You’re so tall!” “I missed you so much!” “I’m glad you’re here!”

We settled in for tea and conversation as the children went to play. I adore my mother-in-law and had been looking forward to this morning chat, so we luxuriated a little. Not long later, my husband appeared, dressed and ready to go to coffee with a colleague. More chatting before he left. It was 8.

I made the kids English muffins with cinnamon sugar for breakfast. We finalized the details for a trip to the trampoline park this morning. Our guest’s mother called to figure out when she should swing by with appropriate (and clean) clothes for trampoline jumping. The neighbour from down the street rang the doorbell to ask if he could borrow our ice chopper, and we chatted for a few minutes about the weather, mutual friends, and his impending move to a different apartment.

I called the doctor to set up one appointment and then the hairdresser to set up another. I made a second round of cinnamon toast and harried the kids up to brush their teeth and get dressed. The mother showed up with appropriate clothes and came in for a visit. We double-checked on that whole “brush your teeth and get dressed” request and reiterated its importance as a life skill. Another friend texted to let me know that her son, who recently stayed over, has lice. As I gathered up the sheets from the potentially problematic bed and put them in the laundry basket, I realized that I had not brushed my own teeth; I was already keenly aware that I was still in my bathrobe – I hadn’t been able to get to my bedroom since my husband woke up.

I managed to brush my teeth while checking my son’s head for lice. Looked clear. The other family going to the trampoline park arrived, and everyone tumbled out the door into the minivan. My friend stayed for an extra minute, and we were able to locate her spare keys, which we had recently realized were not hanging on our key rack where they should have been. I transferred them to their proper place, and hugged my friend goodbye.

And then it was quiet. I sat down in the kitchen and looked at the blank document I had opened just before 7 so I could write today’s slice of life. A twenty to thirty minute commitment, more or less. Four and a half hours later, I’m done. I smiled and sighed at the same time: I will find more than a little relief when our regular routine resumes on Monday.  Life just keeps happening, doesn’t it?

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