I have come to fall in love with teaching in Catholic schools. What are YOU in love with?...

"Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination, will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do with your evenings, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything." - Pedro Arrupe

Sunday, April 29, 2012


Sometimes you just gotta get in there and shake things up.

My experience at today's reading institute did exactly that. (And I mean this in a good way.) With about 50 other people (with about 20 of those in my breakout group), I learned about the CCP (Consume, Critique, Produce) framework and its impact in the classroom. I don't think I can do the approach justice in the few words with which I am limiting myself here tonight (because, let's face it, I need sleep ASAP), but I at least want to give you an idea.

From what I took away, I believe that one of the main goals of the CCP framework is to scaffold students to the point where they are thinking consistently (in discussion and in writing) at a higher level (rather than just spitting back facts). Another main point was that we should scaffold student learning to the point of thinking about substance and presentation of an essay (or piece of writing) at the same time - in other words, to think about not only the content but also the effectiveness of the way it was written, including the author's purpose, word choice, and style. In doing these things, we are giving the students ownership of their learning and skills necessary to be critical thinkers of the world around them across grade levels.

A lot to take in, without doubt. Immediate implementation? Doubtful. But there are definitely some techniques and ideas I want to get started on right away...

Here comes Monday, ready or not.

Friday, April 27, 2012

There's something to be said for moccasins...

I've had quite a few firsthand lessons recently about not judging someone until we've walked two moons in his moccasins (or something like that)...

After some frustration of unreturned emails requiring feedback for upcoming religion lessons, I learned that one of my co-workers had her wallet stolen at a drugstore the previous afternoon on her way home from school...

Waiting to hear back from a friend about her plans for moving to Chicago next year, I was wondering why she seemed to be ignoring me. Later, a school parent at my previous school in AZ informed me that my friend's grandfather had passed away...

There were some other "lessons" too - I could probably go on for awhile - but the main take-away from these experiences for me has been that it's not all about me, nor does it always have to do with me. On any given day, someone could be so high, so low, or rocking the in-between based on factors that the rest of us may not even know about.

So, instead of jumping to conclusions or making judgments about a person's actions (even if that person is a complete stranger), it's so important to take a step back and just breathe - it's nothing to get worked up over. The best things we can probably do are be open about ourselves and the things going on in our lives as well as be observant and open to the things going on in the lives of others around us.

After all, there's something to be said for moccasins...

P.S. - My sister showed me how to make pages on my blog, so check out the tabs at the top - I added a page of classroom organization/idea photos as well as a reading resources page...

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Take me back to the Black Hills...

Social Studies - last class of the day today. And that's probably a good thing because my mind was wandering...to the Black Hills (of Dakota) and the Badlands.

For my immediate family, I am sure that neither of the above places need explanation of why my mind might trigger memories associated with them, but for those of you who have not spent countless hours with us watching musicals or attending plays in the park, allow me to enlighten you...

Oh, Calamity Jane, how you've forever shaped my vision of the "Wild West" and all its root-toot shooting and romance. I just can't help it when I hear the term "Black Hills" I think of one of your songs.

Take me back to the Black Hills,
the Black Hills of Dakota,
to the beautiful Indian country
that I lo-ove...

And, let's face it, when Kelly thinks of a musical, pretty soon she's got at least a hundred more songs on her mind too.

Now, as far as the Badlands go, there's a song for that too - though, I doubt one could ever find it on YouTube. This particular song I'm remembering was once sung in a Shakespeare in the Park performance ("Two Gents") based on Shakespeare's (duh) Two Gentlemen of Verona. The song itself is not entitled "Badlands," but, rather, "Bad Girls with Great Hair."

(It's a family favorite, I assure you.) 

It'd probably be a favorite of your family's too if you consider empty Lysol cans, poofy hair, air band techniques, costumes, and a video camera among some of your favorite things as an adolescent...mmm...better explain that, eh? Ok...

As avid fans of the annual Shakespeare in the Park shows, we (well, I think it was pretty much my dad's idea) decided to pay tribute to the shows by videotaping ourselves singing (well, mouthing) the words to the songs from the show's 10 year anniversary cd. It was really fun, especially when we got to the song mentioned above (yes, the one that helped start this tangent of both thought and word) because my sister and I donned dresses, put our hair into poofy messes atop our heads, rounded up some empty Lysol cans, and pretty much hammed it up for the camera. 

I'm not sure when the last time we watched that home video was, but I am pretty sure we probably died laughing. What clowns...what fun...

But anyways, I guess tonight I brought you along on my tangent of thought. I hope it provided at least some small smile or chuckle for your day.

And, hey, if you're ever in the Badlands (or Black Hills), think of me. :)

P.S. - Speaking of my Dad, Happy (almost) Birthday!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The power of picture books...for kids of all ages

Leave it to a children's book to teach lessons a textbook never could...

Enter the Wemmicks - a fictitious group of wooden people who live down the hill from their maker, Eli.

Now, these Wemmicks have a few different adventures (thanks to the author, Max Lucado), but the latest one I shared with my fourth graders was one with its central message about stewardship. The Wemmicks struggle to help a family whose wagon had broken as they came into town, and they must learn that while everyone wants to help right away, they each have a special gift to serve the family in a way that is unique to themselves.

It truly is a touching story (Your Special Gift) about how we are called by our Maker to discover our special talents so that we might better serve him and our neighbors.

A ha! Finally that Bible passage about the talents started making sense to my fourth graders! (Note to self - read picture book before Bible passage next year.) Our talents are only good if we acknowledge and share them!

There is so much to be learned from picture books, especially those with messages targeted at the very core of who we are and who we are called by God to be.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tuesday's out and about

It's amazing how many people are out wandering the streets, eating at restaurants, grocery shopping, and doing goodness knows what else after 9 p.m. on a Tuesday night...but it's true.

Wait, how do I know this? Why was I out and about?

I thought you'd never ask...

But seriously...tonight my parish hosted a dinner and discussion for all parishioners who participated in the Strengths for the Journey small group discussions during Lent. As it turns out, there were over 250 people who did this (not all of whom were at dinner), which speaks a lot about the parish and the initiative of its leadership.

Our strengths were even listed on our name tags...

The structure of the evening?

Food first, I always say - good rule, right? And they were smart to abide by it. There was quite a spread, especially of desserts, as everyone was asked to bring a favorite to share. Mmm...

Dinner was followed by a series of short personal accounts of three people's journeys through the Strengths process and then a brief talk by our pastor, Fr. Ken (who was enlightening, as per usual).

And then it was time for discussion - for which there never seems to be enough time - but it was fruitful, fun, and insightful. I met some new people and reconnected with some individuals who had been in my group.

One of my take-aways (of which I had a few but I won't elaborate at length here) from the evening was the idea of finding a sense of belonging through our strengths. As a group, we came to the conclusion that belonging to something or a group is not a passive process but an active one. You have to make an effort to belong - go to events, get involved, volunteer, meet new people. You have to put yourself out there to truly get that sense of being "home," and I think Strengthfinders (and the retreat I went on with YAC in February) provided such opportunities for me. It's such a tremendous feeling (and one that I've missed since leaving my home parish in Florida) to attend Mass and make connections - talk to people I know, share in discussions about faith, know about people in the parish and what they're up to.

And I am so grateful.

I pray that from this experience that I continue to deepen my involvement in the parish community and that I continue to truly feel that sense of belonging, friendship, spirit, and home.

I just have to remember (and I urge you to as well) - it's not a passive process.
It's up to me. Right. Now.

Monday, April 23, 2012

And so we begin again...

Tomorrow is going to be a great day.

No, not just great. Hmm...what's the word I'm looking for?...Simply splendiferous!

Why, you may ask? Well, tomorrow starts our final literature circle groups for the year.

And I get to lead Holes and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Um, yes please.


There will be a lot I'm expecting from the students in my group (see intro letter for Holes here), but it is, after all, the last novel study of the year. And these kiddos are ready for these books.

What will probably prove most challenging for this particular set of novels (the 2 mentioned above + Island of the Blue Dolphins and Shiloh) is that they are very different...and our groups are of mixed ability because they were chosen solely by student choice.

Here's crossing those fingers and holding on tight...

I'll let you know how they do. ;)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Reading for its own sake

Over the years, I have discovered that, while I do (honestly) love to teach all subjects, my 3 favorites are (without a doubt) reading, writing, and religion.

And because I am in a reading mode, that's what I'd like to focus on today. In fact, by this time next week, I will be at an all-day institute (yes, on a Sunday - and yes, by choice) that will kick off the half-week reading convention I'll be attending. Who's excited? This girl.

But why do I love to teach reading so much?

(If you even remotely follow this blog, I'm pretty sure I've gushed about all this before, but bear with me yet again.)

When students' eyes light up with excitement, or when students beg for more time to finish a chapter, or when students complain if we don't have time for read aloud (which I try to never happen, but one can't control everything) - those things make me smile. There are stories to be enjoyed in so many novels, and when those novels are shared through either read alouds or lit circles/book clubs, then that's when things really get interesting because the entire class can reference a character or theme, etc. And that really adds to the classroom conversations and discussions.

It's sad that many schools are turning away from teaching true novels and great literature in order to prepare students to score better on standardized tests (see this article for an enlightening read). Where's the love of reading in confusing paragraphs and multiple choice questions? I sure don't see it.

We need to get our kids excited about reading - they should be reading every day (and so should we).

Here are some websites (which I may or may not have posted before) that I have found useful for reading tips, suggestions, methods, activities, etc. Enjoy! -->

Good Reads (book recommendations and summaries on all kinds and levels of books)
The Book Whisperer
The Nonfiction Detectives
Book Peep Wonders
A Year of Reading
Teach With Picture Books
Choice Literacy - an article about Summer Reading

So read, read, read - and read those books and articles that make your mind think and that make your heart happy.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Field Trip!

There is something to be said for field trips. Seeing things firsthand and being treated to the "hospitality" of some very busy people always take me aback.

Such was true this morning as our fourth grade classes ventured to the NBC 5 Studios to take a tour of the weather studio and meet with a real meteorologist, Andy Avalos. (Honestly, a couple of our students were so excited they nearly exploded.) 

Being the nerd that I am, I LOVED every minute, as I am an avid viewer of NBC nightly news whenever I hit the treadmill at the gym on weeknights. So, you can imagine my excitement when we saw the anchors' desk, green screens, offices, and more.

The part that made the students the most engaged was when they had the opportunity to stand in front of the green screen and have the weather projected behind them. They even got to see themselves on the different monitors and televisions, even though they weren't really on tv. Mr. Avalos picked a few students to test their presentation skills by showing where the weather was headed (via the screen), and he even made one student disappear (through green screen special effects)! It really was fun.

It was SO fun (and inspirational), in fact, that I...

wait for it...

composed a short poem (to the tune of "Fascinating Rhythm") in honor of the event. (Ok, I just wanted an excuse to write yet another poem. Can you blame me?)

Fascinating weather,
You've got the wind a-blow
Fascinating weather,
Keep giving sunshine.

I just can't predict ya,
I really want to know
Why you're always changing,
can't make up your mind...

Ok, enough for tonight, right? Here's wishing you a weather forecast filled with plenty of sunshine and beautiful temperatures!

And I'll leave you with a quote Mr. Avalos had our students thinking about today - it's by Benjamin Franklin:

"Some people are weather-wise. Most are just otherwise."

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Read Aloud Challenge...

When it comes to reading, I am not usually at a loss, but we're having a hard time coming up with a new read aloud in our fourth grade classroom.

The challenges - to appeal to both boys and girls; to appeal to a higher order of thinking; to keep a whole spectrum of students engaged; to be short enough that we finish within a reasonable amount of time...

Tuck Everlasting, our last read aloud, did just that. It was a rocky start with a first chapter that would knock most adults into confusion, but we kept going, and the book rewarded our eager listening ears. Predictions were made, questions were posed, and most students remained attentive.

But what do we do now? Adventure or Fantasy? Mystery or Historical Fiction? Serious or Light-hearted? 

My gut instinct is to go with Zorgamazoo (a book where the style of Roald Dahl meets Dr. Seuss) - only a few students have read it (as per my recommendation), and it's been a favorite of my previous fourth graders as a read aloud. Hmm... Guess I'll sleep on that.

If that's the biggest dilemma right now, then I think we're doing pretty well...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Little Limericks

Tuesday's Little Limerick

A little more smoothly today,
and we didn't get carried away.
Lessons went well
Right down to the bell.
We made it through Tuesday - hooray!

No lies - we were far from perfect, but hey, we were much better than Monday. Perhaps it was because we mixed up the schedule a little more, or maybe because we introduced material they hadn't really seen before (i.e. specific info about our Cardinal and the Pope), or maybe simply because it was Tuesday.

No matter what, though, I can't help but say a prayer of thanks for days like this. At the end of the day, I wasn't exhausted or even frustrated. I was excited for everything we did.

As for tomorrow...
Wednesday's Little Limerick

Let's see what tomorrow will bring
With hurricanes, fractions, and things.
Rain might come our way,
So inside we'll play,
Staying engaged till the final bell rings!

P.S. - (As heard on NPR - and not totally unrelated -,) I want this man's job. Seriously.

Monday, April 16, 2012

And we're back...

5 more Mondays (not counting Memorial Day) - that's what we've got folks. Hard to believe, but I checked the calendar, and, yes, it's true. Crazy! Summer vacation is on the horizon...

No time to check out now - we still have lots to do. How do we stay focused?, now that's the question. (And, it's one teachers have been facing for ages.)

More movement or songs?
Less textbooks?
More "games"?
More short activities to meet attention span needs?
More creative planning?

Hmmm...Let the challenge begin!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Simple Saturday Poetry

In honor of National Poetry Month, I decided to treat you (well, I hope it's a treat!) to some simple haiku about my day. Hope yours was terrific too!

~ - ~ - ~

HAIKUs for a Saturday

Tulips all a-bloom
Up and down Michigan Ave
Such a splendid treat!

Ministry of Care
keeps me busy Saturdays
Blessed - that's how I feel.

School work and laundry -
Getting ready for the week
Spring break's nearly done.

Afternoon flew by -
NCIS marathon,
then dinner with friends.

Soon I'll head to bed -
an early run tomorrow,
Mass, relaxing too

So, tonight be well.
Make sure your Sunday's restful
My haikus now end.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Coming to the End

Vacation is a good thing. 
All good things come to an end. 
Therefore, vacation comes to an end...on Sunday.

Just got back to the Windy City this afternoon, and, while it's mighty good to be back, it's also somewhat sad to leave family and friends back home. Visiting and relaxing were much needed activities, and my sister and I definitely kept busy with family activities, dinners with friends, movies (like Moneyball), jogs around the neighborhood, a haircut, Church events, and more. (So good to be home.)

But, as noted above, vacations only last for so long, so this evening I spent some time preparing for an upcoming reading convention (SO EXCITED!) and reading up on the latest reading research.

I guess tomorrow will be time to focus on the upcoming Religion unit I need to plan, some grading I've left unfinished, and some leisure reading.

And with ends come beginnings - and I'm taking bets Monday will begin the students' countdown to summer break...

Monday, April 9, 2012



Boy, have I waited a long time (namely, 40 days) to say/sing that.

Lent passed relatively quickly for me this year. One day I was on a retreat the weekend after Ash Wednesday, and the next I was home in Florida celebrating the most wonderful Feast in our faith tradition.

It was all well and good, yes, but I still don't quite feel that I am currently where I set out to be at the beginning of the Lenten season.

But, then again, maybe that's okay. After all, the Easter season lasts 50 days (that gives us 10 more days than Lent did), so there's still time for me to make some of those changes I originally set out to work on.

Amen and Alleluia to that!

“Easter is truly a verb, a dynamic event pushing upward from the darkness into the light.” -Alice Camille

Have a truly blessed Easter season!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Tenebrae - light from darkness

Holy Week is most likely my favorite time of the Liturgical year, and that's because there are just SO many services and opportunities to spend extra time in prayer with the Lord.

Take tonight, for example. My sister, my roommate, and I met up for dinner at a local Mediterranean establishment (mmm...falafel...) before heading to Church for their Tenebrae service.

What is Tenebrae? You've never heard of it before?

Don't worry - I didn't know about it until a few weeks ago when I saw the ad in the Church bulletin. Here's a basic rundown (as read on the parish website):

Tenebrae is the Latin word for shadows or darkness. This liturgy is filled with the singing of Psalms and the proclamation of Scripture. The liturgy helps to set the tone for the coming three days of the Triduum. Seven candles are lit in the church. The candles are gradually extinguished throughout the liturgy until the church is plunged into darkness and a thunderous noise envelops the space. One candle finally returns to the church thereby bringing peace and illumination, symbolizing the continual light of Christ.

I liken it to Lenten Lessons and Carols. The choir's chanting was incredibly beautiful, adding to an already solemn and grace-filled liturgy.

And the part that made my flesh literally crawl with goosebumps was when the final chant was sung, the lights in the Church were extinguished, and the congregation rapped (rather loudly) on the pews until the lit Easter candle was brought back to the altar of the Church. (I did not see that coming...and it was awesome.)

As the Triduum begins tomorrow with Holy Thursday, I am kind of bummed I will not be able to attend Mass for the celebration of the Last Supper and the washing of the feet, but that's what happens when you travel home for the holidays. And home is the place I am greatly looking forward to return this weekend...

Monday, April 2, 2012

O Poem of Mine

There are many versions of the following poem (see picture below), and many people associate it with Audrey Hepburn (although, it was written by Sam Levenson).

I'm posting it now in honor of National Poetry Month (April) - it's one of my favorites. If you take a moment to read it, I think you'll understand why...

In college, I actually made a wallet-sized copy of this poem so that I could pull it out from time to time and commit it to memory. I also made a gift of it in the form of a paired photo frame - one with a picture of friends and the opposite with this poem laid over the background of a soft rose.

Poems are things of beauty - they should be read, savored, memorized, loved, and shared.

So, if you don't have a poem rolling around in your head, might I suggest you take some time this April to memorize one? I think you'll find it quite rewarding...