Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Knowing Kwame

Knowing Kwame

It was 2006 and the students of Stafford Middle School filled the auditorium, waiting in hushed anticipation for our writer-in-residence to appear. The doors burst open and a booming voice filled the space. A man, seemingly larger than life, bounded toward the stage, exploding a poem. The students were transfixed – and so was I. Kwame Alexander was in the house!

For the next few days, Kwame, writer extraordinaire, led writing workshops and helped teens find their voice. (All of this thanks to Kate Messner, teacher-turned-award-winning-writer, who arranged his visit.) Lucky me, my job was to make sure his visit went successfully, so I sat in on all of his workshops, learning from a master, just like the others. A memorable student quote that stuck with us and has resonated through the years: “Poetry is a get-together of emotions.” We bonded as kids poured themselves out onto blue-lined notebook paper.

It was powerful. And it changed my life.

Kwame Alexander is a man who embraces “YES” – he takes chances, seeks possibilities, and jumps all-in. This is why he has owned companies, wrote books, produced shows, and helped kids. Why he is now THE Newbery Award winner for THE CROSSOVER, his 2014 novel in verse.
THE CROSSOVER (photo from ala.org)

Our friendship was cemented in Brazil. Periodically, Kwame rounds up a group of writers and heads to some exotic local so they can commune with international authors, soak up history and culture, and work on their craft. When one writer had a conflict, Deanna Nikaido suggested they fill the spot with a teacher/writer. A contest was held. Interviews were conducted. And I was chosen.

Brazil! How many teachers have a chance to travel with well-known award winning authors? It was surreal. I figure I would earn my keep carrying their luggage or massaging their feet. Instead, they welcomed me as an equal – sharing their words and helping polish mine. Day after day I traveled, wrote, and learned from masters. Nana and I giggled when Kwame and Randy sang impromptu songs; we all wept when Lesléa read us poems about Matthew.
brazil trio
Since then I’ve tried channeling Kwame…seeking opportunities, spreading joy, and saying yes. I teach in a different state now, at a school for first-generation college attendees, children of poverty, and underrepresented minorities. Although my location has changed, my students still learn about Kwame, study his words, and hear his message: Say “YES” to life’s possibilities. Who knows? Maybe one day, one of these teens full of promise will share a gift of words with the world. Now when they see a shiny seal on the cover of their hero’s book – and their hero looks like them – they know anything is possible.

Embrace YES.

Kwame NCTE

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Our Now-Famous Pasta

This is my favorite summer dish - and one of our most requested recipes

The Light's Pasta Mediterranean

Cook one box of Farfalle pasta, as directed, then drain before tossing in extra-virgin olive oil. 
Put in the refrigerator to chill.

Prepare the following:
2 - 3 Tablespoons chopped basil
1/4 cup shallots, finely diced
1 container of cherry tomatoes, halved
1 ball of Mozzarella cheese, cubed
3 cloves of garlic, minced

Add ingredients to pasta, toss, then chill for about two hours.

Plating: When ready to serve put individual portions on plates. Grind a little pepper and shave Parmesan cheese over each. Finish with a decorative drizzle of balsamic glaze.

NOTE: For leftovers, I usually toss in a little extra olive oil before finishing the plating.

Please comment below if you give it a try - I'd love to hear from you!

Shopping List:
A box of Farfalle pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 container of cherry tomatoes
1 ball of Mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese wedge
Bottle of balsamic glaze

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Biking Germans

On our recent educational trip to Germany (with the Center for International Understanding), I loved seeing how so many residents used bicycles as a means of transportation.

Sign bike
When urban areas were redesigned, family-friendly areas and bikes usage were included.

bike garden
Bike racks were located near park cafes, office buildings, and subway stops.

Bike lane
All streets had designated bike paths OR a double sidewalk - shared between walkers and bikers.
One tour guide explained commuters in Munich have two bikes: one near their home, which they
ride to the subway, and then another one at their work station, which they ride to work. He said bike
theft was not a real issue.

riding bikes
Street crossings had special buttons for bikes to enter the roadway.

covered bikes

Different methods of protecting bikes from the elements were employed in various locales.

Double cover bikes
School yards and college campuses were filled with bike parking.
school bikes

vine covered bikes
This covering, one of my favorites, was in the solar district of Freiburg.

rill bikes
When I was a teen, I rode my bike everywhere - to school, practice, the beach. One day in college, while stopped at a red light, an elderly man hit me. My bike was mangled and I was scratched up and shaken. I couldn't afford a new bike, so that was the last time I rode.

After moving to NC and living close to the Tobacco Trail bikeway, I'm ready to try again. I can't ride my bike to work, as it is too far, but I can make some changes to save energy in other ways. So now, I'm saving up for a bike. Do you bike?

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Children in Germany

Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 10.12.30 AMChildren of GermanyBy Marjorie Light

As we traveled around the country (Teachers from NC with the Center for International Understanding), one recurring theme of discussion was the children, their freedom, and the relationship to their parents.

At a fountain in Berlin, I sat with my roommate Holly and watched children scamper across a jumbleof large slate rocks, with a bubbling waterfall cascading over a section. Parents set around the perimeter on a low wall: reading, chatting with friends, eating a snack. On the way back from our walk, we stopped by the same area. This time, there was a man on the rock fountain, following around a boy of nine or so, arms outstretched, as if to save him from a fall that never came. After a few minutes, we realized they were the only American family there.

At dinner each night, the group would compare notes. Most babies were carried in front backs, or ensconced in raised prams, within easy reach. They were nurtured and nuzzled. As the children grow, however, a time of play and exploration began. 

Berlin Child on Fountain Rocks

The children in the solar community played hide and seek in the green spaces or slid down incredibly fast slides.

The children of Freiburg play in the Freiburg Bächle (runnels or rills - dtich-like, water-filled streams), running after origami boats, splashing, or making dams with their feet.

DSC09617   DSC09438      DSC09519
Secrets shared over                  Boat Races                              Solar Community Sign             
Freiburg Bächle 

Community Playground Sign

We asked ourselves, from where did our culture of fear originate in the United States? Why, in a generation's time have we gone from a nation of children playing in the neighborhood to one of helicopter parents? Would you care to chime in with your ideas?             

Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer Reading List for Teachers

Summer Reading for Teachers:

Summer is when we teachers recharge, research, and plan. Not only do I read for pleasure by catching up on new middle grades and YA books, I also read to learn. When the school year begins in the fall, I will have finished a number of education-related texts, as well as worked on K-12 Curriculum Mapping and Common Core Curriculum alignment for my district. I love being a lifelong learner!

Below are some of the books on my reading list this summer, a few which shaped me as a teacher, and a peek at what I’ll be reading in August.

Understanding by Design, Expanded 2nd Edition by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe
Understanding Design
My principal said, “You must read this book – it is so YOU.” She went on to explain the book’s premise of designing lessons from an end goal and working backward. Since Mrs. Rudolph was so enthusiastic, I knew I had to get a copy. I’m glad I did.

Since working on my National Board Certification, I began looking at learning units this way. I ask myself what I want my students to know and why I want them to know it. Understanding by Design explains how teachers should be goal oriented, intertwine their work with other disciplines or use different strands from the Common Core, and be multidimensional with creating lessons. Throughout my reading, I’ve found so many great quotes about learning and education, as well as ways to strengthen my work in the classroom. It seems as if every few pages I stop and contemplate how the examples apply to me or how I can transpose a sample lesson into my own room.


The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller
Book Whisperer
I’m not sure how many times I’ve read this text…four? Five? Each time, however, I am reinvigorated and encouraged to take the steps needed to help my students on the path of becoming lifelong readers. There is practical advice on how to set up your classroom library, tips on conferencing with students about reading, and ways to streamline your teaching to allow for ample reading. Donalyn is one of the people I follow online, as well, so I can continue to get glimpses inside her reading-centric room.

Next on my list, the follow-up book: Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer’s Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, also by Donalyn Miller. I can’t wait to read her companion book. Isn’t that what we all want, for our students to become lifelong readers? Donalyn shares strategies to help us teach reading habits. I'm reading this the first week in July (after my Germany educational trip)


Real Revision by Kate Messner

Kate worked on this teacher mentor text while we were co-teaching Advanced Creative Writing in our former school. Watching this brilliant educator and award-winning author in practice was as much a learning experience for me as it was for the students. Now you can use revision techniques utilized by children’s authors in your own classroom. When students see the edits done by authors they know, they are more likely to tackle the revisions needed in their own works. Trying various editing techniques help ensure students discover the ones that work best for them, along with building up an arsenal of devices they can utilize when working on future writing pieces.


I Read it, but I Just Don’t Get It by Cris Tovani
Don't Get It
Writing with authority is what you’ll get from Cris Tovani. She is a full-time high school ELA teacher who also previously taught at the elementary level and worked as a reading specialist. When she explains how students make connections while reading and the technique teachers can use to help them increase fluency and comprehension, she knows her subject. Her passion for her work is also evident and the layout of the book is useful, as most chapters contain a bulleted summary at the end for easy reference.

If you are looking for further guidance, Tovani includes reproducible tools at the end of the text. These are great for helping students make connections with their reading.

So What Do They Really Know? By Cris Tovani
The author explores authentic classroom assessments that are practical and real.


A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby Paine
Understanding Poverty
In various studies I’ve found the majority of educators are from middle-class backgrounds. According to Dr. Jawanza Kunjufu, 83% of elementary schools teachers are white, middle-class females. For most of my life I have been middle-class, so those are the societal norms I inherently understand. Ruby Paine opens middle-class educators’ eyes with her (sometimes) controversial book on poverty. When I first read this book a few years ago, it not only helped me understand my husband’s background more clearly, it also made me a more effective teacher. If we already know from Bloom that children need their basics needs met before they can advance, Paine shows us how to successfully deal with poverty issues with empathy. Her questionnaires and examples help educators examine the underlying concerns people dealing with poverty have and how they look at their situation and the world impacting them.

Next on my list: Boys in Poverty: A Framework for Understanding Dropout, also by Paine

Now that you’ve perused my list, what teacher texts are you reading this summer? Which ones shaped you as a teacher? Please share your recommendations!
Happy Reading - Marjorie

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Japanese Poetry

Today my students conducted short presentations on various styles of Japanese poetry. Working in small groups, they researched the following: haiku, renku, renga, haiga, tanka, senryu, mondo, and - one of my personal favorites - haibun. Each group not only reviewed the rules of each style, but also shared the poem's history and gave classic and modern examples.

Their presentations were clear, well-planned, and interesting - every last one of them!

Tomorrow we are going to experiment with writing in the different styles. Perhaps I'll have a few to share...

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Beginnings

Early College High School (photo: Wikipedia)

The start of a new year: I'm beginning a new job!

Early College High School, located on the NCCU campus, is geared toward students who have a drive to succeed: they are high schoolers who will complete two years of college during their four years. 

This first semester, I'm teaching World Literature. We're going to examine how geography and culture shape writing; for each place study, I'm going to feature classic and contemporary pieces, fiction and non-fiction, poetry and prose.

As part of understanding each country of study, I want to infuse the author's culture into the class. We'll look at art, listen to music, and eat the food. Clips of Anthony Bordain will definitely make an appearance!

"If you want to know a country - read its writers" - Aminatta Forna

REQUEST: I'm gathering suggestions for both classic and contemporary authors (poetry and prose). The authors must be from Asia, Africa, The Middle East, Eastern Europe, or South America. (No British or American authors - that's another class)