Monday, July 28, 2008

Documenting Life

I have a collection of favorite daily blogs that I check and read while I enjoy my cup of coffee every morning. Regardless of the time, I find these blogs becoming part of my everyday life because there is always something I learn, I discover, I enjoy or reflect on. 
Ali Edward's blog is one that I check every day. As a lot of you already know there is a soft spot in my heart for anything and everything related to art: scrapbooking, journaling, photography, collage, etc. Ali Edward is amazing and she loves collecting stories through photographs. All this reading about photographs & writing stories made me purchase the book Kids, Cameras and the Curriculum: Focusing on Learning in the Primary Grades by Pat Barrett Dragan. 

I can't tell you much about this book right now, but it is one of the books that it is going with me to Paraguay and Argentina. My idea is to share with you all some insights on my learning journey about this topic through this blog. So stay tuned, a special edition of My World-Mi Mundo will be coming your way soon. 

Anyways, going back to Ali's blog. Ali Edward shared an interesting video on her blog today about Johnathan's Harris talk on TED:  Johnathan Harris: the Art of Collecting Stories. Thanks to Ali, I was able to enjoy an interesting video on different ways to document stories. Johnathan's project on collecting wishes was pretty amazing because something so simple was turned into something so special. I also enjoy just listening to Johnathan Harris, his words and choice of words are just beautiful. My favorite were: online footprints and glimpse of life. Check it out and let me know your thoughts about this. I love new ideas. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Oh! The Places I'll Go.....

Oh where I have been lately??? My friends, my friends...since my life has now closed an important chapter titled "Get Your Masters Completed"  I have been very happy to start a new chapter call..Oh! The Places I'll Go (titled inspired by Dr. Seuss, of course!). This new chapter in my life includes BOOKS, BOOKS, BOOKS! but here is the includes ALL kinds of books, books of my choice, I will travel to different places depending on where the author wants to take me. I am ready for some book traveling. My soul needs it. 
After doing some spring cleaning in July (donating clothes, selling stuff, fixing things, re-arranging furniture), I have been happily diving into some amazing books, mixing it up with pool time, and book clubs... so here's a peek into my basket...

Roscoe Riley Rules #1: Never Glue Your Friends to Chairs (Roscoe Riley Rules)

Roscoe Riley Rules #2: Never Swipe a Bully's Bear (Roscoe Riley Rules)
Roscoe Riley Rules #3: Don't Swap Your Sweater for a Dog (Roscoe Riley Rules)May I just say I love this kid? I won't be reviewing these books here because my friends at A Year of Reading have done a fantastic job reviewing it. It is because of them, that I put these books into my pile. The boys in my classroom would be GRATEFUL that there is a boy character out there that "rules" (so to speak!) And by the way...I can't believe the author of these young children books is Katherine Applegate, from Home of the Brave (one of my favorites!). She is so talented!
The Underneath I am also reading The Underneath by Kathy Apelt.  My friend over a Talkworthy reviewed this book as well, and when people have a great way with words, they are able to convince me right away that I should definitely put that book on the top pile. I am not ready to say much about the book yet...but I am loving the pace and the sound of the language in this book. 
42 Miles I enjoyed this book a lot! I like how simple and straightforward it is. Not too much going back and forth with the problem. She deals with it (what a concept!) and moves on to being happier. Life will be a lot simpler if we all have a little of JoEllen in ourselves! Why? Because she is very realistic with her situation but won't drag problems forever! Written in free verse with outstanding black and white collage illustrations (how creative!), I highly recommend this book!

And last, but not least, the book that has been getting most of my attention and time...TA DA....

Twilight (The Twilight Saga, Book 1)
How can I NOT read this book? I could feel Katie's excitement when she wrote about this book over at Creative Literacy. I was just counting the days until I finish my masters so I can devour (ummm....wrong choice of word considering the plot of the story) this book. I can't say enough about the book except that Stephenie Meyer is just a genious writer! seriously. what an amazing author she is, her stories are making this nation read like crazy which is always a wonderful thing! Of course, I already bought the other two books to take them with me when I GO HOME NEXT WEEK!!! 

Yes, I am going home to Paraguay next week. "Home" is where your heart is, correct? well, my extraordinary mom (and best friend), my amazing dad, my talented sister (the doctor in the family) and the blessing in my life: little Fabrizio (nephew) are all there. 
I will also be spending a couple of day in my beautiful Argentina, where I was born.

My sister has a conference there, so a lot of other doctors will be going, and I am just sneaking in with some old friends. I have the city for myself while those doctors are working hard! ha haha...

That's the reason I have also been spending some time in my classroom (already!) so I can have my room ready to start before I go home.
So, there are tons of things to do before my traveling date (next tuesday)  but in the meantime, I am off to my blue couch where my books are waiting. 
Have a lovely wednesday (and if you are in Columbus, OH enjoy this cloudy day, I like it for a change).

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Picture Books for Our Amazing Writers

There are so many wonderful inspiring authors out there to learn from. In these last couple of years, I am glad to say that authors like Todd Parr, Doreen Croneen, Sharon Creech, Margaret Wise Brown, Mo Willems, Kate DiCamillo, have inspired my students and I, and the results were brilliant writing pieces straight from the heart. When you have any of these amazing authors' books to guide you along the way, the journey is quite delightful actually.
For example when we read Love That Dog by Sharon Creech with one of my classes during Literature Circles, the invitation to write concrete poems was right there staring at us. After exploring the transformation that Jack (the main character in this book) went through with poetry, my students and I decided to "grow" along with Jack. First, he thinks that Poetry is just for girls, not boys. Then as his teacher introduces him to some great writers like Walter Dean Myers, his opinion about poetry changes. Even better yet, he is writing poetry and he doesn't even know it yet. My students kept their thoughts and notes about this story in their journals, some of them decided to respond to the book writing in free verse, like this example right here:

Her response to the book written in free verse (just like the book) is just beautiful. 
Jack also experiments with concrete poems which is always fun to try. My students did. Next thing I know there were concrete poems everywhere!

     So next time you read a great book with your students, put on your writer's lenses and see what you can discover about the craft, the language, the words, the style.  After all, it is safe to say we are all language teachers, and therefore, we should all be language observers!
Happy journey!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Picture Books for Our Amazing Writers

Before we jumped into pictures books and the connections to writing, I wanted to start this section in my blog with a writing project that invites students to look inside their hearts, record those important pieces on a heart mapping and connect those pieces with an "I AM" poem. If you missed this part of the process, you can just look back at yesterday's postings. 

After we share those poems and maps with our community of family and friends, I take a picture of their Mapping Hearts, give a copy of the picture to my students and they glue that picture in their writer's notebook so those "important ideas" about our hearts are right there whenever we need to go back and look at it again. 

From those hearts and those poems, a lot of ideas and knowledge about your students should surface. From there on, I think carefully about the books I read aloud or the ones I use as mentors because I like to "try" to make connections the best I can between the picture books I read or the ones we use as mentor text and their lives. And I say  "I try" because it is not always possible and because sometimes it is just fun to read a book for FUN. and that is simply OK.

Now, I invite you to look at the book Someday by  Eileen Spinelli
Someday I love this part of the book, it reminds me of my good friend Natali (an Olympics Fanatic)...
"Someday I am going to be a gymnast at the Olympics. I will tumble and twirl across the mat. I will leap into the air as gracefully as any ballerina. The judges will swoon with delight. I'll win the gold medal! Someday...
As for today-I am practicing cartwheels in the backyards"

This book is just beautiful and what a great invitation to write about your "dreams" and your "nows" about your tomorrows and your todays. If I were to write something like this when I was 9 or ten, I was positive I would have written something like this...

"Someday I am going to be a teacher, I will teach children a little bit of everything, how to read, how to write, how to do mental maths, how to push yourself in the swings really high, how to jump rope with all kinds of silly rhymes. Someday...
As for today, I am playing teacher with my best friend, and we are taking turns teaching math."

If I were a mom, I would love to do a writing piece like this with my child so I can record his hopes without forgetting his NOW. And talk about taking this piece out in a couple of years to look back at life. 

What about you? what about your NOWS and your HOPES. I don't care how old we are, we are all entitled to dreams, and possibilities, and to a present. 

Since I am keeping a summer journal along with my ELLs students, I will go now and write an entry about my Someday (Inspired by Eileen Spinelli).

What about you my dear friend? dare to dream? dare to look at Today and Tomorrow...go ahead, grab a pencil, pour your heart out on that paper, give yourself  permission to dream.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Pure Happiness...

I believe there are not enough words out there right now to describe how THRILLED I am that I completed my Masters of Arts at The Ohio State University!!! whooooohoooo! My oral defense was today and thanks to God and to all the good friends' thoughts and prayers, it went REALLY well. My advisor  brought tears to my eyes and when she looked at the other professor who was in the oral defense as well, and said, "I haven't recommend anyone  for the PhD Program in the past couple of years. I remembered I did it once for this girl who has tremendous potential. So I am happy to say Stella that I will be signing this part of the form for me. I would love to see you here with us". WOW. and next thing I know I look like Niagara Falls...tears of pure happiness running down my face. I want to remember this moment. I want to remember this day...the day  I got to make one of my dreams come true! 

Thanks to God for its guidance and for never letting me go of his hands. Thanks to my family for believing in me and supporting me even when we are miles and miles apart. Thanks to my friends for their calls, messages and texts until the last minute today, my bloggers friends who have been leaving positive messages, my here friends, my way over on the other side of the world friends for trusting me that I will make it to the end.   

*sigh* (the good kind)

Picture Books for Our Amazing Writers- Introduction

I believe:

Children's boos should be at the core of any literacy program. The benefits of immersing our students in good literature are countless. I can't imagine teaching without them. The best of my teaching moments stem from a piece of literature. I can honestly say that. Regardless whether you have English language learners in your class, all students benefit from a good story. The possibilities? infinite. 

Wonderful mentors like Donald Graves and Lucy Calkins encourage teachers to choose books that have some connections to students' lives, relevant to their background (especially powerful with English language learners). Well...where do we start? how do we go about finding out more about our students as individuals before we start diving them into children's books?
We have to take the time to get to know them. Well, here is an activity we have done with the ELLs in my class and the classroom teachers at my school. Check it out...

 I am sure that you have encountered once, twice, too many times with this statement: when children write from the heart, their writing becomes relevant, significant, different. I couldn't agree more. But how do I know what my students care for? how do I find out what worries them, what makes them happy, what they fear, what they look forward to? Taking the time to know our students is a must. But it sure does take time. In my case, with 69 students this past academic year, it was sure a challenge (my huge plus is that I get to see them again next year ;) lucky me. )

After reading, Awakening the Heart by Georgia Heard, I was totally inspired to take my poetry units to the next level. Her wonderful idea of heart mapping is one that many teachers are familiar with. The idea is for students to look inside their hearts and find out what truly matters for them. They can capture this idea with words, pictures or a combination of both: pictures and words. First, I ask my students to just brainstorm in their writer's notebook the possible ideas that might go into their heart mapping. Usually the list is too long, and not everything can fit in their heart mapping. Therefore, it is time to do some "thinking & choosing". I really emphasize on this idea, it is not just "crossing things out". I encourage them to think about what is really close to their heart and it will be just wrong or incomplete not to have that. 

After some "thinking & choosing" it is time for the design of the heart mapping. Children enjoy this process a lot where creativity runs free! While all this is going on, my students and I have extended an invitation to their classroom teachers to be part of our "Writing from the Heart" project. Like I said, it was an invitation. Teachers are very busy people, so it is understandable if they decide to "pass" on this project. My purpose for inviting their teachers was because I think it is very important for students to see their teachers as writers as well. We are truly "role models" when our students see that reading and writing is part of our lives as well. 
So, the invitations were sent to their teachers and their responses were outstanding. Most of our teachers were participating (I was so proud of them!). So, now as students and teachers (myself included, of course) were working on our heart mapping, we were also working with an "I Am" poem that would support our heart mapping project. For this poem, we have to put our "hearts" out there because the "I Am" poems are a deep inner journey on what we hold dear to our hearts. 

So students look at their heart mapping to come up with the ideas that would go into their "I Am" poems. For students who are just not sure where to start, I found this wonderful poem starter at the Read*Write*Think website. 
I don't usually like to use writing starters but when I look at this poem starter, I noticed right away that this has potential. Why? Because this is a true invitation to dig deeper, when you ask students to share what they fear, or what makes them cry, we are truly asking them to write from their heart. 

So, we embarked on this journey together: students & teachers writing, creating, digging deeper in their hearts. I must  say that although, I get to work with my students year after year, after we finished this project, I can truly say I found out a lot more about my students as individuals. And this helped me tremendously when it was time to choose children's books for our units of study in writing workshop, or literature circles. I knew better how to connect my
 students' lives with the literature I was about to bring to my classroom. And that made all the difference in the world in my teaching. 

Our final projects (the heart mapping and the poems) were displayed at one of our "longest" wall in the school. One of the 4th grade classes has decided to do this project as well as a whole class. I was glad to see that they wanted to be part of this project as well.  Everyday I would see a parent, a grandma, a teacher, our secretary, the principal stopping by and reading their work. I will never forget a Dad's reaction when he found his daughter's work up there, he said, "this is my girl right here! wow!" and he took his cell phone camera and took a picture of his daughter's work right there. That moment was priceless.

I honestly can say that after this project I...
  • learned more about my students' lives
  • learned more about the teachers I work with
  • learned that we all have fears and hopes and sometimes it just really helps to put it in writing
  • children LOVED seeing their teachers as writers
  • we are so different but there is one thing that we ALL had in common:
We All Have Stories to Tell.

Saturday, July 12, 2008


There is a saying in Spanish, "El hombre propone y Dios dispone" which basically TO ME it means, "man has its own plans, but God makes the final decision.

So my friends, here is my story: I have been sharing this with my friends because this is an important part of my life right now: finishing my Masters of Arts at The Ohio State University. It has been a dream of mine for quite a long time (let's say since I was a little kid, I dreamt of graduating from an American college). So you can see why this is a big deal, at least, for me

So, let's go back to the saying that I posted at the beginning, and let's divide it in two parts (go along with me on this please, it will make sense at the end...)

Part I: man has its own plans
The defense of my position, synthesis paper and portfolio for graduation was scheduled (five weeks ago) for July 22. That would be my big day. A week before July 22 (that means, July 15) I would turn in EVERYTHING to my advisor and my second reader (another professor) to read before the defense. 

Friday July 11: my plans were to go through the revision process on my position paper ONE MORE time. And work on the next four days  finalizing my portfolio (which actually there are two-each professor gets its own copy of the portfolio).  

Part II: God makes the final decision

I've decided to treat the business of writing two papers as my full-time summer job. So I make the commitment to myself to wake up early (as if I am going to school) and work full time.
So, thursday July 10, was another early day for me. I woke up at 6:00, had my coffee, read my favorite blogs, and by 7:30  I was ready to start working at full.

I emailed my advisor midmorning just to make sure everything is still going according to plan. Everything is good from her end. I emailed my other professor, not so good from his end. He is actually going to be out of town on July 22. Which means...

Let's put part I & part II together of the saying in one sentence and let's call it: Results

I had to turn everything YESTERDAY Friday July 11 by noon: portfolio (2 copies in a three ring binder), position paper on Literature Circles and ELLs and synthesis paper on Best Practices for Teaching Writing to ELLs.

And my defense is now scheduled for Tuesday July 15 (yes, that will be next week).

After those shaky news, there was no time to even be upset, I got to work right away trusting God that there is a reason (beyond my understanding at that point) for working things out this way...all I could do its say...countdown has officially started. I worked on thursday from 10:00 am till 4:00 am in the morning, went to bed for two hours, woke up at 6:oo am and finished my work at 12:10 am. 

It was intense. Too intense. But I managed to do it and not disappoint anyone (myself included). I wasn't alone. I felt someone (up there) was holding my hand the whole time. 

I didn't have time to cry...until 12:15...but those were happy tears.

I am taking a little break from blogging to prepare myself full time for my oral defense on my works. So close to the finish line...


I will be back next week for a week of "Picture Books for the Brilliant Writer's Mind"
Have a great, safe weekend friends...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008 to my ears...

Bedtime With the Beatles (Blue Cover)
oh...I found a new CD I am really excited to add to my classroom collection. My students by now are so used to listening to calm music (sometimes, not everytime). But sometimes when that writing workshop session is going so well, some smooth music seems to encourage even more inspiration.  My new find: Bedtime with the Beatles by Jason Falkner. The songs are the instrumental versions of classic Beatles Songs like Blackbird, Across the Universe, Mother Nature's Son, among other great classics. And I found out that on June 17, they released Bedtime with the Beatles 2. I can't wait to get that one as well. Music, like art, like books is something we all need. 
p.s. Please let me know if there are other great children's cd out there. I love finding new music. Happy Tuesday everyone!

Monday, July 7, 2008

My Seven Years in the USA

This weekend 4th of July Celebration took me back to 7 years ago when I left Paraguay to come and live to the United States. So, yes, I did celebrated 4th of July, but I also celebrated 7 years in this country. When I arrived in this country, I was wearing all the adjectives I could possible have...I was optimistic, courageous, fearful, strong, determined, doubtful. Could you "be" all these at the same time? Yes, it is possible. I came to the United States with big dreams, I wanted to go to college (since I was little), I wanted to be in a big city or at least visit one, I wanted to teach in the USA, I wanted to see places that I saw in magazines when I was in Paraguay, I wanted to see New York City, I wanted to stand in the middle of Times Square and take it all in. I wanted to breathe different airs, and tried different foods. I wanted friends that came from everywhere! I wanted to make a difference somehow, someway.
Seven years later, I can say I am blessed to put a "check" next to all these dreams. God has given the strength I didn't know I had in me to live faraway from home, from my friends, from my culture in order to make my dreams come true. He has walked with me, holding my hands all these years, and luckily he still does. It hasn't all been easy or sweet since I got here, I have definitely ridden the roller coaster ride  of life but looking back at all these years I can say...
I made it. 


Friday, July 4, 2008

Happy 4th of July ...

Have a wonderful day my friends....

I will also be having a celebration of my is MY American Personal Celebration = 7 years since I moved to the United States! here is a toast (with OJ, of course!) to Independence Day and my 7 years in this great country!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A great book to remind us all...

Little By Little that we are ALL learners. Little by Little by Amber Stewart and Layn Marlow reminds me of our students in a lot of different ways. This is the story about Otto who has I CAN list of the many great things he can do like roly poly (forward and backward), mud sliding, making sand castles, but there is one thing on Otto's CANT do list: swimming. Now please read the following lines from the book...
"Sometimes, Otto would pretend he could swim..."
"Other times, he would run along the riverbank, trying not to be left behind..."

These lines from the book remind me of my English Language Learners, who "sometimes, they would pretend they understand all, other times, they are just trying to keep up by saying and repeating all the English words they know trying not to be left behind".

At a staff meeting, when I shared with other teachers in my school some relevant information about working with ELLs, I quoted the book Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus because I was trying to make a point that learning a foreign language takes time, and that not everyone "bloom" at the same time. Well, I think Little by Little is a new book I will be sharing with the other teachers as well to make my point because at the end, Otto's mom helped him learn how to swim by breaking the steps down and doing it little by little ( a great message for us teachers! step by step!).

I truly enjoyed the illustrations in this book, every background page was kept simple by keeping it white all along, except when you get to the part where Otto goes way down to the Deepest-Ever Pool...makes you just want to clap for him, because he finally got it, and you can tell through the pictures it feels so good. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Playing with cards

So...if I have to tell a little about me with a couple of playing cards, what would I say? what would I choose to say? this afternoon, I hid in  the studio room, put some background music on my I-pod and started playing with paint, textures, and graphics. This is what I came up with...
* friends are important to me. *relaxing is crucial. *my apple computer is a must! *Starbucks coffee when I am really really tired. *enjoying coffee with friends. *writing and receiving mail: love it and miss it at the same time. 
Found a perfect little things to display these cards as well. In the meantime, I was wondering how can I apply the same concepts but for the classroom? ideas ar
e welcome. I'll keep pondering about this one.