You knew it was coming

So, I've been thoughtfully weighing my options for my first major bag purchase. Depending on the price range, I will either be saving for a couple months or making a purchase towards the end of September. It's sort of a funny time of year to be shopping, as the s/s stock is going on sale and the a/w items are sort of just making their way in. I'm looking for something that is equal parts functional and chic. The amount of plain old stuff, aside from teacher stuff, that I carry is immense, so this bag must be able to fit all sorts of unneccesary cargo without becoming misshapen. I'm kind of lost on color right now. Obviously, if this is a bag I'm going to be carrying most of the time, a neutral will have to happen. I think I have enough black to hold me over, so I will probably be aiming for something in the bone-tan-camel-brown spectrum (there are lots more fancy color words that would work better here, I'm sure). I'm also open to greys.

A few notes:

1. I am entertaining the idea of purchasing from Barney's Coop, as they have just given the go-ahead for their workers to unionize.

2. I was initially very taken by the Sissi Rossi bags I was eyeing last autumn. I love the idea of choosing a brand with which most of the general public is not terribly familiar. The colors were spectacular and the shape of the bags seemed perfect for me. Unfortunately, the bags available right now have lost something that caught my eye last year. While I still appreciate the shape, the designs are much less interesting and more run-of-the-mill.

pic barneys.com

The knots are really not my thing. The color pallet wouldn't really work with my complexion--this and the blue seem like colors that would totally wash me out. Of course the fall items have not yet become available, so I might wait this one out.

3. I lurrrrve the idea of going the Miu Miu route; the bags included in the a/w rtw were an interesting intersection of professional chic and Miu Miu wacky playfulness. Professional, wacky, playful. . . I like where this combo is going. I think what I've come to love so much about the Miu Miu division is the lack of taking oneself too seriously (I mean, jockey outfits? diver suits?). The color scheme seems accessible. I can see where this might be a really versatile bag for work & play:

pic style.com

4. Lanvin. O Lanvin. How you tempt me. Right now, it's the Pise Sac, though blue cracked patent is not by any stretch of the imagination justifiable to my everyday wardrobe. Otherwise, the Kentucky is, of course, laughably large for my vertically challenged self, despite my regular indulgence in bags entirely too consuming for my frame. However, a Kansas. . .


pic barneys.com

5. Three very simple initials: YSL. I'm not so sure I'm ready to put in this kind of savings right now. I mean, I should be saving for. . . say, a future mortgage, right? But I mean, come on. Can a bad day even be a possibility once you're waking up to this baby (from the Fall collection)? I would happily stare down the most overwhelming month of lesson plans (which happens to be March, of course, unless we are granted an uncommonly early Easter) with this in my sight:


6. Gryson, wayyy before the Target collab, has been a fav. Everything about Joy Gryson's designs seems to appeal to my lifestyle. The bags work for young things, as I fancy myself, but completely avoid being trendy and remain something I will be using 5/10 yrs down the road. I can't wait to see the fall stock. How much do you love this?:


7. Givenchy=love. Behold:

photo barneys.com

So there you have it. My considerations for the moment, poised to change on a whim. Please feel free to tell my why my maybes should or should not remain so. And by all means, bring on the suggestions.

When in... uhm... Maine?

So, thanks to perhaps--no, certainly--the most wonderful professor in the world, I had the distinct pleasure of spending 4 days in Boothbay Harbor, Maine for a literacy retreat--a sort of reenvisioned professional development conference--with some MAJOR names in adolescent literacy. The topic of the "retreat" was 21st Century Literacies--what sorts of new (and existing) literacies will students need to move successfully through this new, Globalization 3.0 (<- Tom Friedman's term) world? Ladies and gentlemen, I was standing literally 4 FEET from Kylene Beers (president elect of NCTE) and Bob Probst for 4 days. What's more, Sara Kajder did the afternoon sessions! This was an amazing opportunity I will simply never forget. Further, I had the opportunity to meet my absolute hero (isn't she everyone's?): Nancie Atwell! I met her in the bathroom, of all places! I swear I wasn't stalking her. I had her all to myself for like a whole 2 minutes. She joined us for an evening and spoke with a passion that brought tears to my eyes. When I asked a question at the end of her session, she spoke to me so personally it was as though the other 80 people in the room vanished. She so graciously signed my copy of Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons. What's that you say? You'd like to know, word-for-word, what this sage, this modern-day prophet, could possibly write to a novice such as myself? More than happy to oblige:

"Dear [me]--

With all best wishes as you and your lucky students name the world together.


Sigh. . . And yes, her handwriting does look exactly as it appears on the neatly-written resources she includes in her books.

In related news, I purchased the most adorable bell for my new classroom--it's silver and the top looks like a little anchor. It will always remind me of this special trip.

Oh, and my 20 hrs of prof. development for 2008-2009 school year? Done!


Purpose BTW

She who shall not be named said it best:

My friend and I have decided to start blogs about our new-teacher experiences because we've noticed a void on the internet where new-teacher blogs should be. So we're filling the void. We've decided to start writing now as opposed to in September, because maybe we'll stumble upon some kind of profound transformation process if we eventually look back at posts written by our pre-teacher selves. Also, we just graduated college and don't really know what to do with all this free time.


Rather Apropos

As George is in the midst of selling another war--this time with Iran--I am saddened by the lack of public (and, in some cases, journalistic) outrage or even basic acknowledgement of the reality that this administration believes that, until the last drop, they are isolated from any iota of accountability to the public. I'm devastated by the possibility that they are quite right in believing so. I can't imagine that W. & co. (and YOU and ME and CONGRESS) will allow another country full of children (and mothers, and fathers) to live (and die) in a warzone. Did you know that 30% of Iraqi children, as of June 2007, showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder? See Tomdispatch's 2007 article on Iraq by the Numbers here. I remember tearing up as I read this last year. I won't even start on the state of veterans' care in the U.S. (see article at bottom of post for more on this). It seems as though the longer this war drags on, the less we hear about what it is costing us, as a global society, in human life.

So, rather apropos, here are the lyrics to one of my favorite songs by an artist I've been listening to since I was quite literally in utero, Jackson Browne's "Lives in the Balance:"

I’ve been waiting for something to happen
For a week or a month or a year
With the blood in the ink of the headlines
And the sound of the crowd in my ear
You might ask what it takes to remember
When you know that you’ve seen it before
Where a government lies to a people
And a country is drifting to war

And there’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who send the guns
To the wars that are fought in places
Where their business interest runs

On the radio talk shows and the t.v.
You hear one thing again and again
How the U.S.A. stands for freedom
And we come to the aid of a friend
But who are the ones that we call our friends--
These governments killing their own?
Or the people who finally can’t take any more
And they pick up a gun or a brick or a stone

There are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

There’s a shadow on the faces
Of the men who fan the flames
Of the wars that are fought in places
Where we can’t even say the names

They sell us the president the same way
They sell us our clothes and our cars
They sell us every thing from youth to religion
The same time they sell us our wars

I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die

And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

Also, the following links to articles on the possibility of war with Iran and the lack of focus on the cost of human life (of Americans and Iraqis alike) in Iraq may be of interest to you. Znet is a wonderful source for independent, solid journalism:

Where are those Iranian weapons in Iraq?

Where are the Iraqis in the Iraq war?

VA Debated PR Plan on Vets' Suicides


Minding the Gap...s: Kylene Beers and NCLB

An anecdote (I never said I wasn't longwinded):

Back (a whole month and 3 days ago. . . seems absolutely like centuries) when I was student teaching, I was responsible for, in addition to my 9th grade English 1's (tracked), a "[name of test would reveal location] Skills Lab" class. The Skills Lab was a semester course in which students prepared vigorously for the standardized high school proficiency state test. I had 3 young men in this course--2 Latino students and one African American student. These young men were placed in the course because their teachers, either from the current academic year or the one previous, believed that they lacked test-taking skills necessary to pass. Being the me that I am, I focused heavily on assisting students with developing their reading strategy repertoire, and spent perhaps one out of every 4 days focusing on a "test-taking skill," as per my cooperating teacher's (or the school's? or both? never really clear to me). . . agenda. I should mention that the students were 10th graders, and thus would not be taking the standardized test until the following academic year. I should also mention that their confidence levels were drastically low--probably a result of being tracked into courses where expectations were low, and perhaps support was even lower. I knew that these students needed more dire intervention in terms of their reading and writing skills, and that it was unfair to expect them to craft "adequate" responses to a variety of standardized test when they were not comfortable with their reader and writer selves. So we spent time developing all of the regular good reader strategies--questioning the text, predicting, visualizing, etc.--and I also managed (don't ask me how) to sneak in some independent reading.

During independent reading, I noticed immediately that Paulo moved his lips and whispered the words aloud as he read them on the page. Paulo's book choice was not a particularly challenging one--it was Walter Dean Myers' Monster--so I wasn't convinced that the issue was related to confusing prose or syntax. And he seemed to recall the basic plot with little difficulty as we conversed about it, so I wasn't concerned that rudimentary comprehension was being hindered. Still, I knew that Paulo's difficulty was making the act reading much slower for him--I remember thinking that it must feel painfully slow. Being the novice that I am, I went straight to the source--When Kids Can't Read, What Teachers Can Do (Beers)--and discovered that Paulo's specific issue--fluency--could be improved by practice with high-frequency words. Very simple: the less time you have to spend decoding the words on the page--especially words that are going to show up over and over again--the more time your brain has to make meaning of the text, and thus your understanding of intricate events and characters will be deepened. So, armed with my new knowledge and quite proud (too proud, to be sure) of myself for seeking out an appropriate intervention for Paulo, I address the issue with my "reading specialist" of a cooperating teacher (who doesn't even know where to find the state core curriculum content standards. . . ok now I'm being a little bit catty. But seriously, I've had nightmares about this woman staring at me disapprovingly from the back of the room and me screaming, "Londa, NO, I WON'T do it your way! I don't care that Nicole has her hood on! She's paying attention to Shakespeare for Christ's sake!").

"Londa," I began, "I think Paulo is having an issue with fluency. When he reads independently, he often moves his lips and whispers the words he's reading aloud. I would like to work with him on high-frequency words--you know, just some index cards for a few minutes every day." Here I was, bright-eyed and confident and ready for Londa (name changed) to be ecstatic that I went to the trouble of finding out what was happening with Paulo, and that I had a plan to help him. I should mention now that Paulo speaks Spanish at home, thereby (I'm not an ESL teacher, I'm only speculating) only complicating the processing of taking language from the page to the brain if there is translation happening in the brain before meaning is made.

"Well," Londa responded, miles less than enthusiastic and almost laughing in my face, "I don't see how that's going to improve his test-taking abilities. I would just stick to the items in the practice test book."

Of course not. How might a student's ability to read and comprehend text by any stretch of the imagination improve his ability to take a test? Why would we possibly concern ourselves with whether Paulo has recieved adequate support in actual reading and writing? This is test prep, not a reading or writing strategies class. How silly of me. . .

And now, though I fear this is less related than I had originally assumed (hey, I've only a small amount of anectodal experience from which to draw), an excerpt from Kylene Beers' essay, "The Measure of Our Success," published within the 2007 collection of essays, Adolescent Literacy: Turning Promise Into Practice (Beers, Probst, Rief):

"While NCLB mandates that 100 percent of all students in each school pass all portions of state-required tests by 2013-14 academic year. . . NCLB does not mandate, require, or even suggest that local communities (much less states or the nation) address minimum-wage issues, work to bring the income level of African Americans and Hispanic wage earners to that of white wage earners (at all levels of jobs), make health care coverage available for all, make decent home ownership available for all, eliminate child poverty, make school spending equitable across districts, or even provide school supplies. . . for all school-age children in all schools.

If I sound angry, I am. . .

I have to wonder what would happen if in addition to demanding that schools close the academic achievement gap, No Child Left Behind legislation required that local and state leaders close the poverty gap that exists in their communities, along with the health care gap, the housing gap, the technology gap, the access-to-college gap, and the many gaps that exist between low- and higher-income schools . . . What would happen if NCLB legislation required that business owners completely close the wage-earning gap between races and genders by 2014, that social institutions close the preschool-years preparation gap as well as the nutrition gap between low-income and middle- to high-income pregnant women, and that we all had to examine and eliminate our own expectation for success among and between races and genders?"

(my bolding)

So here Beers is summing up quite succinctly what I think my major issue has been with NCLB. . . it just seems absurd to assume that educational institutions alone could work as the great equalizers when so many obstacles unapologetically remain--greater stratification of rich and poor, limited access to resources and/or institutions that increase the likelihood of upward mobility, a health care system that is quite simply a corporation model which seeks to, like all successful corporations, increase profit and decrease losses. Even if NCLB was reformed to monitor not whether or not a school has reached adequate yearly progress (AYP), but rather the genuine, measurable improvements of students in their schools from one year to the next (assuming there was a way to do this without a bureaucratic nightmare ensuing--perhaps there is and it's common knowledge--remember I'm a novice here, hence "on the learn"), this alone could not be enough to deliver all children from the depths of the injustices sown day in and day out by a host of factors inherent to the organization of our society.

In this way, schools serve as an absolute patsy (btw, perhaps from the Italian, pazzo or paccio, meaning crazy or fool--how do I love the OED? Let me count the ways...) for the deeper causes polarizing our society, and NCLB frees up the government to wash its hands, to feel as though its done its part. If government truly cared about leaving no child behind, it would pursue that goal holistically, not merely within public education system.

After reflection, I suppose I understand that NCLB is not, as Beers points out, all bad news. That our government and society are maintaining, albeit superficially and/or inconsistently at times perhaps, an air of concern regarding the responsibility of this country to its citizens--the responsibility to provide each child with a free public education equal to that of his or her peers--is a remarkable step in the right direction. But I'm still sad that school is becoming a culture of not worrying about whether or not Paulo can read skillfully and confidently and craft compelling responses to thoughtful questions, so long as the teacher's "testing skills" base is covered (in Londa's case, that meant, upon my departure, a packet of photocopied practice test items students would work on independently for the remainder of the semester course. Revolutionary.)


Sensible Enough

Photo Target.com

I snatched up the second to last pair of size 7's at Target last week. Perfectly sensible. You're shaking your head. These will be just lovely with black tights (or plum, or houndstooth gray and black. . .) or under a wool wide leg pant, or with a dark denim pencil skirt on Fridays. Oh the possibilities! The hint of a platform actually makes these shoes quite wearable. As does the $26.99 price. Yay for teacher chic!

Currently Reading...

Image bn.com

I'm headed to Maine for a super fantastic exciting literacy retreat at the end of June, and in the meantime need to finish this and Friedman's The World is Flat. The two complement one another well, as the former takes on the unique demands placed upon a post-Information Age U.S. worker and the latter is a history lesson in how the economics of globalization has set the stage for individual actors from every single corner of the world to take advantage of opportunities for success.

Basically, Pink's premise is that the combination of outsourcing/globalization (a mix of "Asia" and "Automation") with the presence of greater wealth, "Abundance," has freed up Americans to move from the Information Age into the Conceptual Age, in which right brain capacities or aptitudes will be in higher demand than ever before. Businesses will seek out employees who can do more than complete logical, sequential tasks that can now be done by lower-wage workers or software programs. Gestalt thinking has far outweighed the importance of specialized knowledge. The relationship between consumers and businesses is changing--more emphasis will need to be placed on the intricacies of the relationship between business and customer; consumers now seek products (basic products, not even luxuries only afforded to the wealthy) that go beyond function--that are aesthetically appealing (when was the last time you couldn't find a designer collaboration in most mainstream stores, from Target to Bed Bath & Beyond to Kohl's?). All of these marketplace demands require workers who can put the special abilities of the right brain to work in harmony with the left-brain thinking that has propelled us through the Information Age.

Pink offers 6 right brain capacities that will be necessary to successful interactions withtin the new, post-Information Age: design, story, symphony, empathy, play, and meaning. Thus far I am enjoying pondering the implications for educators that underly these 6 principles of A Whole New Mind, while simultaneously cringing at the elitism and ethnocentrism I'm detecting. Each chapter is appendixed by a "portfolio" section that offers suggestions for improving one's capacity for each of the six aptitudes. While I find some of the portfolio suggestions uniquely accessible (drawing, writing and game suggestions as well as exercises in empathy-building), others are downright out of reach of a good portion of the population (far-off museums, expensive design magazines, elaborate classes and workshops). I don't doubt that Pink's intentions are good, but I'm not convinced that the presence of "Abundance" in some households extends to free up the general populace to pursue the prescribed right-brain strengtheners.

As far as ethnocentrism goes, Pink seems to suggest that low-wage earners from other countries simply are not capable of the kinds of right-brain thinking at which Americans will excel. He leaves no room for the possibility that individuals working for low wages in positions that require left-brain thinking might be imaginative or creative, and might put their personal talents in right-brain thinking to work as well as any American could.

More on A Whole New Mind as I consider more thoughtfully the implications of Pink's work for today's students and teachers. . .