Saturday, July 11, 2015

Building Your Home Library When You Have Kids

The Early Childhood Years

“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.” —Italo Calvino, The Uses of Literature

My daughter is moving to a new school opening up in our area that focuses on a classical, liberal arts curriculum. Classics books are at the core of this education, and the school emphasizes on the tradition for students to build a personal library of books that they mark in, keep, and return to over the years to treasure. They call this collection “Classics To Keep.”

This is good practice for obvious reasons, but research proves just how good it is. According to the Oxford Journals, test scores from 42 nations provide evidence of the benefits of having a home library. But did the study mention which books were included in the homes? Are they all stocked with just classics?

In browsing my own collection, my personal library is an eclectic mix of classics, professional women memoirs, YA novels, anthologies, science and history textbooks, as well as books on pedagogy. Naturally, my choices for building Zoe’s early childhood books have followed the wide-ranging style of “Let’s get whatever we’re in the mood for…”

Today, Zoe and I hand-picked what we call “Our Classics.” Our classics list had very little to do with the classical liberal arts philosophy but more to do with Italo Calvino’s The Uses of Literature definition.

When it comes to stocking your child’s bookshelf, there is method in the madness. Not all pieces need to be classics - nor should they be. Our bookshelves represent something meaningful for us that help us bring back some wonderful memories. That’s what all great books should do. High test scores as a result of this ongoing project would simply be icing on the cake.

Here’s our list of Favorite Books in Early Childhood For ALL AGES:

Chicka Chicka Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr and John Archambault. Illustrated by Lois Ehlert - This rhyming alphabet book will burn into your memory. The colorful paper-cut pictures are easy to emulate. So if you’re an early childhood teacher, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom would be one of the most fun DIY decor for your classroom bulletin boards. If you’re a kindergartener, the tempo will keep you dancing, and before you know it, you’ll be the cool kid saying, “Look who’s coming! It’s black-eyed P...Q, R, S, and loose-tooth T!"
I’m Zoe! I Can Do It Myself (Little Blessings) by Melody Carlson. Illustrated by Elena Kucharik. The Little Blessings series is known for addressing Christian concepts, but the four character books (I’m Kaitlyn! I’m Jack! I’m Zoe! I’m Parker!) focus on skills and social development. In I’m Zoe, young readers meet a little girl taking small steps towards gaining independence: making her bed, getting dressed, brushing her teeth, and playing with her friends. My daughter still adores this one because she gets a kick out of seeing her name in print (like mother, like daughter). An added bonus is the girl in the book is Asian and looks like her. Super cute.
Blue Dragonfly by Pia Villanueva-Pulido. Illustrated by Rene Espinosa. Speaking of getting a kick out of seeing my name in print, this book holds many special meanings for us. Michael and I planned a series of children’s books for emerging readers called River of Imagination years before she was born, and Blue Dragonfly was the first one. Before she learned how to read (age 3 or 4), Zoe could already tell the story with sound effects! In his search for new adventures, curious little Blue Dragonfly embarks on a journey of self-discovery, but his temptations soon lead to trouble. The soothing voice-over narration and accompanying music make the story engaging, along with the colorful detailed pictures illustrated by a comic book artist turned tattoo artist/rock band lead guitarist in L.A.
Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney. Illustrated by Anita Jeram. The ever-romanticized quote “I love you to the moon and back” isn’t so cheesy or eye-roll inducing in this sweet book at all. The tenderness between Little Nutbrown Hare and his father Big Nutbrown Hare show just the right amount of reassurance for the young ones (ages 0-2) who need to feel safe and loved. The illustrations complement the text well for the emerging readers (ages 4-7) who need clues to read aloud the short phrases and simple vocabulary.
Your Own Keepsake Journal Baby Book - I can’t stress enough just how much I have treasured my keepsake baby book I made for Zoe’s first year. There are so many selections available in Amazon alone that you’re bound to find one that suits you whether you’re a first time mom or a busy working mother with multiple children. Zoe and I love to flip through the pages of her book together - a scrapbook with journal entries. Her sonogram pictures, first day at home, and monthly updates recorded in my own handwriting. I love writing, so I wrote letters to her before she was born. When she was old enough to read and understand, she asked me to continue writing to her. Even if you’re not a writer, I would highly encourage getting a journal with your child together and interact with each other through the written word. There are no rules. Just fun.
Next time you get a chance to browse your bookshelf, do yourself a favor and pick up of those books that bring back memories. Think about the specific time in your life that compelled you to buy that book and find meaning behind them. And do the same for your kids.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

"A Cup of Coffee and a Miracle" - A Very Short Story

Feeling the weight of everything and carrying the burdens of her past, Natalie's heart felt so heavy these days. She was perpetually exhausted. The only reason she got up in the morning was because of that coffee cup. The one that could float. The levitating mug.

Magic or Miracle?

The mundane tasks of daily life never brought her fulfillment, but brewing a pot of coffee did bring a bit of comfort. Every morning when she woke up, Natalie was certain that she could make herself a good cup of coffee. She knew she could depend on the rich caramel aroma of her freshly ground roasted beans brewing in her kitchen to trigger her senses.

Coffee was her momentary solitude of self-preservation. It was a pleasant mixture of drowsiness and renewed energy, blended with thick hazelnut cream to sweeten the bitterness of her everyday battles. Today's battle was to put on a bra, get dressed, and drive during rush hour. 

Ahh, coffee and comfort!

Every morning, she looked forward to the certainty of coffee. She was certain she'd find her own special cup in the cupboard that she had put away the day before. She was certain that the coffee she'd pour slowly into her cup was fresh.

To understand the certainty of coffee is to know how to savor its scent and feel the hot steam gently caress one's face. 

And while her love affair with coffee always began with a dance of the spoon rhythmically stirring its way into the cup, Natalie knew there was something more to it than simple comfort. 

By habit, the first thing she did was to brew her pot of coffee. Then every morning, she stared at her cup, hoping to accomplish the same act of miracle - or perhaps an act of witchcraft - that she caught her mother doing one morning years ago.
Criss Angel, what's your secret?! Mama, did he tell you?

It hadn't happened for her yet. There must be a reason why she hadn't accomplished this goal, but that was also a mystery. 

Unfortunately, she did not have the luxury of time to figure out what was lacking in her life in order to successfully levitate a coffee cup.

Her cell phone, a distracting companion that demanded her constant attention, chimed and vibrated to alert her about today's important meeting.

"Oh shit, shit, shit!" 

She fumbled through her screen and checked the time. She was running late.

Late for the meeting that was supposed to change things and turn things around for everybody.

Still, that coffee cup beckoned her to stop everything she was doing. Just stop. And stare. And wonder. That was all she wanted to do, but she must first face this pesky obligation.

Thumbs texting furiously, she wrote, "On mway. Traffic on 35."

The typo was written on purpose in hopes of deceiving her client into thinking she was hurriedly texting while driving. 

In retrospect, Natalie regretted doing that. It wasn't because she lied, but it was because the text probably made her look stupid. Risking her life by fiddling with her cell phone while she was supposed to be concentrating on the road? 

Dumb move. 

Well, she didn't actually do that, but she gave the illusion of doing it. This was such a no-win situation.

Either way, the text should have been sufficient. A little white lie. Everybody did that once in a while. Besides, there was no need to justify herself for anybody. 

Natalie was now her own boss. She did not answer to anybody, except maybe to JoBeth, her newest client. 

JoBeth's split second response startled her when the phone chimed and vibrated with four consecutive incoming text messages. 

"Don't forget to bring the proofs." Chime. Vibrate.

"Is the press release done?" Chime. Vibrate.

"What's my Twitter password again?" Chime. Vibrate.

"Maybe I should invite my pastor to sit in at the meeting. What do you think?" Chime. Vibrate.

Taking a deep breath in with her nose, and then out with her mouth three times, just the way she learned it in yoga class, Natalie texted back.

"Relax. I've got everything sorted out. I took care of everything, and you'll do great!"

That was probably a lie, too, but who was she to predict someone else's future? As far as Natalie was concerned, the future was fair game for everyone. 

JoBeth, though, was such a hot mess. She needed every bit of help that Natalie could provide to build her back up from where she fell.

For now, Natalie, cozy and content in her fuzzy pajamas and rainbow-colored socks, took a slow sip from her coffee cup and placed it on the counter. 

Catching the steam emerging from it, she raised her hand in upwards and circular motion sincerely believing that she could levitate the thing. Of course she couldn't do it, just like her mother really didn't levitate anything at all. 

Natalie, always oblivious to details, never noticed that her mother's coffee cup was especially designed to look like it was floating in the air. 

Inspired by a banana holder, the floating mug had a built-in coaster that was attached to the handle. So from one side, the mug looked like it was levitating in the air. 

This is an actual product you can order.

"Dammit," she cussed again. 

The meeting was in fifteen minutes, but she was still not dressed. And she already told JoBeth she was on 35, but she had yet to shower. 

She was going to have to practice the levitating later. Right now, she needed to perform a miracle for JoBeth and get to that meeting. 

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Writing Process is Like Deep House Music, Sort Of

When it comes to teaching the writing process, we are bound by a painful, formulaic Five Step Process: Prewriting, Drafting, Revising, and Publishing. Does it work?

"I'm bored because this class is boring."

If you teach the writing process, it is crucial for you to experience it at the very same moment you are actually teaching it. Model the behavior. Impossible? Well of course it is! But you're a teacher, and you do the impossible everyday. So that's nothing new. But this isn't a preachy blog post. It's more of a reflective analysis because I've had too much coffee to ramp up my NaNoWriMo word count, and it's 3 A.M. So now I'm winding down from the high of writing my manuscript  with more writing. 

Anyway, back to the question: Does the five step writing process work? To answer this, I must put away my Teacher Hat and put on my lovely, leopard print fedora Writer Hat.

My Writing Hat is not boring. 

As a writer, I'll answer this in a different way: I've experienced a difference in the mindset and mental state I have to assume in two types of writing: creative and journalistic writing. 

In literary writing, whether it's in my poetry, children's books, or novels, my state of mind is much like experiencing deep house music. Known for its complexities in melodic tunes and use of unrelated chromatic chords underlying most sequences, deep house music is also trance-like and hypnotic. The rhythm of writing feels a lot like a really good deep house song where everyone in the room is dancing without a care in the world. Building up layers of rhythm which fades out quickly, then leaving the melody to stand alone for a few seconds only to build up as quickly as it faded. It's a rush! At the risk of sounding like I'm romanticizing the process, that's what it feels like when I'm in my most creative mood. This month, I've been listening to Everything But the Girl's Driving Remix to get me going with the marathon writing. 

"I'm with the DJ, okay?"

The images, metaphors, the rhyme, and the diction are always brought into life from the spontaneous overflow of sentences. No matter how much I plan them ahead, I realize that when it happens, it happens because of that momentary experience. Or it just doesn't happen at all. This doesn't mean that I sit around and wait for that moment, even though much of this month has been about sitting around. It just means I have very little control over it. There are days when I can work for hours and churn out thousands of words in one day, or work for a mere ten minutes painfully slaving away a series of weak words not even worth sentences, but fragments. Many times, I cringe at what I've written and delete as much as I can. 

Voice is important to the literary writing process. Without that voice, nothing will happen except maybe I'd fall into the rabbit hole of Facebook chatting or worse, the entire Internet and BuzzFeed Quizzes. The voice can be very elusive sometimes because it's schizophrenic. It really just depends on my mood and what I've been reading. I could be reading a YA novel one day, and then an autobiography of a Navy SEAL the next day, so the voice may change according to how close I feel to the work at that moment. 

But when I write what I would call journalistic writing (which for me is more like PR/marketing, or some other article pieces that get me paid by actual business people who need my skills), the writing process is not like deep house music. Nothing trance-like about this type of writing at all. It's different. I have to be much more methodical. I do a whole lot of planning that looks somewhat like Prewriting (Facebooking and whining), Drafting (sleeping), Revising (writing and simultaneously editing furiously), and Publishing (submitting). The experience isn't about the spontaneity, but I still work very hard at honing my craft. The narrative is still my voice, and I try to make my pieces as intellectually stimulating as possible. The way I've accomplished these pieces are much different from my poetry and stories. 

I would say that the five step writing process works when you need it to work. It's harder to write in this way, but it's also easier. No matter what mood I'm in that day, the five step process usually guarantees something written and something tangible that can be used at some point. Not so for creative or literary writing. There are no guarantees. Freelance writing jobs are easier to come by when you can work the process. This is what I tell my students to wake them up when I tell them it's time to write:

"I've made money from writing essays." (More on that later)
"Why can't I cry money instead of tears?"

Essentially, however, the process is what you make of it. Hone the craft. Repeat. At some point, you can tell your students that they can get lucky that at least an "A" or a perfect score will come through eventually as they practice their expository or narrative essays. There is a part of it that is dreadful and mysterious, but that is not the entire thing. It's not about how hard it is. It's about how much you practice and how much wiser you become. We all need to wise up a bit, so we might as well write.  Write with them and believe what you teach about writing like it's the gospel truth because in the end, no matter how painful, it's worth it. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

You Are Putty in a Storyteller's Hands

For most of my adolescent life, my mother owned and operated a daycare center in our home. It was always loud, messy, and crazy, but those were some of my fondest memories. She converted our garage into a playroom, our backyard into a playground, and our living room into what she called "the classroom." It was the perfect business for mom. She got to stay home and get paid to do what she did best: raising kids. The parents who signed up for her babysitting services adored her, and many of them quickly became family friends. They even got special perks when they picked up their children - homemade Filipino food.

Business was booming, but she was already reaching maximum capacity to run a home-based child care center. During the summer, I had to help her out. While she was busy changing dirty diapers or feeding the babies, I took care of the older ones. "Lucky" for me, the older ones were a group of five boys with ages ranging from 6 to 8 years old. I was 13 or 14 years old at the time, so I couldn't just drive them to the movies to sit them down quietly somewhere. I had to get creative. Rollerblading in the kitchen? That worked for about five minutes until everyone started falling down on purpose and mom had to cook her endless supply of lumpia and pancit. Splashing around the water sprinklers? Fun, but only for a limited time.

So I told them stories in the living room. Much to my mom's relief, I kept the boys out of harm's way and entertained them at the same time. I didn't always like kids, but I sure did love the power of captivating an audience. We were a match made in heaven. There were certain stipulations from this relationship, though. These boys wanted original stories. I couldn't simply just read to them.  They were bored with books because as they proudly declared, "I know how to read them by myself."

They refused to listen to my version of fairy tales or folk tales because "they're too babyish," and they "already know what happens next anyway." So by popular demand, I had to make up stories right there on the spot. The scarier, the better. The grosser, the better.

That was the year she told me, "You'd make a great teacher someday." She knew it 15 years before I ever stepped foot in my first classroom.

"No, Mom, I'm not patient with them. They're so annoying. And besides, I like to write."

I had different plans. I was going to move to NYC to become a writer/editor/boss of Sassy magazine like Jane. I spent my time making magazine mock-ups with friends, getting to know the voices of the writers, and making up stories for the "It Happened to Me" column that never really happened to me. I wrote stories. That's what I've always done.

Fast-forward two decades and one career change later, I'm a teacher.

But the storyteller in me didn't die. In fact, it created an entrepreneur in me. With the creative development of my husband, my stories became books, which came equipped with videos, voice-over narration, a virtual teacher with tutorials, and original songs to boot. When I taught elementary school, storytelling was still my favorite party trick!
I didn't realize, however, that it was more than just a party trick until I came across Jonathan Gottschall's article from Fast Company. It explained that for over twenty years, psychologists have been seriously studying how stories affect the human mind. "Fiction," it stated, "seems to be more effective at changing beliefs than writing that is specifically designed to persuade through argument and evidence."

In other words, we are putty in a storyteller's hands. Oh, I see now! I...have...the...power!!!!

This is why the most savvy marketing professionals know that storytelling is what gets even the most capable business executives suckered into their products, ideas, or whatever they're selling.
I have mixed feelings about the theory of using storytelling in business and marketing. On one hand, it's pretty encouraging for an entrepreneur like me to have a story or two to tell to inspire others. On the other hand, I feel that many think the stories themselves are the products, or worse, the advertisement. They're not.

Stories, whether they are fact or fiction, stem from ingenuity. Stories are crafted with power. With emotion. With characters that live within the hearts and minds of the teller and the audience. Mix those ingredients with business - it can get explosive. 
For example, when people first learn that I'm an author, I'm very careful about responding to their questions. I often get asked two questions.

The first is,  "Who is your publisher?" and the next one is, "How many books have you sold?"

Business owners want to do the math in their heads to get an idea on how much revenue I've generated and whether they'd want to invest in my next project. If it's anything less than what they had in mind, they think it's a waste of time. Amateur writers want the hook-up on how to get their own books published and distributed without doing their own leg work.

Time and again, I've had to say, "We're not in the book-selling business." Then they get confused because they're missing the whole story. 

Monday, July 7, 2014


Yesterday, along with millions of other active Facebook users, I posted a mundane status update. "Women of the world," I beckoned. "I have something very important to ask you: Do you like Angelina Jolie? Why or why not?"

And leave it to my awesome circle of friends willing to take the time to humor me, I got more than a dozen responses. Some said, "No, I don't like her. She's a home wrecker."

Others said, "Yes, I like her. She's a humanitarian, a talented actress, and a knockout!"

One chimed in to remind us of Jolie's shady past. "I never got over her kissing her brother."

Then the comic relief rolled in when one woman wrote, "No I don't like her. I don't need a reason to feel the way I do because...'Murica."

More insights came from another comment-poster who bluntly wrote, "I see some of her movies, but that's the extent of my thoughts toward her. Roald Dahl was a disgusting pervert, but we still buy his books. The art world is a fickle place."

I was thrown off by one comment because I didn't expect my post to be taken seriously. She wrote, "I mean this not disrespectfully but as my honest answer: this is not important."

Of course it wasn't important! Now I know why people have implored developers to develop a sarcasm font. I cleared that up for her, and I'm pretty sure she was relieved to know that I am, in fact, right in the head.

Then I thought about it some more and asked myself, "Why in the world would I post something so stupid like that?"

No, it's not because...'Murica. 

The real reason is that I wanted to know how other women view an American woman who is perceived to hold both power and beauty at her fingertips. My nine year-old daughter Zoe, standing on the cusp of adolescence, is in a period of major transition in social and cognitive development. So when she watches a movie like Angelina Jolie's Maleficent, you better believe I'm going to want to find out everything about it. I'm going to need to know if the actress is conveying the right message for little girls like Zoe.

I also need to know what my other women friends, whether they are stay at home moms with multiple children, professional working mothers, married women without children, or single women with no children think about it because I value their opinions. It's a similar concept to: "It takes a village." Like all mothers with daughters, I want mine to grow up armed with self-confidence, ready to take on the world. I want to know from other women how they think we can make that happen. I know full well that I can't shield Zoe from all the dangers in this world, especially the dangers of media, but I'm going to find out as much as I can about it. I'm going to ask questions to my dear Women of the World, "What do you think of Angelina?" Is her dangerous sexuality a cautionary tale for young women? Or is she the embodiment of the modern female?

Actually, Naomi Wolf wrote an essay attempting to answer my very questions in a 2009 Harper's Bazaar issue. But maybe a movie is just a movie, and an actress is just an actress. We don't need an "ego ideal" to aspire to empowerment and liberation. She's human, just like us. That's fine and everything, but I still have a daughter to raise. I need to do it right in a world where everything seems to go wrong.

As parents, we spend a lot of time thinking of ways to empower our children, making sure they know how to handle themselves in difficult situations. I know I spend a good deal of time thinking about what I might say to teach Zoe when she needs to bounce back from inevitable setbacks and learn from her mistakes. I know how to plan for conversations like these because I've been a teacher for ten years. Having taught elementary schools for the better part of my career and transitioning into teaching middle school, I've got a good perspective on girls dealing with the confusing blend of new social pressures and mixed signals from society about what it means to be a "strong girl." So as a seasoned teacher, parenting should come easy for me, right?


Because we can totally just follow the curriculum map on parenting. We can collaborate with a group of expert parents and have professional development meetings to exchange ideas on how to get our kids to do amazing things, like be a Kid President. Then afterwards, we can Google "raising your little girl" and apply all the 10, 25, 30 tips from every mommy blog on the Internet. We can all get together in the conference room to watch the awesome social media campaign video about how girls really run and then throw our kids the iPad to tell them to watch and learn. (Insert html sarcasm font here).

After all of that hard work, we can go home and explain to our daughters nicely, "Sweetie, Mommy has a headache right now, so I'm going to need a nap."
And when we wake up from our blissful, uninterrupted sleep, we will awaken from smiling faces happily reporting to us that they've finished reading a few chapters from their summer reading projects, wrote a few dialectical journal entries, sewed some pillows and handbags, and opened up an Etsy store to support a group of poor girls who live in a village in the Philippines - all while we were napping!

Because that's what happened to me.

Well, not really. I mean, yes, I've woken up from a few naps to happily discover that Zoe had taught herself to sew adorable little toss pillows  with clever design details. She was busy for quite some time and happy to leave me alone. How did I get her to do that? Did we restrict her TV and game privileges? No. Did we have a set schedule for her during the summer? No. Did we make her take a sewing class so that we can operate a sweatshop? HAHA. Yup.

No, we didn't. We do not own a sweatshop, people, come on! No sarcasm here. I'm telling you the truth.

But that little girl developed an undeniable entrepreneurial spirit. She's relentless with her projects and people (other than her family members) are starting to notice. 

I'm going to tell you a secret about how you can get your daughter to be independently productive while simultaneously developing self-confidence. All it takes is for you to...

Shut up. Just shut up.

No, I'm serious. Sometimes, we just need to shut down our "parenting mode" for a little while to quiet our minds, quiet ourselves, and know when to shut up and listen. 

Stop talking, stop hovering, stop planning, stop scheduling, stop stressing, stop lecturing, and start watching her. Really watch. When we watch and observe our children, we can listen to what they're talking about and hear their voices. And when we hear them, amazing things happen. Real conversations begin. Ideas are born. Creativity happens, and then work becomes play.

And suddenly, so beautifully, she's learning authentically and doing amazing things you don't even know how to do. But she needs you there to assure her it's okay to mess up because you don't know how to do it, either, and you'll be there to watch her figure it out. Trial and error. Then repeat the process without pressuring her to deliver results. 

That little piece of "shut up" advice that I just gave you - it's the real deal. It's not always going to be easy to follow when you have to find that balance of authority. Let me clarify that I am in no way suggesting that you give up total control and just let your kids do whatever they want all day long and remain silent. Don't remain silent when they're turning the oven on and shoving their plastic bats and half-eaten hot dogs wrapped in aluminum foil in there to conduct a science experiment. That's not the time to watch what happens next. No, not at all.

To "shut up" is to let her figure out new things without being too overbearing with your unsolicited advice. Provide a safe environment for her to be messy without feeling stressed out for spilling a bottle of blue dye on the carpet or knocking down one of your Precious Moments figurines off the shelf. If she's made it past five years old safe and sound, then you're doing well. She knows your boundaries and expectations. Give her some wiggle room, and let her do it herself. Even better, if she has a great daddy who has no qualms about helping his daughter learn how to crochet after playing baseball with her, then by all means, do "shut up" and plan your getaway. Leave them be and watch what happens. It will melt your heart. 

I've caught myself trying too hard to find the right opportunities during my day-to-day experiences with Zoe where I can find teachable moments to guide her through life. I still struggle with the "shut up" advice because I still plan, schedule, talk, lecture, hover, stress, and think way too hard about how I should raise a strong, smart, brave girl. What I'm missing is that she's effortlessly Zoe. She doesn't have to be any adjective I wish for her to be or whatever society thinks our future generation should be. So when I tell myself to "shut up," I'm really just reminding myself to allow Zoe to be comfortable in her own skin. No pretense. Just let Zoe be. 

A big part of Zoe's life is having a teacher as her mother who can't seem to shut down her teacher and parent modes. Naturally, when we take a trip to Target for a rare "treat yo'self" occasion, dammit, we are going to have a lesson on math word problems and practical choices!

"Zoe, would you rather have the Poppytalk fold up cloth checkerboard game for $12, or the neon blue kinetic sand that looks like the one we saw from Brookstone at Northpark for $14?"

"I want the Poppytalk fold up cloth checkerboard! Look, it has DIY crafts tutorials in her website!!!" she said excitedly, already dreaming about her own line of DIY products.

Yay! She chose the more educational item!!! I gotta pat myself on the back for that one. Wait, really?

Did I really think I was empowering her by shopping at Target? Maybe. I learned that not everything needs to be a teachable moment. Just like in my classroom, there are times when I need to throw my lesson plans out the window to allow my students the freedom to learn. In raising my little girl, it's not so much about the carefully constructed act of raising her, but simply the act of being there with her. It's about being present to witness her growth, and to allow myself to experience the way she sees the world through her eyes. And man, when I do that, the world is full of goodness and possibilities. What a gift!

Which brings me back to how hours later, I'm still thinking about Angelina Jolie. There's an article I saw that says Maleficent fails children.

GASP!!! Oh no! Zoe saw that movie with me, and she liked it! I failed my child. The world will no longer be good for her. No, no, no.

I had to make this right, I thought. So before bed, I prepared a serious talk in my head to tell her about villains and heroines. I thought I could use Maleficent to teach her healthier ways to channel her anger if she ever does become a woman scorned. Oh, dear, here we go again with the relentless lesson planning. 

"Zoe, remember the movie Maleficent with that actress Angelina Jolie?" I asked her.

Deep sigh. "Yes." She could detect a long, serious talk from miles away, and she was trying desperately not to let me catch her roll her eyes. 

"Well, in Sleeping Beauty, Maleficent is evil, but in this movie, they show a very different side of her..."

"I know, Mom," she interrupted. 

Okay, at this point, she wasn't going to allow me to ask her a million questions, especially that she was already dozing off. 

So I narrowed it down to one question: "Well, why did you like that movie so much?"

I feared that there could be an underlying cause for her to be rooting for evil. Have I failed to preserve her innocence? Is she so cynical at such a young age already? What is it?

"Because it's a good story."

Oh. Well then maybe a movie is just a movie, and an actress is just an actress and my question wasn't all that important, but I had to ask. When it has to do with my child, though, it's important.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Secret to Success: Talent or Work Ethics?

I complimented a gifted young 7th grader the other day on his work ethics forgetting that he was only 12 and may not know what the term “work ethics” really mean.
I asked him if he did, and his response was, “Yeah, it means not playing around in the computer and actually getting stuff done.”
Yup. That pretty much sums it up for 7th graders and the working class citizens. In a room full of gifted learners, though, “getting stuff done” may not quite be that simple. I’ve encountered enough learners in my teaching experience to make an observation that many gifted learners already know they’re gifted, but they don’t quite know what to do with their “giftedness.” Then there are others who think that the label itself will give them a free pass to a successful future because they surpassed benchmark goals, they have been praised for exceeding expectations, and they often do get stuff done quickly and accurately.
This is where the behavior issues arise. In order to instill work ethics in these young adults, they must first need to be aware that these are tangible values that actually matter even if “it’s not for a grade.”
The message is not so much to have students “work hard to be successful,” but instead instill a set of values in them that is crucial in the development of self-sustaining communities.
In guiding learners through their independent research projects, reminding them to keep reading, writing, and taking notes is not enough. Everyday, I hold small group conferences with them to answer essential questions to make their learning more useful and progressive. Real-time learning is in the academic conversations they have among each other, and in the questions they pose to challenge each other. These conversations show them that no, they don’t know everything yet because they couldn’t possibly anticipate all kinds of questions that may be brought up, but yes, be prepared to live in a world where problem-solving must be done in real time.
Today we explored this question:

Which characteristic leads to more success: talent (giftedness) or work ethics? Explain.
·         “Definitely work ethics because you could have a lot of talent but be so lazy that people don’t even realize you’re talented.”
·         “I think work ethics leads to more success because singers can have talent, but they wouldn’t be successful if they didn’t work hard.”
·         “Talent is a more important characteristic because you can learn work ethics, but if you don’t have the talent, you can’t learn it.”
·         “Work ethics are more important because without it, talent won’t make much of a difference.”
·         “You’ll do better than people who rely on talent alone if you have work ethics.”
·         “Talent is a better characteristic that will most likely lead to success because even if you don’t have good work ethics, you can still do the same project at the very last minute and make it look good.”
·         “Both are equally important because without talent what’s the point? You won’t be good at it. If you don’t have work ethics, then you don’t give proper image as a worker.”
·         “Talent and work ethics combined both add to the level of success a person has. The more work ethics and the more talent a person has, the more successful he can be. If you don’t have talent in a chosen field, and you’re not inspired to work hard to learn, then it’s not for you. You won’t get there.”

Surprisingly, the majority of my gifted learners agree that “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” but they still have so much to learn about work. It’s not just about the outcome nor the reward, but the process and the collaboration. How can we improve our learning communities within the young adult population?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

High School Seniors Give Advice to 8th Graders Class of 2018

  1. Get involved and stay involved all four years! High school isn’t fun when you’re watching from the sidelines.
  2. Make sure you join as many clubs and organizations because it’s easier to make friends and find your interests. Don’t be afraid to try new things.
  3. If you plan on going to college, all four years of high school count! Never give up on your grades no matter how difficult it may seem.
  4. Don’t screw up. When I was a freshman, I didn’t care about high school. I skipped, played around, and didn’t really care. About the time when I was a junior, I started to realize the importance of taking your education seriously. And MAKE SURE to take honors classes!
  5. Don’t skip and keep your grades up.
  6. Do your work. Don’t slack off.
  7. Don’t procrastinate. You will regret it if it becomes a habit.
  8. You’re not cool.
  9. Dear Incoming Freshmen: In high school, get involved in your extracurricular activities. You will make lots of friends and memories.
  10. DO NOT SLACK OFF! Try your best from the start, or you will regret it.
  11. Don’t skip!! You’ll regret it.
  12. Don’t skip and get good grades!
  13. If you make friends with upper classmen, be prepared to see them move on when they graduate and leave you behind while you still have one more year until you leave, too.