Asynchronous Instruction: The New Normal?

Posted by on 21 Aug 2020 | Tagged as: education, Education Professional, technology in education

Remote learning. Distance education. Home schooling. These ideas came as a real shock to most families (and teachers!) in the spring of 2020. Districts and schools were woefully unprepared to support students who needed to work from home in terms of planning for supplies as well as how to deliver instruction remotely. Students without internet connections often found themselves with materials but little explanation. Teachers without internet connections sometime taught from their cars, parked near wifi hotspots. Other teachers were allowed to be in their classrooms which felt too empty without students. Many teachers were confined to their homes and had to clear a corner for teaching around their own family’s needs (and often their own children’s lessons).

A quick note: “homeschooling” is very different from remote instruction! Homeschooling is family-directed with content and pacing generally decided on by the adults. It may or may not use online services, and it does require that the adults in charge have the knowledge, time, and disposition to spend extended time with their own children as teacher and guide.

Remote instruction, on the other hand, is teacher-directed and standards-driven. While adding student “choice and voice” are the buzzwords of the moment, the truth is the students need to learn specific material in a specific time frame. Teachers adapt and differentiate instruction for multiple student needs, but the core material is the same for everyone. Families are in the position of making sure the student accesses the material and does the required work, but they are not placed in a teaching role.

Gradually, using our colleagues as coaches and surfing the internet for ideas we cobbled together ways to provide video instruction for those students who could connect. Some teachers provided the videos via thumb drive for kiddos who had computers but no internet. We stumbled through pared-down units to keep learning going knowing that for some families even sitting down to read once a day was a struggle.

Families, already overwhelmed by the need to share computers between children (and adults who were suddenly working from home), were also unfamiliar with terms and concepts. Some families were reluctant to “disturb” the teachers, not knowing that we almost literally lived for those emails and phone calls! They weren’t sure which tasks were considered essential, they didn’t know which materials to use… the list was varied and endless.

How should teachers take lessons and materials from a classroom-based learning mindset into a full-time online or even blended (sometimes called hybrid) learning model? There ARE ways!

I have attended three institutes this year from the Teacher’s College at Columbia that explored how to transfer traditional instruction to remote models. I also have taken part in both ReImagine Wa Ed courses from Shifting Schools (still in the middle of the second one), and have recently finished 6 weeks intensive instruction and work on how to “flip” classrooms from The Flipped Classroom Formula/Teach on a Mission to include some video instruction as well as synchronous work.

Remote Learning: A Quick Overview

The main components to remote instruction are a launchpad of some sort (centralized communications hub, usually a website or Class Dojo), a learning management system where work can be posted and turned in and students can ask questions directly on the lessons (google classrooms), and synchronous (real-time, face-to-face or zoom-style) and asynchronous (often called self-paced) learning. Ideally there isn’t a lot of duplication between the parts, but families will need to learn where to go for specific needs. A page on the launchpad with links to the most-used online services is helpful. [don’t post passwords on these sites]

Planning and Delivery for asynchronous instruction is different from, but not more complex than, synchronous and in-person instruction.

The MOST IMPORTANT idea for creating asynchronous teaching videos is to have ONE skill, concept, or task in mind for each lesson. Discrete, targeted instruction works best for those situations when you cannot do quick formative assessments while watching students work.

Once you have your “one thing” in mind, consider the type of instruction you are aiming for: introducing a big concept, or exploring one they already know something about? Teaching a specific skill (handwriting comes to mind, or organizing a binder)? Providing practice for a skill? The way you teach in the classroom may be through a written or verbal explanation, a demonstration, or student examples, combined with in-class practice and reflection – the same is true for video lessons.

It can be useful to think of a traditional class period in segments of work. There should be one “video segment” for introducing the concept or skill, and a separate “segment” for practicing it. One way to do this is to create separate, short videos that students can work through in sequence. A drawback to that approach can be that students skip the instructional piece and move directly to the practice work. But an advantage is that you can create short videos as you have the time, rather than trying to present for twenty or thirty minutes.

The approach that I used in the spring and have been refining this summer “bundles” the work into a longer video that has built-in practice (“now pause the video and do the work, then come back to check how you did”) and breaks (“before we move on to the next part, take a few minutes to stretch, get a drink of water, and relax – then come back to keep working!”). This is more useful to younger students who need considerably more guidance and support, and might also better support older students who like to work faster rather than better. 

Power move: I actually record shorter videos, then use an editing program to crop and combine them. This is a bit more time-consuming and requires some time to learn the software, but reduces the need to re-tape so often.

Another approach that can work is to make the initial video that everyone sees, and then a couple of alternatives for the practice segment – one for the kids who need a little more time and practice on the basics and one for the kids who are usually ready for a bit of a challenge once they have grasped the rest. 

The SECOND MOST IMPORTANT idea for asynchronous teaching is to decide when and how students will show what they have learned, and how often. Our students still need to interact physically with physical books, paper and pencil, but we don’t want to be bombarded with reams to look through once they can return to school, it is a good idea to know what, when, and how kids will show evidence of learning.

Some teachers of older students ask their kiddos to take notes while watching (scaffolded notes similar to cloze passages, or Cornell notes, etc) and then submit them through cellphone pics or a scan. Some teachers have students do practice work on paper and then have prepared interactive materials that each child can work with online and then submit within the Google Apps system. There are a lot of choices! 

For most videos and segments it may not be necessary to see every task the student did (introductions to concepts or practice sessions in the middle of math lessons, for example). For some segments, more detailed submissions may be desired. Without that, just as in the classroom, teachers cannot know if a quick reteach is necessary for the whole class or for just one or two. In addition, waiting too long to see student work can eliminate the power of “feedback.” I recommend having at least an exit ticket of some kind for each core content area daily just to be sure kids are progressing.

Ways to get RESPONSES without students uploading files

There are many online services that allow online responses from students, many of which are free or very low cost and that meet internet safety standards for younger students. Most of these are already being used somewhere in Elma schools! Flipgrid is brilliant for students because they can record a short video or audio clip as a sort of exit ticket. It also avoids the problems of blurry images from cellphone cameras or finding where a student sent screenshots of their work. Google Forms (link goes to a short youtube video) can be used for formative or summative assessments and can even self-score simple responses much like quizzes in a classroom. Padlet allows students to respond in writing either at the same time or in their own time to prompts based on texts, images, or videos uploaded by the teacher. Nearpod can embed quick checks in the middle of a lesson that can be self-paced or teacher-paced during synchronous (classroom or Google Meet) instruction. Kahoot is an online game that students can access from a cellphone or tablet as well as a chromebook – the teacher can set up teams of students or individual mode and create multiple choice questions for a quick check. This can be done in real time (teacher-paced) or asynchronously (student-paced).

The THIRD most important piece is feedback. Feedback is being discussed in the remote learning community in the form of a coaching session – identifying as close to “in the moment” as possible both strengths and areas of improvement. A simple “good job” is not feedback in this sense, but “I like how you remembered to include rich detail – how could you make it more clear who is speaking each time?” would be feedback. As far as possible, the feedback should be related to the teaching point or a learning move the student has been working on (perhaps increasing stamina for writing). Keeping it simple will allow the student and family to know what to focus on in the next lesson. Feedback is not the same as grading, but the notes you take during that process can be used to inform grades.

How do you give feedback? Using Google Apps (Docs, Classroom) allows you to make comments directly on student work without it being seen by other students or families. A quick note by email or in Dojo. A phone call home. In-the-moment comments for synchronous sessions. Many of the online ways to collect student responses can provide automatic feedback as well.

A related idea is that continuous formative assessment and feedback can be as valuable as end-of unit or “product based” summative assessment. By observing students while they are in the middle of learning and asking them reflective questions about their process or for demonstration of how they accomplish their work a teacher in a remote setting can both empower students to take charge of their work and assure that what is being graded is the students’ own work. For some lessons, while a student could prepare an end-product (story, explanation for math work, science report) the learning on the way to the product instead of the product itself becomes the focus.

Some Practical Advice (what I wish I had known in April):

Making videos:

Although being in front of a camera can be uncomfortable, for our students seeing our faces and hearing our voices will help them feel connected — both during remote learning and when they can return to the classroom. Just like in real life some days we’ll look and feel better than others. Don’t worry if you don’t look like a fashion plate (but hurrah if you do)!

Remember to keep the lighting in front of you – backlit figures are difficult to see. Facing a window, or putting a lamp on the other side of your recording camera (mine hangs over my computer monitor), is useful. Light that is nearly straight on (not from above or below) helps eliminate deep shadows on your face. 

Being clearly heard: I use a boom mike, others prefer a headset with a mouthpiece or a clip-on mike. Generally speaking, the quality of built-in microphones is poor for affordable computers and laptops. My boom mike is directional so some background noise can be screened out. Whatever type of microphone you use, do listen to yourself in the first few videos you make to be sure your voice is coming through clearly the whole way through.

Keep your background simple if you are videotaping yourself. It is tempting to use a virtual background, but as a person who is highly distractible myself, I find the “flicker” that can result if you are not in front of a greenscreen a bit overwhelming. If you are in your classroom, the whiteboard or other teaching space is perfect as a background. At home, a wall that is not highly decorated is better than a bookcase full of books and mementos.

I try to start each video with a reminder of what students need to have ready to go – even if they can read what’s on the screen, some of the kiddos need a nudge! I list on the screen, say each item, and show each item so there’s no confusion about what I mean.

PACING is important. To support my students with hearing, language processing, and ELL needs I try to remember to speak a little more slowly and have my face pointed at the camera. Closed captioning can be added to screencastify videos [linked here].  And youtube videos can be sped up or slowed down for students who prefer a different pace.

Using Slides and other prepared materials in videos:

Keep them simple to start. Although there are dozens of beautifully illustrated slide sets available, illustrations that are not part of the actual lesson can be a distraction. I like to have a similar format for all the slides I use for each content area, and similar cues for students so they know what’s going on.

  • Target symbol to show what they are working on
  • An emoji/consistent image to key them to the type of content or work (crayon for drawing, pencil for writing, small cubes for math manipulatives)
  • The FEWEST POSSIBLE WORDS on any slide – some students may end up viewing videos on cellphones. Consider what may not be clear if the viewing area is small! More slides with fewer words is better – remember that you will be adding information and detail in your narrative as you go through them. If you want a script for your slides, use the “speaker notes” section!
  • Have the same starting and ending slide each time so students learn to be ready for that content when they see that slide. First slide in every math lesson might have just an image of their workbook, for example, and the last slide should have the link or instructions for turning in their responses.
  • In a recent course the idea of “wayfinding” was introduced (very important for self-paced lessons!) – give students easily recognized and obvious signs so they know what to do and when. 
    • If they have a choice of tasks, or a choice of which order to do the tasks it increases engagement, but for starting out I recommend keeping most videos and slide sets simple.

If you are using a more interactive service such as nearpod, consider that you are really doing a full production, more along the lines of an interactive game or TV show. But the same principles apply. It can be helpful to use some of their pre-made lessons to start with, and then move on to editing in what you want before you make lessons from scratch.

Supporting Student Work:

With most computers it is possible to attach a document camera (like an Elmo) as a second video source and record yourself working/demonstrating on paper as you speak.

Students seem to benefit from seeing the exact same materials they are being asked to use. I will demonstrate in a composition book or on lined paper even for video lessons. And for math I preferred to use PDFs of the actual pages instead of the slides to help my students see exactly where on their workbook pages to look.

It was frustrating for me to have to provide the lesson and not be able to adjust in the middle for that one kid who was clearly lost! However, it is possible to use your “meet time” to help those students, and if your grade level is providing “office hours” students and families can ask for extra help as well. Students and families can also be encouraged to call, email or Dojo message with questions which helps alleviate their anxiety and prevents misconceptions from sitting too long.

And the above notes on feedback and assessment play in here as well. Even more so than during in-person instruction students benefit from more-frequent, shorter feedback moments. That feedback can come from you, a family member, a peer during Google Meets, or even from themselves as they compare their work to examples you provide.

FINAL NOTES:

For most purposes, it is useful to think about the Student-paced instruction as the “teaching part” and the teacher-directed instruction (real-time via Zoom, in-person, or otherwise) as the time to practice and extend the learning. If a student can watch the teaching video and do any off-screen work on their own (or with help from an adult), then the in-person time can be spent giving feedback, answering questions, and making the personal connections that are so important for student engagement.

Many teachers “flip” their classrooms already – providing videos the students can watch on their own time, or at the beginning of class, and then use the rest of the in-person time to check for understanding and the group work and 1:1 support. By doing this, students who are absent can more-easily catch up because they receive the same basic instruction – without requiring them to meet separately with the teacher. It also allows students who need more time that luxury: they can pause the video to think or work, slow it down, stand up in the middle to clear their heads and come back when they are ready, without drawing attention to themselves.

Once the basic lessons are prepared, teachers often add “value” to the experience by creating different ways to access the information. Where they provided an article originally, they might add the choice of a video. Where they asked for a written book report they might allow students to create a short piece of animation or video. A hand-drawn diagram in science could be an alternative to using an online chart-creator. For in-class work students could use more-traditional materials as well as online resources.

Online instruction can provide links to dictionaries, thesauruses, content-specific resources, and “child appropriate” platforms where students can share their ideas with their peers. All of these may be present in a physical classroom, but when a student can use them away from the eyes of their peers it is more appealing, particularly for older students who are socially anxious.

What’s in the Garden/Garden-ability.

Posted by on 19 Aug 2020 | Tagged as: ableism, garden, Gardens and Life

Like many people fortunate enough to live where they have a bit of property around their home, our yard has been a true spirit lifter these past six months as the pandemic wanders over North America and the rest of the world. From having something to think about and make plans for, to the ability to invite a couple people over occasionally for some physically-distanced visits, we have had at least one area in our lives where we can see actual progress and take some pride in accomplishment. It has taken over a year of thinking and work, and hiring help for the heavy digging, lifting and paver work (thanks again, Pedro!), but the front patio (the “pond section at least) is done! That’s paving, planting, irrigation, and mulching! And weeding. A LOT of weeding. I did the mulching by myself, slowly once the irrigation was done. Took me 5 days to spread 4 bags(!) but I did it, and I am proud of my part of the effort.

Right now in the rest of the yard, the red apples are coming on ripe, we have harvested some “borlotti” beans, the small Asian pears are ripe, the blackberries are … beyond ripe (we have drunk wasps again), blueberries are thinking about it. We need to extend the irrigation to the blueberries, and also cut down/cut back some of the bitter cherries that are making that part of the yard so dark. Next year, hopefully, we won’t have to purchase blueberries.

Image gallery is below, here is the description of the nine images as they were laid out on my screen. After viewing the site from a couple different browsers the order of the images stays the same, but the number in each row can vary! There is more text below the image gallery.

Top row: left pic shows the boxes Grant built last year along the front of the bedroom wing and the completed ramp. There is now bark in the gaps between gravel and walkway. The middle image is an area of the pond garden before irrigation, mulching and final pots were placed. The image on the right shows a cluster of ready-to-pick red apples!

Middle row: left image a handful of unshelled borlotti (a type of cranberry bean) on the grass. Middle: the other bean plant (not sure which type), not ready to harvest. Right image is Matthew bringing a load of decorative stones up the hill in the back so I can place them around the “pond.”

Bottom row: Left image is a container full of apples and small Asian pears with four apples on the counter in front. Middle is a view of the “pond” which looks more like a dense planting of something! Right image shows the pond from a different angle with a small statue/waterfall of a young girl that will add water to the goldfish habitat every time we water the plants.

And that’s pretty much what’s going on in the garden this week. Before I could get to the patio in the wheelchair the effort of walking out and back alone was enough to restrict much of my time there. Now that I can easily move about (and it’s so much easier to walk since the path is no longer bumpy!) I am enjoying the space and getting a lot more accomplished.

Designing a gardening space for a person who is differently abled turns out to be not that different from other design: Plan for nice vistas from different angles, put a few nice surprises in unexpected places, make sure there is seating to invite people to enjoy beautiful views longer. Make primary paths compacted and level enough for crutches and wheelchairs to safely navigate. For a person who is shorter or experiences life from a seated conveyance make sure the plants are at a variety of levels from the ground through mid-range so the view isn’t always “up.” For a person who may have visual issues, high-contrast between light and dark, and textures as well as scents in plants will enhance enjoyment. These are things that don’t take any more money than other planting/design schemes.

Expenses crop up when it is necessary to transition from one level in the yard to another, when a paving is necessary (most wheelchairs can do “okay” over grass and other low groundcovers if the ground is level and dry… but where it rains or snows, paving of some kind is needed). Expenses can also be incurred if garden beds need to be raised, if tools need to be adapted or adaptable for reach and grip, or if health conditions require specific shade/lighting.

My issues mostly affect ambulation and lifting – which at my age isn’t that unusual. I also have some sensitivity to bright light (triggers migraines) so I need things that prevent too much direct sun – a lovely screen of trees to the south does that for much of our garden! Careful planning when we rebuilt – and insisting on no-barrier and low-barrier entries and transitions has saved us some money with this part of the garden remodel. In addition to hiring Pedro for the paving this year, I needed to purchase three 1-inch ramps for getting in and out of the living space of the house house when I am in the chair – our exterior bedroom doors will need something like that for emergencies if I ever completely lose the ability to walk. But since I am still fine (usually) for short distances even on my worst days that can wait. As can the other 90% of the yard that is still waiting for final landscaping!

And that’s our garden goings-on for this week.

Goals are Aspirational, Not Descriptive

Posted by on 19 Aug 2020 | Tagged as: citizenship, editorial, social justice

I have been increasingly dismayed by people from all walks of life who mistake the Declaration of Independence for a description of life as it was being lived in the colonies in 1776. Some consider the Constitution and its amendments as an exact step-by-step prescription for running the country, and as if it were a holy book, not open for future amendments or interpretations that are made based on new knowledge.

In fact, both documents are primarily aspirational. That is, they point toward an ideal, not a reality. In part, this is a consequence of the limitations of the authors of those documents, as well as gradually shifting language. The biggest critics seem to be those who do not like some of the articulated aspirations: full equality, maintaining rule of law over individual/corporate interests, and distinct power sharing between branches of government so no one branch (or individual) can usurp the rights of the citizens.

Those who talk about reverting to previous laws or interpretations of the Constitution often fail to recognize how much has changed since those documents were written. For example, when the amendment regarding unlawful search and seizure was written, few people could read and fewer still owned any books. Items that might have been seized were limited to physical materials — perhaps a few notes or letters carefully saved in a box, weapons, and tools for earning a living. It was generally relatively easy to spot an item that was specified in a warrant! These days, we store vast quantities of information in “the cloud” and think nothing of sharing images of our families and meals with people on the other side of the world — instantly and more or less securely. Thus, law enforcement and others have had to come up with new ways to both access materials and information that support illegal activities, and the courts and individuals have recognized a need for clear delineation of what is “reasonable” search of devices that most people consider private. The laws are changing, and perhaps the Constitution will ultimately be amended to reflect this new reality.

[This is an unfinished post started in June 2019 that seems relevant to many of the national conversations in August, 2020. Again – incomplete post, and leaving it that way as too much has happened in 14 months… Will start over on a new post!]

School Closures: Mar-Jul 2020

Posted by on 19 Aug 2020 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, 3rd grade, blogposts, education, Education Professional

[I wrote this in March and July, but didn’t post it. I am posting it now… as we rapidly approach the end of August. I have more reflections, but will do those in a new post!]

I am up early, the first Sunday of the official closure. We thought, last Sunday, that we would at least see our students on Monday. That didn’t happen. Late last Sunday night school was canceled for the foreseeable future.

Teachers went in on Tuesday at scheduled times to work on letters to families and to grab a few items. I actually went in on Friday to get a few more items… and already realize there are some other things I meant to bring home. Clearly, before we go back I want to rethink (yes, again!) the way I have the classroom organized.

Unlike some school districts that have families with near-constant connectivity, we are not planning on running online “school.” Too many students in our district do NOT have internet access, or computers to work on. Or families who can readily supervise at-home learning.

ADDING in July…

We survived.

We were required to pivot to ALL distance learning. Some families had NO connectivity that worked for distance learning, and the only contact I had was by phone calls every other week (almost always from me to the homes, families didn’t seem to want to call) – they used packets and workbooks. Many families were able to get online, but the students spent most of their login time on educational “games” and didn’t seem to take advantage of the video lessons. A few families did the video lessons and turned in the work.

I gradually lost track of more and more students as the “distance learning” continued. Most didn’t turn anything in — I have no way to know if they understood, or even attempted the work. Many focused on the (very short) online, game-like lessons from apps frequently used in their computer classes/intended as introductory/review and so didn’t engage with the more challenging work that we had prepared for them.

A few showed up for “Meets” which were really a time to work on social skills, check in with them (a couple of times I helped a student who was stuck on a particular lesson, but they usually didn’t want to work on “schoolwork”), and a chance to know their teacher remembered their names and cared.

And now the school year is over. The students are officially on vacation. We have no idea what next year will be like as far as schedules or locations. I am going to clean out a LOT of personal materials from the classroom when I go back in August for the return-to-school push of organizing. Already I am working on materials for next year, wondering if families will be willing to engage and support their students’ engagement from home when we aren’t able to be at school. To help them make that change, I am creating some videos just for families so they know what students can and should do!

I didn’t have the time or ability to really think (in advance of starting distance learning in April) about how to set students and families up for success if we didn’t return to school at all. When we restarted in April, we expected to return to the classroom at the beginning of May… Things that are fine for a week or two, are NOT fine for three or four months!

Lesson learned. Taking time this summer to go over classroom routines, think about how they should be adapted for online learning and blended learning (which is some online, some in person), and preparing videos that students and families can watch together to learn about me so there is no confusion about what I expect! Doing these lessons first so I have time to remake them later as I think more, but if I make one that’s “good enough” (I long ago gave up on perfect!), then it’s done and I can just move on.

So, yes, it is technically “vacation” for families and students, but most teachers will spend most of this time rethinking our ‘normal’ teaching practices and trying to make them easily adaptable no matter where the students are! I am taking several courses this summer for that reason; and I am also developing an ELA curriculum to start the year with – across the United States, teachers will need to incorporate a LOT of ideas and skills from previous grades, since many students weren’t able to access the learning this spring. A few students will have essentially been out of school for nearly 6 months when we return to school.

Some students may not be able to attend regularly this fall and winter due to family illness or other difficulties. Some students will still not have internet connectivity. Some students will have no adults in the home who can support their learning when they are not in a physical classroom; many parents work two and three jobs, or work far from home and so their commute makes it difficult to spend time on schoolwork.

Which means every lesson I prepare will need to have an accompanying video (even if only a few minutes) that explains the work as well as the procedures for turning the work in. While I can (fairly easily) differentiate and scaffold for students who need more support or are ready for advanced material, I won’t know who needs it unless I see how they’re doing! And I think once I explain that to the families, they will be willing to help the students turn the work in.

We’ll see. So much can change in a very short time.

For now, please be safe. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Avoid crowds when you can. As Red Green used to say, “We’re all in this together.”

School Year, First Quarter

Posted by on 28 Oct 2019 | Tagged as: 3rd Grade, 3rd grade, education, Education Professional, good things, hope

Already we are in the last week of the first quarter. I have a wonderful group of kiddos this year – curious, energetic, and engaged. Not perfect (what class is?) but so willing to try, to try again, and to bravely keep trying even when they are clearly struggling. They are not struggling though – they are all making progress! My heart melts with joy when I think of this group of kiddos!

Of course, I have this feeling every year — but this year there is a difference. A wheelchair. Because I am not in pain every day, I am actually able to enjoy even the more-challenging moments when I cannot find the materials I know I set out…

And the students seem to know it. They are more relaxed than any other group of kiddos I have had. They are cheerful, helpful, and genuinely interested in helping each other.

Not always- these are “age and stage appropriate” third graders! But they clearly feel comfortable and secure, and it is making a difference in their learning (which is accelerating!) and in my teaching (which is actually not bad this year…).

I know that not all years will be like this, but because I have more energy for thinking on my feet (yes, ironic!) and for planning and preparing, we are making more time for activities, and having more time to reflect and discuss. And because I am able to notice them and tap into their interests more often, I can see the hope and joy in their lives.

And that gives me hope – for their futures, and for our world.

What’s in the Garden

Posted by on 09 Aug 2019 | Tagged as: environment, Family Matters, garden, Gardens and Life, good things

I haven’t done a post like this in years! Right now I am limited in mobility to areas closest to the house, and only when others are nearby to assist. But Grant is working hard to change this! Here is a small photo essay about what’s going on in the ornamental garden closest to the house. I apologize for not having the ability to place the images right-side up at this time!

The plan is to make this entire front area, from the parking to the water spigot by Wally’s enclosure accessible even when I am in a wheelchair. Having a slightly larger “landing pad” by the front door, and an extended (and level) patio by the pond will let me both garden independently, and entertain friends a little more easily. Grateful that I have people in my life with the strength and skill for this!

An added bonus is that already we are seeing more birds, insects, and other animals by the pond garden. Dragonflies are more numerous, as are the little things I call “hover bees” (I think they may actually be flies, but they are pollinators!). If Grant has time and energy, I think we will thin out the plants in the pond again, and perhaps reset the pond to orient a little differently so the goldfish are more easily seen from the paved area.

Next year we will start working on improving the “back 40” (about 1/2 acre) for accessibility and rehabilitation. We are losing a LOT of the trees to the warmer weather, I am afraid – they weren’t helped by the contractors digging too close to their root systems when we rebuilt. But it’s an opportunity to create a healthier, slightly more diverse and adaptable area. Rather than sticking to native plants only (my original plan 20+ years ago), we will be bringing in some trees that are better adapted to warmer, drier climates (manzanita, possibly umbrella pine, dawn redwood) as well as some understory plants that can provide more reliable forage and shelter for indigenous species.

I have three more weeks before the students are in the classroom, and every afternoon/evening and weekend between then and now I am spending outside as much as I can!

Hopeful in Hard Times

Posted by on 31 Jul 2019 | Tagged as: citizenship, editorial, politics, Politics and War

Like the author of this post on Resilient Resistance (The Race…), I am continually surprised at how surprised I am when even “simple” civil rights decisions take a turn toward unfettered authoritarianism or even full-on fascism. I am devastated at the media frenzy in the oncoming election cycle (the next federal elections are now 16 months away…) that already is poised to splinter and subdue anyone in opposition to the current administration’s racist, sexist, nationalist, able-ist, sectarian, (you get the picture) policies and actions.

How do I stay hopeful? There are also some major media outlets that are beginning to advocate for fact-checking, for actual debate (as opposed to innuendo and name-calling), and for looking for commonalities more than differences. They are willing to call out people who abuse polite conversation, and those who prefer polite discourse are finally refusing to be badly treated. There are literally millions of people who are talking about, writing about, speaking about, and showing up for civic activities that are essential to a true democracy; a community that has differences, but that can compromise when it’s useful, and that realizes that a person or group doesn’t have to be the “winner” of every discussion or plan of action.

I stay hopeful because I see young people who are starting to sit up and decide for themselves rather than blindly doing and voting as their families “have always done.”

I am hopeful because I see older people taking the time to explain and share how they came to their conclusions rather than merely belittling the opinions and knowledge of young people; and listening carefully to both questions and the new knowledge of the upcoming generations.

I am hopeful because I still believe that when each person does what they believe is BEST for the world (as opposed to self-interest) that it works out.

And, to be honest, I am hopeful because I teach and I garden. Things change, often unexpectedly and undesirably, and one adjusts and goes on. Because I teach, I must remain positive and proactive in taking care of the vulnerable young people in my care. I can do that because I garden. Because I garden, I know that as one plant

  • dies
  • is eaten
  • uprooted
  • damaged
  • changed

an opportunity is created for new ideas and better plant communities. And it is the same with people, with ideas, with politics.

It is time to plant hopefully, and work for a future that sustains and honors life. I am ready. Are you?

  • If you would like to vote and aren’t registered, you can check voter eligibility for your state at vote.gov or at vote411.org.

If you want to be in contact with your elected federal officials (even if you are not a citizen or are ineligible to vote, these people still represent you!), you can find the federal directories at senate.gov or house.gov.

April 7: Present-Joy

Posted by on 07 Apr 2019 | Tagged as: NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month

The prompt for today’s NaPoWriMo is based on a Tweet by Rachel McKibbens .

Today I choose

authenticity / revelation / no more clouded thoughts

the bright, burning begins with a churning yearning

THIS is the goal: to celebrate what is / not what is not / a double negative turns doubly positive

a small flower hidden by leaves / the spider in the center / feasts

nests in rugosas / tiny fledglings practice / secure from cats

a thought unknown a skill unlearned / bends to necessity / mastery

discovering the flaws reveals / new opportunities / growth seeps in

because

today I choose

April 6: Possible, a day late…

Posted by on 07 Apr 2019 | Tagged as: NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month

The writing prompt for today asks poets to consider that which could be, IF…    As models, I looked at the suggested poems:  [Poem abut Naomi; Unsent] by Rachel Mennies and Daayan at Gold Streak River by Raena Shirali.

That which is possible, / envisioned or ennobled / by hunches, intuition, wishes and guesses

Revealed in the light after research / study of the facts / creating and

manifesting in somnolence as well as deeds

All people one community and one soul / one glorious /rejoicing

A reaching outward instead of turning inward / embracing the great unknown

Action / Rest / Laboring and Striving / Reclining and Preparing

for the next adventure / if only we would…

Yes, we can

Poetry Month 2019

Posted by on 05 Apr 2019 | Tagged as: NaNoWriMo, NaPoWriMo, poetry, Poetry Month

I was on vacation, then under the weather since the first. So, my first post this month will have [drumroll] FIVE poems!

This year, I have chosen to use the prompts from NaPoWriMo. You can also sign up to participate!

April 1: How to own a pet (or a child)  Inspired by How to Make a Crab Cake by January Gill O’Neil

Start with an open space in your heart,

a small, warm corner of your being

where you can add another life.

Into this pour your hopes and dreams

your gladness and plenty,

embracing lack of solitude and increasing effort.

Every morning, every noon, every night

rise and attend to the needs of another

receiving only affection in return

April 2: Life’s Lingering Lessons Inspired by The Meadow, The River by Claire Wahmanholm

We needed to know everything, / before we were done

We asked questions daily / walking through the garden/ walking to school

We listened intently or watched closer still / waiting for wisdom or insight

For every new task mastered / and every thought acquired / loomed still more

Does education end?

When do we know enough?

April 3: Angled Time Created after reading Pivot Points by Larry Levis

The languid, brightening shadows awaken to calls of birds / and other residents

Trees huddle together, sheltering wildflowers and giving strength to each other / the slow shuffle of the day getting started

again

The arc carved in the globe / tracing the path never more than twice a year / the waning and waxing and waning of seasons

Did you ever wonder about the observers?

Those who tread the same paths, think the same thoughts, but removed – by days, weeks, months… millennia

What did they think as they hunted or farmed or gathered or rested in the heat of the noon-day fires?

Diagonal lines moving from one side to another, growing in the middle, shrinking at the ends, never stopping

Until the last glittering rays punctuate the clouds, inviting the stars to play.

April 4: Sorrow’s Song after reading Son by Craig Morgan Teicher This is actually in sonnet form, with the first rhyming pattern in the middle of each line instead of creating four lines with alternating text.

A small brown animal walked here among the worried orchard trees

Bigger than a rabbit but smaller than a deer – it knelt a moment on its knees

Then getting up it stretched and paused to watch the leaves against the sky

Who knows what it really thought or saw as it pondered the great why

Running now from or to – it passed the moment of safety, of escape

Without thought by now it drew back against the ghastly shape

Of the last lingering breath and faced its death.

April 5: Sleeping Dogs after reading Diaspora: A Narcolepsy Hymn by Kyle Dargan This one is in the form of a villanelle, one I haven’t worked with before. I like the repetition and the rhythm this form sets up.

Before you approach

Know that sleeping dogs do not lie

they are always waiting.

In the morning they want for nothing

but a walk and a treat

before you approach.

Throughout the day

they nap and wake and watch

they are always waiting.

When you return or arrive

No matter how long ago you left, say their name

before you approach.

And be ready to play

before you sleep or rest or recline

they are always waiting.

A pat or a hug or a treat reassures them

That you haven’t forgotten them, just remember

before you approach:

They are always waiting.

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