Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Finding Narrative in Numbers

Nosing around online for information about my maternal grandfather's family--a part of our family that neither I, nor my mother, have known--led me to the family 1940 census record. 

This is a great lesson is trying to find a story in the numbers. I'd never tried to find a story in math before today, but I imagine many amateur genealogists find themselves faced with this challenge as well. It is part of the fun of the puzzle.

My brain took me immediately to the fact that seven adults and one child shared a three bedroom row home on Wharton Street in Philadelphia. Shuffling the possibilities in my head, I can put my grandparents in one room, possibly three or four siblings in another (Thomas, John, Francis, and Sam), and a step-sister (Sanina) and her 4 year old son in another room. Knowing the small dimensions of those bedrooms, I can't imagine four young men sharing one room. Some must have slept in what would otherwise be the dining room or living room--perhaps the young boy--putting three in one bedroom and two in another. Still, everyone must have been climbing over one another in the one bathroom home.

Another number leapt off the page: 0. My grandparents, Joseph and Lillian, reported making $0 in 1939. Born in Italy, they were 65 and 58 respectively. Reporting as laborer and housewife, and having just come through the Great Depression, I can't imagine much savings.

While census records, on the surface, may not be able to confirm the details my mind immediately gravitated to--where did everyone sleep--the records do tell me another angle of the story. The records remind me about the culture of sharing these generations fostered. 

My grandfather, John
I forget that...and I forget how drastically we've changed. For better or for worse depends on your perspective.

From what I can gather, the average American income in 1939 was $1,368. Among the three reporting income and working, John, Thomas, and Sanina, my grandparents' household made $1,960 in 1939. That comes to just under $38 dollars a week when everyone is working and income is consistent. However, only one of the three wage earners, Thomas, a shipping clerk, reported working a 40 hour week consistently...and my grandfather, John, worked a range of hours week to week driving a truck, while Sanina reported working only five hours a week as a tailor.

In 1939, a gallon of gas was estimated at 10 cents a gallon, a loaf of bread was 8 cents, and a pound of hamburger meat was 14 cents.

This was the first census that attempted to measure the social and economic situation of the country. Never before had someone been asked to declare how much money they earned--the previous models of the census were built mostly around population shifts and growth. By the end mid 1940s, it was common to find editorials bemoaning the census changes as an invasion of privacy. 
Barron's National Business and Financial Weekly, April 24, 1944

The numbers leave me with questions that I know I will never answer. For instance, I am left wondering how my grandparents' household managed when my grandfather enlisted on August 7, 1942 and shipped off to the Pacific theater in WWII. While my grandparents household depended on the $780 my grandfather made in 1939, I wonder how much of the estimated $468 he made as a private was sent back home.

In the end, the numbers leave me thinking about the moral of an often rewritten story--rewritten and retold for good reason: the families of the greatest generation took great care of one another. And I wonder in what ways we search for ourselves in their example.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Hunt for Calvin Figgins

The spirit of my podcast, I Remember, rises from family stories. Sometimes the stories are bittersweet memories and sometimes they are thrilling accounts shaved from the pages of history.

So far, my participants have shared a range of stories from ancestors chasing Pancho Villa to the impact of the Armenian Genocide to the importance of a library card in a home that many families shared. 

And as we talk, I can hear the excitement as people share the answers they have found--the answers that have provided another anchor to hold onto the past with--but these answers only stir up the need for more questions to answered. 

We can never have enough anchors in our life.
Photo courtesy of Gary Anderson

My December 26th, 2014 interview with Gary Anderson teased out one of my favorite stories in the podcast series to date--a Civil War soldier who vanished (AWOL?) while one duty. So many questions surround this tale of Calvin Figgins who disappeared (fled?) and who resurfaced as Charles Mills. When Gary told the story, I was riveted. And to hear that much later in life Charles Mills visited a man named John Figgins...and a photograph existed...well, my head popped. It brought up questions and thoughts of fear and honor, fight or flight, family and secrets...and I wondered how Gary followed this trail, how he came across the photos and the details, and I wondered how that must have felt to discover something tangible about your family, something no one is left to talk about, no one who knows for sure. 

You have to listen to Gary tell the story to appreciate the full scope of the mystery and the hunt for answers that he engaged in with his father.

Sooner or later we all go on a hunt for our ancestors. Some of us are lucky enough to still have people alive to ask questions of, but even if we don't, Gary's stories are an example of the kind of detective work possible today.

It excites me to be able to share in, and share, Gary's story. I hope it inspires others to keep digging into their family histories. And if anyone needs a forum to share their stories, you can always contact me at bjk925@gmail.com or @_briank_ to set up an conversation on an upcoming episode of I Remember.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Spoken Word Poetry

Yesterday, late in the afternoon, a student reached out to me on email...

Jacqueline was right, I did enjoy the spoken-word poem, To This Day Project by Shane Koyczan. While one might argue that all poetry at its core is meant to be heard aloud and is "spoken-word" poetry, I see something else going on here: the importance of teaching digital texts.

Perhaps the importance of teaching the components of digital texts (visual text, spoken text, written or composed text) is as plain as the nose on our face. My student did not send me a newspaper article, or a book, or even song lyrics. She sent me a video...with enthusiasm. Consider her words:

I would love for you to watch this...

We can't forget that reaching out to an adult--whether parent, teacher, coach, pastor, et al.--is a big leap for young people. We have to reach back too.

In the process of sharing something with me, Jacqueline has given me pause to reflect.

image from Koyczan's To This Day Project
Digital texts have been composed for several decades, but it was restricted only to those trained to work in expensive studios. While we might think of digital literacy as the ability to access and present information, digital literacy has become bigger than that.

What Jacqueline shared with me is more than just a fun, fluffy activity. It is another option in the arsenal of writers. Digital Literacy reminds us that writing does not have to just be essays.

As teachers we can work outside the box.

Digital Literacy includes an ever-expanding number of ways that people tell stories...and it makes it accessible to anyone with a device. Just as I responded to the astonishing energy of MTV as an adolescent in the 80s, the current culture is responding to digital texts...and I can't express how rewarding it is as teacher to have students who reach out to include me in a piece of their world.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Video & Informational Writing

Using a short news video, especially a student-produced news story, has been effective in helping my students understand the conditions of informational writing.

While asking students to speak a specific list of vocabulary from the board, we discuss the news story: analysis, evidence, implicit, explicit, and inference. 

Part of our discussions gravite on organization, the use of transitions, and whether the lead and conclusion struck us as effective. It has been useful to scribe the opening sentences on the board aloud with the class--to break it down, to analyze the strategy the writer used in composing the news story.

The PBS Student Reporting Labs have been a great resource of student-produced video for me. I find a range of topics as well as examples from both middle school and high school students.

The use of video to discuss informational writing becomes another access point for the students. Too often, we tend to see writing as something we just do for school, or worse...something done just for English class. After a steady diet of student video, students analyze  professional news stories in the same way, and we find very few, subtle, differences among them, structurally speaking.

Students have been able to apply these lessons to their writing of informational texts and become excited to compose videos of their own. Right now, we are brainstorming and digging for news stories about our community.

I like that we can watch a 2-3 minute video and then either discuss or response to a CCSS-type prompt in order to practice those question types, find a comfort level with the test jargon, and still remain on course as writers and readers of relevant, accessible texts in multiple formats. Even my next test on informational writing will include a section where students analyze an alphabetic text news story and a different section where they watch a video on a personal device in order to analyze that story.

Showing students the relevance of informational writing outside of our classroom--and how dependent it is with strong narrative skills--has become an energizing focal point in this unit. My kids still think of the tenets of story-telling throughout the informational writing unit.

Not the least of which is the great, grounding question for student writers: why does it matter?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Podcasting our Family Histories

Podcasting has found a niche in my writing life. It stems from one seed heard again and again from people in my generation or older:
I wish I knew more about my family, but no one is around anymore to ask. I wish we wrote things down when they were still with us.
When I interviewed Rita Sorrentino on Saturday for Episode 3 of the I Remember podcast series, this regret came up again and again.

My family shares Rita's lament. 

But what are families to do? If few or none remain to tell the stories, the stories no longer live. Unfortunately, writing does not come naturally to everyone. The fear of not knowing what to put down on paper can make writing a chore. Others may feel lost, unsure of where to start, what to write down.  

Yet, most of us enjoy telling a story to another person.

Podcasting may be a great way to make a change in our families.  If we start recording our family stories, we preserve our heritage, our history, and our memories for future generations. Our stories live on.

While I am not a member of Rita's family, I still connected many times with her stories. Early in the podcast, holding back tears, she shared the importance of a library card and reading books in her childhood. I remembered my own experiences walking to the neighborhood library on Broad Street. I remembered our elderly Italian cousin reading library books in large print because her eyesight was failing. The books were also in Italian because English had always escaped her grasp.

Writers know that one of the best prewriting activities available is simply turning and talking to another person. Some writers rely on speaking to someone to help draw their ideas out. It is amazing what we can dredge up simply by talking. Even though I interviewed Rita for an hour, I know that we only scratched the surface. I hope Rita continues to dig and search and write...and maybe even record herself and her family memories.

For anyone who shares my interest in this process, some consideration in the art of conversation or asking good questions to help nudge your interviewee is helpful. NPR's Story Corps publishing a solid list of questions to get anyone started. I like to start with a few specific questions, but then I try to let the interview develop its own momentum and arc. I try to listen and building follow-up questions based on the specific memories the subject shares. I try to ask questions or make connections that allows the person to dig deeper.

If you share my interest in family history, and you want to commit to preserving your family stories, consider podcasting your family stories. Our memories may be unreliable, but they are all our families have sometimes.

I am always looking for guests for my podcast series. If you would like to engage in an interview with me and share a piece of your family heritage on my podcast, please write to me at bjk925@gmail.com or leave a comment below and I will be sure to get back to you.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Truth & Generosity

The grace of connecting with students can sometimes last over lifetimes.

This week, Victoria Marini, literary agent at Gelfman Schneider in New York City, gave my 8th graders advice about their writing. Using Twitter, my students fired off questions about writing to the literary agent all day long. And, all day long, the literary agent responded. I was so proud of the questions the kids asked her. What they are writing matters to us and having the unique opportunity to engage with Torie was not lost on my students.

At one stage, an 8th grade girl looked up at me from her iPad and asked, "how did you connect with this literary agent?"

I taught Torie.

And the girl's face lit up. She didn't expect that answer. She said something along the lines of how cool that was as she made sure others around her knew what I had said.

Yep, years ago...I taught Torie.

Well, I "directed" her in the middle school play back in the late 90s. I remember casting her as the Dauphin in Henry V because I thought she had the natural instinct and sensitivity for it. More specifically, during auditions, I could already envision her playing the moment when the Dauphin receives the king's message that England would not give up. England would fight. The significance of that moment is that the Dauphin can see that this brash English King will win. That France is up against it even though they outman and out "gun" England. I knew she would play the significance of that moment. I knew she would "get" it.

It is 17 years since we worked on that play together, and I remember those decisions and I remember her sincerity as a person and as a young actor.

Torie came along on a school trip to the University of Wyoming that I organized. I set up a week long visit for fifteen kids interested in pursuing the arts in college. One of the professors, Leigh Selting, was so open to the idea that he let my students sit in on college theater classes and organized special training sessions in voice, fight, dance, set design, acting for the camera, et al. My kids even prepared monologues to deliver in front of their theater faculty. As Torie performed her scene from Paul Zindel's The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds, Professor Selting turned to me and whispered, "She's so goooood. She's the real stuff."

I'll never forget that either.

When Torie went to high school she came back and assisted me with the middle school play. This act inspired many others to also help. For many years I often entertained anywhere from 6-10 student directors from the high school. Torie started that. And then she graduated. And, like so many of the kids we teach, she vanished into her life.

We lost touch until recently.

I reached out to Torie just as my current students were starting to write their collaborative MG novel. Fortunately, the timing worked out for us and Torie connected with my students on Twitter just as we started to read and comment on each others work.

As we shared our thoughts and questions about each others' work on post-its, we read them and crafted questions for Torie. Students were milling around the room, reading and writing, talking and Tweeting...it felt like a writer's studio. We were experimenting--together. We were talking about writing--together. We were thinking--together. We were creating--together.

And we also had someone help us. Someone who was just like them not too long ago. Someone who sat in these desks yesterday, and took the time today to model giving back and sharing.

When I knew the adolescent Torie on the stage, I made a point of drumming home the two words "Truth & Generosity" to my young actors. I did it so often I put a gold plate on our drama award that read "Truth & Generosity." We talked about it every day. We really did. That is not an exaggeration. We would talk about how we can find ways in our life to practice both of those virtues. For us, then, it was as simple as listening when someone else was talking, listening when someone else needed us.

Initially, I thought this blog post would be about the cool experience my kids had with writing, or Twitter, or a literary agent. Instead, I think what sticks most to me is the importance of how we make kids feel in our classrooms. And this week, a former student helped me make my current students feel like writers...they feel it...they believe they can do this. For some kids, it is the first time that they think of themselves as writers.

Thank you, Torie! Some connections do indeed last over lifetimes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Like it Matters

I don't want to ruin it for everyone.

That line is following me around at school.  It waits for me in the morning. Flicking on the light to me classroom, the sound of it is long gone, but its impact left an echo that lingers.

I don't want to ruin it for everyone.

About two weeks ago I introduced a new project to my classes. We are writing a collaborative MG novel where each student is responsible for a 250 word segment.

We outlined a plot and broke it into 100 segments because, at the time, I had 100 students. Students chose their scene. One writer per scene.

Having secured funding, we will soon be sending our 50,000 word manuscript off to CreateSpace. We will be paying for three rounds of editorial services along with some of the other self-publishing services offered. Students will soon be receiving professional feedback. The editor's notes will soon ignite some great class discussion.

But before we cross that bridge, I wanted to share something.

When I asked my classes if they were excited to work together to publish a book, many raised their hands with enthusiasm. One boy exclaimed, "Think about it. How often in math do you actually get to go outside and measure a cylinder for some job site. I like that we actually get to apply things. We can write for real."

Some were not as excited initially. When I pressed on and asked what was going through the minds of those who did not raise their hands, one boy spoke.

He said, I don't want to ruin it for everyone.

I asked him to elaborate. And he did. But something else happened. Others spoke up too--both in agreement and support. The initial feelings were that no one wants to be person who writes the scene that ruins the book...so, we will talk about it. A lot. And read and help each other.

And talk about our writing, talk about our writing, talk about our writing. If nothing else were to come out of this at the very least I can say my kids talk and talk and talk about their writing like it matters.

Because it does.

As we selected scenes and then created drafts through the eyes and voices of six separate characters, I kept checking in with my students as they wrote. More often then note, they flagged me over to talk.

When we talked, we talked about characters, conflicts, dialogue, action, setting, and word choice. They asked me to read their work again and again. They passed around their notebooks and Chromebooks to each other on their own--wanting peers to read their work. Remember, it is only 250 words per student--a completely manageable number of words. It leaves a lot of room for conferring, revision, and experimentation with writing.

I don't have to press or lean on them. They bring the energy and a really interesting positive anxiety because in this moment their writing matters. It feels like a room full of athletes or performers about to step into the spotlight to do their thing--and the anxiety that courses through the veins of someone ready to simultaneously test and share themselves is very real among my kids.

After a few days I told my classes that I don't know if I could ever create this rush of importance, anxiety, pressure, and excitement with any other piece of writing. Usually, students try to write to me, their peers, our community. But now, the implication is that we are truly writing for real readers ...out there...readers who will have real opinions. We are paying to put an ISBN on our book. People will be able to buy our self-published effort internationally as well.

So, for the first time, ever, in twenty years in my classroom, all of my kids are feeling the same wonderful thing all at once:

it matters.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Italian Bread Slathered in Red Gravy

“When I was in my country, I was like this,” Beppa cupped one hand atop the other like a cage for a small bird. “When I come from the other side, I was like this,” and she opened her hands. I could see the imaginary bird leaping from her upturned palms. And then she reached into the low hanging branches above and picked one ripe fig for me, and one ripe fig for herself.

Beppa and me before Confirmation
“Beppa” is an Italian, female derivative of Josephine. Our Beppa’s name at birth was Guiseppa Ragolino. In America, she became Josephine Pratico. In our family legacy, the memories of our “Beppa” live on through Italian food and a fig tree.

Beppa left Italy for America on a steamship in 1927. In her mid-twenties, Beppa said goodbye to her parents, a sister, the family farm, a region still limping from the 1908 earthquake, and a country licking its wounds from World War I. She could not know this at the time, but Beppa would see her father and sister only once throughout the rest of her long, loving life.

While Beppa’s memories travelled with her across the sea, our memories of Beppa continue to travel across time through our stories. We tell stories because we can no longer ask her questions. So, as a family, we share the stories so that we can know her better and begin to understand her joy and tenderness, her kindness and toughness, just a little bit deeper.

My aunt Joanne writes, “Could you believe this small, Italian woman who had nothing could leave such an impression on all of our lives?”  We miss her like so many others in our family tree. Over the aroma of fresh, green basil and warm Italian bread slathered with red gravy, I wish everyone in our family could sit side by side again. I wish I could ask Beppa questions and pass my aunts, uncles, and grandparents her heavy plates of homemade raviolis, melting like butter by the forkful. I wish I could see the traces of soft, white flour on her apron again, and the bits of kneaded, fresh dough left behind on a wooden rolling pin. I would memorize her smile.

Because Beppa never learned to drive, and never owned a car, she walked to church and the vegetable stand. Trolleys clattered and trundled her off to work. My cousin, Marybeth, remembers Beppa walking home from the trolley--holding a black handbag close to herself--the white and blue uniform--the apron and cap that she wore every day until retiring at 65. In spite of living almost another 40 years after retirement--another lifetime for some-- Beppa’s lifetime never seems long enough.

Beppa & Gregorio
Born three years after her retirement, I knew Beppa as a grandmotherly figure surrounded by simmering red gravy, crusty Italian bread, and sweet, warm apple pies. She spoke broken English between steady streams of Italian--but when I stole fried meatballs from her kitchen--meatballs frying in oil--meatballs she turned over to brown and crisp with bare fingers--Beppa’s English fell swift and precise upon her little thief, “Hey! get the hell out of my kitchen!”

Used to doing goodness for others, Beppa growled and complained in Italian when the family threw a surprise party for her 80th birthday. But she overcame her Italian blood, and even allowed a tear of appreciation to well-up on her lashes. For once, she didn’t have to cook.

Each New Year’s Day, family and friends streamed through her kitchen. We followed the scent of homemade pizzas--the baked and charred crusts--the sweet, piney, and warm basil--the gooey, fresh mozzarella--and ladles of red tomato gravy spooned into the center of the shell and swirled in red concentric circles towards the edges of the crust. It was only day of the year I ever remember her making pizza. Cut into geometric shapes with a pair of red scissors, it disappeared faster than Beppa could bake them--the oven worked all day.

Some afternoons I found Beppa resting alone in a reclining chair by the front window. While the easy guess is that she watched people passing through the neighborhood, I imagine the farm girl noticed the bristling pigeons on the overhead wires or learned to trace time by the way long, black shadows crept across the red brick neighborhood.

Surviving a long fall down a fight of hardwood stairs in her mid-80s,  Beppa walked away with a set of stitches in her soft, white hair and the early hints of dementia creeping into her life. For example, Beppa would eat and drink coffee all morning if family did not monitor her breakfast. Beppa would forget that she already had a cup of coffee and a piece of rye toast as she prepared breakfast a second time, and then a third time. When my aunt discovered that Beppa had eaten a half a loaf of rye bread one morning, Beppa shrugged and smiled--so cute and innocent.

For as long as I knew her, Beppa did not pay her own bills. My aunt, who lived next door, helped Beppa manage everything. Because Beppa's primary language remained Italian, my aunt read bills and letters written in English, and checked out books in Italian from the public library. Ever since Beppa first came to America, my family tried to teach her English.

Aunt Connie would say, “Beppa, say ‘one.’

And Beppa replied, “Say one.”

Another time, my aunt asked Beppa to show her how to make fried dough like the old Italians. My aunt laid all of the ingredients on the kitchen table: flour, eggs, oil, cold water, and powdered sugar. She scrubbed her hands with hot, soapy water, dried them on a clean towel, and said, “Ok, I’m ready.”
Beppa and one of her sons, my Uncle Carmen

Beppa said, “First, get a big pot and put it on a chair.”

Pulling a pot from a cabinet, my aunt paused, “Why put it on a chair?”

Beppa said, “Because I’m short.”

Although Beppa needed more help as the years passed, she cooked three meals a day well into her 90s. The black knobs on her stove no longer showed numbers or lines as the markings had been worn away with use. That oven produced decades of hearty peasant food to fill our plates: creamy pasta fagioli (beans and pasta); green beans and potatoes coated in red gravy; and bowls of buttery shellfish and garlic. Dinners came with a cold salad of tomato, red onion, vinegar, and oil. She dipped crusty bread into the salad, into her red gravy, into her morning coffee. Softening the food made chewing easier.

Today, in several yards behind several family homes across several states several fig trees grow. All of the trees are family. They sprang from cuttings from the original fig tree that grew in the back corner of Beppa’s yard. That initial fig tree did not grow on its own. Fig trees are not native to Philadephia. Beppa and Gregorio planted the cutting they kept alive for thirty days on a steamship--a tree suspended in metal cups of water to keep its roots soft --a tree they took turns holding open above deck to drink in the sun--a tree that survived the journey from Beppa’s family farm in Calabria, Italy--a tree that has carried her memories across the sea--a tree that carries her memories across time.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Unexpected Perspective

For twenty years I have been in a classroom with 8th grade students. Teachers see students through many microscopes--some thrust upon all teachers across the country, some self-imposed. Most of the lenses are cut from content, data, and standards. We so often zoom in and rarely zoom out and actually look at people.

Our administrators observe us, but we rarely observe each other.

In the past few weeks I have observed four colleagues. My goal is to observe thirty by Christmas even though I have not observed four teachers over the past twenty years.

Two per week during my planning periods should get me there.

Sitting in a 6th grade science classroom on Thursday and an 8th grade foreign language classroom on Friday offered me an unexpected perspective:

I've taken some things for granted.

I have forgotten how much kids grow from 6th grade through 7th grade through 8th grade. I have forgotten that a 6th grade student needs so much attention in learning how to be a student. I have forgotten in 8th grade we can engage so deeply in the content because of the incredible work that has occurred in the grades before us. Our 6th and 7th grade colleagues are, in a sense, pulling double-duty by delivering a robust curriculum in addition to channelling so much energy into the habits of being a good student.

In the 6th grade science room, it was like their skin was on fire with energy. They wriggled. They talked. They leaned from one side to the other. They smiled. They fidgeted. And they engaged with the teacher, Judy, over the directions for the lab:
In your groups, take two plastic cups and write SALT on one and SUGAR on the other. Fill each halfway with water. Put two tablespoons of SALT in the one marked SALT, and two tablespoons of SUGAR in the one marked SUGAR. In each, place a small carrot. In a notebook, make a prediction about what will happen to the carrots--they were starting a study on scientific method.
Those (simple) directions took over twenty minutes to deliver.  Not so simple when your skin is aflame with energy.

The directions were delivered in chunks and were repeated. The teaching strategy was something akin to part-part-whole. Teach one part. Then the next part. And so on.

The students verbally repeated the directions along the way. And then Judy demonstrated each step before pointing to the directions, hand written, on the board.

No stone was left unturned, but turning over so many stones takes time. It was incredible to be reminded just how much guidance an engaged 6th grader needs.

Along the way, students repeated parts of the directions and held their hands in the air in the proper way to hold a scale. They were reminded not to run in the classroom with or without the cups of water. They were reminded not to drink either the salt water or the sugar water. They were reminded not to eat the carrots.

Along the way, they answered questions. Some left their seats for a moment because they had to move. Their bodies have minds of their own. Their bodies made noise. The room was noisy but in a focused, well-directed, vibrating swarm of insects sort of way.

They accomplished their task with energy. They had fun. And they clearly needed to run. Soon.

When I observed the 8th grade foreign language classroom, the students entered on another level. Yes, they talked to one another. Their athletic bodies climbed over desks. They moved respectfully to grab a piece of paper from a shelf. But when they sat, they sat still, and needed at most 45 seconds of directions from their teacher and engaged in the review.

They would be taking a quiz during the second half of class.

My colleague, Marc, led them through chunks of conversations in Spanish and connected with the kids with humor. They were asked to extract information from the conversation, to recall the rules of the sounds of letters, and to notice names they hadn't encountered previously.

Similar to the 6th graders, the 8th graders were repeating things. At times, they repeated the correct pronunciation of words. Mostly, they repeated words and phrases that they had committed to memory.

Nowhere in the process did they need to repeat the directions aloud.

The 8th graders raised their hands like the 6th graders but it wasn't a competition like it was for some 6th graders. To be called on in the 6th grade classroom was a little victory. It was winning. It was a combination of "Yes, I was chosen!" and "Yes, I know the answer!" It was a part of feeling liked, of being noticed, and of being acknowledged.

The 8th graders were not roiling with energy. Their pulse runs deep. They think. They listen.

Yet, they crave opportunities to laugh, to take a breath, and to play too.

And they need adults in their life who take them seriously--who listen. The nature of being a parent, a coach, a teacher makes adults talk at and direct kids. A lot.

But in 8th grade, they thrive under conditions where adults take them seriously. Adults who listen. Adults who engage their minds without holding their hands through everything.

It wasn't any one thing that reminded me of how important our relationships are with our 8th grade students, but it was the act of looking through the lens of teaching--the original lens.--as opposed to the lenses of content, standards, and data. The teaching lens is the one we looked through before we ever finished our education degrees. It is the one that too often collects dust.

Another colleague of mine listened to me share my experience in the 6th grade classroom. I told her about a boy who left his chair and half skipped, half paraded up and down the aisle and then simply returned to his seat. He went back to his work. He just experienced a momentary explosion of joyous energy.

My colleague smiled and said, "See, that is just like my son. My son needs that too. Sometimes I just wish they would just let him get up and run around for a minute too." In that moment, she was a teacher looking through the lens of a mother while talking about other teachers who looked through a variety of lens--some imposed on them, some self-imposed.

However, without zooming out and looking at the landscape of where we are and who we teach, we can take something for granted...we teach people who depend on us for our kindness and compassion as much as they do our knowledge and experience.

And long before our students reach us, they have a history of teachers who taught them a lot about being good students and good people.

And it always points back to our example--the things we do and see more than the things we say.

And because that is true, then seeing our colleagues teach is one lens worth picking up and adding to our perspective.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Observing a Colleague (Music)

My goal of observing colleagues is now a formal goal of observing 30 colleagues by Christmas break. This is it--I am writing it down. Having observed two colleagues thus far, the importance of the conditions of, or the design of, our classrooms is crystallizing.

I don't mean bricks and mortar, paint and polish. I mean the conditions of learning modeled by the teacher.

For example, at the end of the music class, I told my colleague, Young, that I appreciated seeing her confer with kids as much as she did. Over the course of the forty minutes that I thought to track it, Young engaged in twenty-five conferences.


Some were a minute or two, others a bit longer. But this is a far cry from the music class I remember as an adolescent.

I went to a Catholic K-8 school in the city of Philadelphia. Music class was held in a basement--dull linoleum floors, boiler room, and wire-meshed windows. When the church was being used, mobile confessional stations would appear in the basement. An occasional evening dance or talent show happened here too. Facing the stage and its flame-retardant and moss-colored curtains, the entire grade sat on uncomfortable, metal folding chairs. Sister was tall and thin and demonstrated various instruments.

We never got to play any instruments. We listened to her strum a guitar, play a flute, tap an xylophone. And we learned songs by listening to a vinyl recording. Funny, I still remember them. We learned one so we could sing it during our Confirmation ceremony. We sang it over and over and over:
I'm a soldier in Christ's Army,
Confirmation made it so.
I'm a soldier in Christ's Army,
I'll defend my faith wherever I go.
No, the devil shall not harm me,
I'm the captain of my soul.
I'm a Soldier in Christ's Army,
marching to my heavenly goal.
Today's music class is far different. For one, the students were writing music--creating a 12-bar blues song from scratch that they are going to play. Using keyboards and Garageband, the students have been recording everything--all of the instruments in their mix. Once completed, the last thing they will do is record a solo. The only rule is they all have to use the same keys, but the rhythms can be different, etc.

I didn't see the passive music lessons of my adolescence. I saw more than music. I saw writing and connected it to my classroom.

And, like the writing classroom, I thought how meaningful it is that Young presented herself as a mentor and not a judge. Because the students know that she can play music, and because they know that she can write music--they have seen her do both--the students did not flinch in the conference when Young admitted a personal struggle, "that's the one area I really need to grow in--editing the sound."

Clearly, she plays and writes alongside of her students, so it doesn't take much training to observe that Young set up very specific conditions for her classroom.  Yet, three conditions resonated most with me.

Among those that I remember from Young:

  • "You have perfect pitch, Jack...you could figure out what pitch the school bell ran on!"
  • I love what you are doing here, but you want to use your second octaves. Remember, you want them  to be nice and low because it is a bass sound; you o.k. with that?
  • "That looks good, but it went a little far, cut that back to the number 5 line--yes--I'm excited to here this. Are you excited to hear it come together?"

I smiled when I heard a student ask Young, "I don't know how long it should be." I get that question too!

Young was all over the room--addressing individual questions when students needed her--and assessing each student repeatedly throughout the class. By conferring one on one, she could tell who needed extra time and who was ready for enrichment.

When she noted, "lets give Joe a chance to get that next track" she challenged a different student who seemed to take a break from writing their music, "remember you can make up your own rhythmic syncopation." That student went right at it.

While students worked independently to create music, I couldn't help thinking about the writing that occurs in my class. Sometimes I see students slow down and stop because they believed they wrote all they had to express. Sometimes they haven't developed the stamina to continue developing content and need that nudge and encouragement to know where to access the ideas to put down on paper.

When choice is offered, students will work at different rates. It doesn't mean someone is slow or doesn't understand. Sometimes students focus on details others don't prefer. For the students who moved ahead at an accelerated rate, Young provided a specific skill to work on while they were waiting for the others: practice playing the two specific keys they were writing with. Young said, "keep the tip of the thumb on all white keys, and the middle finger on all of the black keys." The students worked playing their piece with this adjustment of their hands.

As an aside, when this kind of interaction occurred, I heard "thank you" from the students often.  I know it is because our kids are polite, but I also give credence to the fact that Young has created an environment where the condition of respect exists. She respects the power of choice in her room, and she shares that power with her kids.

Final Reflection on the Observation
It makes me think of the many skills students need to learn in order to write--and how I can keep those specific skills in my back pocket when I find young writers who need a nudge to continue writing and don't know how. The beauty of Young's lesson is that is built on choice.

The student was in control of their work and they were free to make mistakes. Free from judgment, students were free to ask questions.

Young was free to work with kids in small group conferences--while others were still writing. In these small group conferences, she was providing a lot of individual coaching and opening up the possibilities for the students.

Young gave kids lots of time to write, experiment, make mistakes alongside of lots of guidance. The freedom of choice was supported with lots of quick conferences. I've seen these same conditions of a class in math and now in music

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Observing a Colleague (Math)

Making good on my commitment to watching colleagues teach this year, I observed a math teacher today during my planning period. Math is something well out of my comfort zone and content area.

I found it refreshing to flush the content from my vision or hearing. The teaching was what mattered. Too often, we confuse content knowledge with the stuff that makes an effective teacher.

Effective teaching is about the conditions of your classroom as much as it is about the content...yet, the balance of attention and energy isn't always there. Curriculum, Common Core, Assessment, Tests, Scores, and Rankings share space at the adult table while the conditions of our classroom are often relegated to the unobserved little kids table.

Today, I got to see the balance and the best of both worlds at work.

It struck me that Glen used a technique English teacher's often lament that they don't do enough because we don't have the time--conferring. How can we find the time when we have so much curriculum to get to? You'll find that a shared sentiment across the nation.

Yet, even though a Math curriculum is just as intense and as bloated (and tested) as an English curriculum, I loved watching a teacher plan a lesson that included conferring time with many students.

Conferring was embedded in the natural technique. Nothing about it felt like it was a special arrangement because no "front" of the room existed. Glen is just so natural and good at it, but I know enough to realize that it is also very deliberate and intentional.

Additionally, I appreciated that when the students worked they were encouraged to talk to one another.

I know in the instruction of writing, turning and talking is often one of the best pre-writing tools we could encourage our students to use.

Glen has rapport with students, no doubt, but he also structured his class to encourage that rapport and the building of community. Starting the class with a warm-up designed from a pre-assessment of skills, the students selected one option from four choices.

As they worked on the "choose your own adventure" as Glen put it, he circulated around the room and made time to check-in with students. Sometimes he was by one's side for a minute or two, sometimes a bit longer.

When they moved on from the warm-up they collaborated on definitions for the tools and skills at play today. The class then dug deeper into some guided practice (same skills) and then transitioned to trying some problems on their own.

Throughout the class, I was reminded of the power of talking with our students...as opposed to talking at them. Well done, Glen. I understand the joy and energy on the faces of this kids in your room a little better now. Thank you for welcoming me today!

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Energy to Teach

Don Graves wrote quite a bit about teachers drawing their energy from students. I would like to add that the more we get to know our students, the greater the exchange of energy. 

We can energize our students just by our own attitudes and dispositions. 

We can energize our students when and if they see our passion for our subjects.

I asked my 8th grade students to complete an online questionnaire about their reading and writing life. I tried to ask questions that will help me learn more about them individually as well as a group. As the results accumulate, I feel energized.

For example, the last question reads, "I created a theme for the year for this class: 'Writing is a craft. Our classroom, a studio.' React to that in anyway you want. Tell me what strikes you about it, or what you may connect with, or even what questions come up for you about that statement."

Below are some of the student responses to my self-created theme for the year, Writing is a Craft. Our classroom, a studio:

This theme makes me feel confident in my writing because if the classroom is like a studio then no one is judging your writing. JF
It kind of reminds me of an art class. Like writing is the art we are working on and the art studio is our classroom. It makes me wonder what this year truly holds in creative writing for me. What art project will I create in the studio of writing. SL
I think you are saying that writing is something you have to do and work on and that your classroom is a place to build and perfect it. DB
Writing is counted as art, even though all what forms it is black lines stroked across a paper in certain patterns forming thoughts or ideas. I find that amazing because it basically means everything is an art since we express ourselves daily, even if not in writing. If so, wouldn't our classroom be only one part of the studio that makes up our lives? Or is writing only an art because it is made up of drawings / typing's? Or is it because we can strategically express ourselves through the words we place on the paper like the way a painter chooses the colors on her canvas? ST 
What strikes me mainly would be the idea that writing isn't just something people do for school. It's also a talent and a skill. It's a craft, as said in the theme. It is not just any skill either, it's a very important one that you use through your entire life. Saying that our classroom is a studio is, to me, a way of saying that the point of it is not to feel like you're writing for school, but that you have a studio where you can feel comfortable writing and sharing your writings with other people in the "studio". ET
 A simple exchange--a heartfelt and honest exchange--can be a great energizer for the start of the year. I am grateful that my students are taking the time respond to my theme for the year so thoughtfully.

And I am already looking forward to tomorrow to hear their thoughts about the rest of the results from the questionnaire.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Remembering Mr. Patton

Tomorrow, our middle school will host a memorial for the man the building was named after: Charles F. Patton--one of the best listeners I have known in education. He was so good at listening that even if you weren't looking for it you noticed it.

You noticed and felt the sincerity of his eyes on you. He was the model of mutual respect. He loved young people, education, and you knew he loved teachers.

credit: Norman Rockwell
Hired after he retired, I could consider myself "second generation Patton" yet I still came to know Charles because he embraced education and our school community as a part of his life. But, I have to admit, there is something in the way my "first-generation Patton" colleagues (those hired by Charles) speak about him. It was as if Charles stepped right out of a Norman Rockwell painting and right into their lives because when they talk about Charles they all do one thing the same.

They smile.

And you notice and feel the sincerity in their eyes. His example imprinted that sincerity in them.

What resonates best with me is just how many stories from those colleagues begin with, "Charles would take you into his office and sit you down and..."

And talk.

Actually, he would press the right buttons so others could talk and he could listen. He gave them all of the time in the world. All of the time they ever needed. And he loved doing it.

You could see and feel that from his eyes too. I know that is a part of the reason why they smile when they remember Charles.

We all have the same hours in the day, yet Charles made it seem like he had all the time in world for you. He wasn't in a hurry with you. In a weird way that is difficult to explain, he indeed did have all of the time in the world for his staff, his students, and his community.

He freely gave everyone his time. All of it. And it was his joy and honor to do it.

Anytime I was around the man, he would take the time to look at me and ask me how I was...and after listening...he would ask about my class, or coaching, or the school play, or anything I was involved in. You couldn't walk within the vicinity of Charles and not be drawn into a heartfelt conversation with him.

During my first ten years in the building, I directed the school plays. Charles, long since retired, came to many of the performances. He would sit quietly off to the side and leave when it was done--careful not to attract attention or distract from the kids and their mentor. He would talk with me about it at another time.

I saw Charles in a folding chair at so many sporting events. Sometimes he would be talking with others--actually, they would be talking and he would be listening--and it would come as no surprise that he knew the names of the kids on the field.

I saw Charles at school concerts and I saw him in the evenings in the school library as the host for a community bridge night.

I saw Charles stop to talk to people. He always stopped. He stopped to talk to kids, parents, teachers, administrators, support staff--everyone. He seemed to stop time when he did it.

But what I remember is his eyes.

They were so focused on you. He was listening. He was giving you his time. And you would understand that.

Tomorrow, at the memorial, a large part of what I will think about and take a lesson from is his example as a listener and what an incredibly powerful tool listening can be for an educator.

And I am also going to think about time.

Chilean poet Pablo Neruda wrote "Love is so short, forgetting is so long."

I used to think about that line as sad. Yet, as I write and think about Charles, I can reinvent it as a happy line. We will memorialize and celebrate the much too short, wonderful tenure of Mr. Patton's love for education, young people, and teachers...and many will smile for a long, long time because they could never, ever possibly forget a man who did so much for so many.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What an Opportunity!

A young girl climbed back onto the ship to place her mask, snorkel, and flippers back in the bin. We asked her how it was.

She said, "What an opportunity!"

A 60 year old woman from New York--her accent revealing that she was a lifetime New Yorker--asked aloud, "When am I ever going to get a chance to be on a sailboat, off the coast of Costa Rica, in the Pacific, so close to the equator?"

It is easy to forget--or lose track of your surroundings. Vacations usually heighten our awareness, but we can forget here too.

In the wake of comedian Robin Williams's death, a piece of a quote of his strikes me. After working on a film after getting out of rehab, he said, "I'd forgetten how fun it is to work with your friends."

I'd add doing anything with your friends, but I share his sentiment. I work with some people I consider dear friends and they do, indeed, make work fun.

We shouldn't ever need to apologize for friendships, should we?

Friendships make everything better. Our entire vacation has been enhanced by friendships all around us--new ones, old ones, rekindled ones, and friendships maintained over great distances and time.

Jack Kerouac wrote that friendship is knowing that no matter how much time and distance ever comes between two people, when reunited it is as if they never left.

Since marrying in May 2013 my best friend has led me to Italy and Costa Rica, has helped me through surgery and recovery, and filled in the gaps everywhere in between.

Friendships have made me a better teacher, writer, and coach. 

Friendships have opened doors and presented opportunities that I never could have attained alone.

No one ever apologizes for great marriages, vacations, or friendships...and no one ever forgets them. In my life, all are infinitely better because of the friendship factor.

A little girl and a 60 year old woman gave me some perspective yesterday. After all, when is the next great opportunity to be with friends in a magnificent part of the world?



And next week when I return to work.

Every day is a great opportunity to be with friends and welcome new ones. Every place is a great opportunity to be a part of something new.

The trick for me is not forgetting that...and not apologizing for it.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Steeped in Friendships

Twice a day, Costa Ricans sit down around a kitchen table with family and friends for coffee. And they talk.

We had the opportunity to do this last night in Monteverde. A friend of Bill and Lynore, Ken, invited us to his home to taste several different types of coffee with his family.

For two hours, Ken walked us through the process of preparing a great cup of coffee. Using various beans and techniques, we learned about the science and local history of coffee. The type of grind, the weight and ratio of bean to water, the amount of time that water touches the bean all matters.

Ken's passion for coffee was the theme of the evening, but his honoring of relationships impressed me more. 

His life is steeped in coffee, friendships, and helping the coffee farmers. Traditionally, the business model of coffee only returned 2% of the profits back to the farmers. Corporations and middle men chewed up the profit and discarded the farmer. We see this in America--the disappearing act of local farms across our nation is due in large part because local, organic farmers can no longer afford to stay in business. It costs too much to compete with chemicals, GMOs, and farms resembling turn-of-the -century factories.

The night made sense to me when I heard Ken's story. For the record, Ken answered our questions. We were, like I remember my ancestors doing in the 70s, sitting around a kitchen table and just talking.

The coffee he prepared was great; it made me want to know more about it and him. And while the coffee was great, the story behind it elevated the experience of drinking it. The story heightened the experience.

For years, he had several business irons in the fire, but a tangible success touched his life when he reached out to help others. 

Bill shared an anecdote that years ago Ken took an empty building--floundering unused for a long time-- in Monteverde and made a deal with the owner (I hope I have the facts right). Ken proposed that he use the space free of charge and open a coffee shop. Once profits started he agreed to start cutting the building's owner in. He agreed to give it a shot. So, Ken opened and promptly placed a sign in the window: Free Coffee.

And he left it there. And people came and drank the coffee which was so good they asked where they could get it. And Ken started to sell it. It took off. Locals bought it and shipped it all over the world to family and friends.

This is the kind of stuff business legends are made of. I kept thinking about models of success. People who demonstrated creativity and perseverance even when failure was just as close as success...maybe even closer some days. His example is in the fact that while we all experience the fear of failure, some do not let it paralyze them.

Recently, he's excited others to grow his ideas and, like all innovators, smashed an existing business model. Ken is getting 50%--75% of the profits back into the hands of local farmers while producing an artisanal quality coffee.

We earned so much last night--about coffee, about friendship, about welcoming everyone's story into your life. 

The only way I could honor what Ken shared with us last night was to write it all down--to bring you closer to the kitchen table we sat together at and talked.

Like the way our grandparents used to in America.

And for that, I have our friends, Bill and Lynore, to thank. So much if our trip has been about the natural beauty of the world, but a majority has been about friendship.

And honoring the people who enter our lives.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Rough Roads

Ay! the roads in Costa Rica must keep auto mechanics well-fed. 

Once leaving a paved road, you are off-road...as in rocky, rutted, compact in some places, silty and slick in others, with nowhere to pull over. Places where you and I might expect to pull over in an emergency is often a deep drain for flooding rains. Pull over into one and you surely snap an axel. The car jolts up and down hill with force that is beyond rattling and rumbling.

I cringe a few times every minute with the concussive force or stress placed on the vehicle. Our friends shared that they know someone who lost a tire...a wheel actually...as the vibrations loosened or snapped the lugnuts.

Costa Ricans must be great drivers to maneuver around one boulder in preference of going over the tooth-jarring other boulder in the path. Drivers here have to avoid bicycles and motorcycles zipping around cars; wandering livestock; dogs rooting around or laying in the road; and people walking...but the unpaved roads take the cake.

We stopped for a roadside bite--spicy shredded chicken, lettuce, and tomato wrapped in grilled flour tortillas. They were browned and soft and tangy. 

Behind the hut, macaws live in the trees. They are kept well-fed by caretakers but fly freely from tree to tree.

Climbing the "good" road to Monteverde--the road where our hosts chatted freely while Karla and I gripped each other in the back seat--was another unexpected adventure. Imagine an incline of cinderblock, stone, and sand. Now imagine it snaking uphill for mile upon mile--with sheer dropoffs of a thousand feet or more (no guard rails of any sort). Imagine it as a touch more than one lane and insert occasional oncoming traffic around blind turns.

The ascents and descents were steep as roller coasters.

And everyone used to living here laughed about the road...because it is the GOOD road. Horses grazed on the sheer ledge and shared the road with passing vehicles honking for then to move...where, I don't know. On that road, options are limited unless one has wings.

When I climbed out of the car, I asked our friend, Bill, if he ever gets white-knuckled on that road--nope, but that other road, yes, at times.

There is always another road...one less travelled for a reason.

Everything doesn't always have to be so damn poetic.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Unexpected Experiences

The unexpected experiences--or the experiences exceeding all expectations--make the indelible memories of a new place. 

I've been thinking about these top five surprises for a few days now.

1. Walking
Walking in Costa Rica is a way of life. People walk everywhere--even along the side of the road with the traffic. It can be dangerous at night as most roads are unlit and the countryside can be stark and black.

2. Fences
Many homes--from the wealthiest estate to the spare, rough hewn structure--have fences. Some are barbed wire, some steel gates, and others are scraps of fallen trees and building materials. The fences are in place to keep out the cattle...who also walk everywhere. Through neighborhoods. In the middle of busy roads and halting traffic.

3. Color
Many countries offer buildings as points of interest to learn about it's history, art, and architecture. In Costa Rica, it's art and history and architecture is it's outdoors. Everything comprising the landscape--plants and insects (multi-colored dragon flies!); sunsets and rocky terrain; homes and beaches--are spun from color and story.

4. Friendliness
We've met friends of Lynore and Bill from all over the world, and they live here in Costa Rica: Equador, Canada, Spain, Italy, New York City, Minnesota, North Dakota, Columbia, and so on. They blend in with the native Costa Ricans and create a harmonious community that not only gets along, but carries the mantle of one of the friendliest nations on the planet.

5. Rawness
So much here feels--for lack of a better term--raw. While you can find paved roads between major points of interest or need, you're more likely to drive on unpaved roads if you wander into neighborhoods. There are buses for people relying on them, but scant few bus stops. The buses will stop anyplace that people stand and wait. Anyplace in the countryside. 

Modernized life is present--electricity, cable tv, ATMs--but it feels like a tolerated neighbor. Costa Rica has it's own energy--a unique charge that is long lost in America.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

An Unexpected Gift

The beach at Tamarindo, Costa Rica is wide and curves like a hanging palm frond. Out beyond the point to our left, the breakers explode before they reach the shore. For a moment I thought whales were leaping and splashing--but it was the incoming waves crashing against black, volcanic rock.

Far to the right, over a natural rise of vegetation, an estuary is home to alligators.

A thin man, well-creased like stirred, simmering caramel, pulled a red cooler behind him. He approached and asked if we would like ice-cold beer. We passed: "no, grĂ¡cious."

Others selling trinkets and souvenirs approached. Each time, we passed as Lynore instructed us, "no, grĂ¡cious."

Straight ahead, several hundred yards into the Pacific, dozens of fishing boats anchored for the afternoon.

Clouds, pale and calm, lingered. Yet, the day was still bright and warm.

The man dragging the cooler doubled back at the end of the beach, and we waved him over.

Ok, we will have one beer each. But only one. One. 

Asking our names, he bowed to the women and shook all our hands, appreciative of the sale. 

Our friend Lynore, introduced herself as Dolores. Taking her cue, Karla and I introduced ourselves as Camille and Andre.

He smiled and said that he would be right back, "Uno, momento!" And he asked us to watch his cooler.

We were confused. He was going to buy us beer.

What was in the cooler? 

He was gone for half an hour. During that time we speculated as to what might be in the cooler if it wasn't the ice cold beer he was "selling." Water? A severed head?

He cradled three beers--more cool than ice cold--and charged us one American dollar for each of them. 

Bottled water was mentioned as we handed him money--and expecting change in return. He heard "water" and said "uno momento!" and started off for another 1/2 trek with our cash in his fist.

Wait! We called him back.

In Spanish, Lynore sorted out the money--he'd actually given us too much change-- they haggled over the paper currency and the coins and he looked off to the ocean, exasperated (maybe that we didn't quite trust him) and he called us difficult. 

Before he left, shaking our hands again and calling us by our fake names, I had Lynore translate my question for him.

"What's in the cooler?"

Smiling, he reached in and pulled out a small bottle of rum.

We each had our one beer and watched the afternoon grow dim. The clouds never left.

Several times, friends muttered that we'd have to catch a better sunset or sunrise another day--the clouds were obscuring this one.

The sun sets right around 6:00pm in early August. Just as the sun was touching the horizon through a tiny break in the clouds, what was seen as a hindrance provided opportunity.

The colors shifted every few moments, but the sky awoke in color in the way that a silent concert hall erupts with a symphony.

My words can't do it justice, but for ten minutes we were surrounded by an unexpected gift.

 This gift of ten minutes is reminding myself to think of my parents, my wife, and my friends this way--to take the time to stop and just "be" with them.

A gift that we never saw coming, but when it arrived it was obvious and present and made everyone pause and watch.

Even the youngest children. 

You can see a boy named Conner sitting in the center of the frame.

When we leave Costa Rica, this might just be my favorite moment--something that makes even a child just stop and be.