19 April 2009

Turnoff Week & Mindfulness

Turnoff Week begins tomorrow morning at 8 AM. I think this will be my 9th or 10th year of participation with my students out of the past 13 years. TV is not hard for me to cut out, but staying away from the computer screen will be much more challenging. The Center for Screen-Time Awareness has great materials for participation with students and families and Adbusters has a Digital Detox Week campaign going at the same time (they even have a customized message for participants to copy and paste into Twitter or Facebook, which I will be doing tomorrow morning).

Ironically, perhaps, or perhaps they planned it, this week's program of Speaking of Faith featured one of my favorite authors, Jon Kabat-Zinn. Kabat-Zinn is one of the country's foremost researchers on mindfulness and its application to stress-reduction and health, in gerenal. Two of his books, Wherever You Go, There You Are and Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, have greatly contributed to my understanding of mindfulness and ability to live in the present moment.

I wasn't able to listen to the entire show this morning while cooking pancakes for the kids, but the following caught my attention in a post on the show's blog this past week:
In the second half of our upcoming show with Jon Kabat-Zinn (first available in podcast on Thursday morning), he argues, to some degree, that the accelerated pace of technology and its significance in our lives doesn’t allow us to be mindful, to live in the present. All this communication and digital connectedness actually creates an inner dissonance — a disconnectedness with our own selves.

One memorable moment in Krista’s interview: Kabat-Zinn describes a person viewing a sunset. Instead of simply taking it in, he says, we either are thinking about how we might write about it (or perhaps tweet or blog it), or, that certain somebody standing next to you actually has to gab away and tell you how gorgeous it is — which completely removes you from the moment of recognition and contemplation. In other words, we have this compulsion to do something with the moment in order to make it meaningful. We are not being mindful.
While I certainly try to live in the present moment, my family, colleagues, and students would all probably attest to my getting lost in my thoughts from time to time. I will even admit to doing exactly what Kabat-Zinn spoke of in that second paragraph. Even this morning as I listened to the show and made breakfast for the kids, rather than enjoying the moment I was composing this blog post in my head. The worst part of it was that I knew I wasn't living in the present, but I was more interested in the ideas in my head than the pancakes on the griddle. However, I find comfort in the fact that Kabat-Zinn writes that knowing that one is not being mindful is a step in the right direction.

The ability to live in the present is also a great assest in the classroom. In two professional books that I have read this school year, Teaching with Intention and That Workshop Book, the authors share the importance of living in the present. Debbie Miller describes time and again how she listens to her students and takes notes on the things they say in an effort to truly understand what they are learning and where she needs to go next in her instruction. Samantha Bennett, likewise, reminds us that the key to a successful workshop environment is listening to students and really hearing what they have learned. I know that the days when I am not distracted by thinking about what I will be teaching later in the day or about how to handle a situation with a difficult student go so much smoother when I am present and therefore more connected with my students.

I'm sure my absense from the online community will not be noted by many this week, I rarely update my Twitter or Facebook status. However, I find myself checking in on a frequent basis, looking for new ideas or wondering what family and friends are up to. This week I hope that as I keep the computer turned off (at least most of the time), I'll find my thoughts slowing down, becoming more coherent, and I'll find myself enjoying the wonder of the present moment.

17 April 2009

Henri's book review

A few months ago I shared a book review from my second grade daughter. Now it's Henri's turn.

It should be noted that I disagree with him on one point, he does have too many toys. :>)

02 April 2009

What's in a name (change)?

When I first created this blog, I never intended for it to be for public eyes. In fact, it was set as private for the first month and a half or so. Eventually, I realized the same thing that we often tell our students - we need to know our audience. I wanted to put my thoughts into words, but also wanted to use more details than I needed if I were the sole reader.

Sometime in early to mid-January I opened it up and allowed it to come under public scrutiny. Thankfully, my few readers have been more than kind and encouraging as I share a thought or two here and there.

Then a problem came up - the name was, well, too long. A creative mess is better than idle neatness doesn't exactly roll right off the tongue, it doesn't fit well in Reader, and it is a lot to put in print. So, we'll try something new.

A Simple Workshop

Why A Simple Workshop?

A - Not The, simply A. One of many.

Simple - Simplicity has been a part of my life philosophy for years. It has been a part of my teaching philosophy as well. Give me a classroom library full of good books, a case of spiral notebooks, sharpened pencils, a stack of G.O.O.S. (good on one side) paper and I can teach. Oh, and a document camera as well. A class set of netbooks with access to a wireless network would be fun, too. But maybe not very simple. [I was recalling the other day about when Dr. Richard Allington spoke in our district a few years back, he shared that he would like to give teachers the option of teaching with a limited amount of copies and in exchange would provide them with an $800 gift card to Barnes & Noble. I would take him up on that offer.]

Workshop - I have written enough on workshop philosophy for you to know that I am a big advocate of it, and for more than just reading and writing. The reality of it is that it can be time consuming and "messy," but also, in my opinion, what is best for kids. I'll leave it at that for now.

So, there you have it. The name has changed, but everything remains the same (including the domain name and RSS feed settings).

[Photo in the header: A glimpse of my dad's workshop, Pinewood Studio, in northeastern Wisconsin.]

01 April 2009

Slice of Life: Wrap-Up

The Slice of Life Challenge was a new experience for my class and I this year. I went into the challenge, and the month, with high hopes for both myself and my students. At the start of the month, 19 of my 27 students had signed up and I was ready to go myself. I gave them all a new notebook to use for their "slices," I set up a daily forums on Moodle to allow students to post their writings there (if they so chose), and my blog was ready and waiting for all of my posts.

In the end, here's how the numbers played out:
  • 31 slices! = 3 students
  • 25-30 slices = 2 students
  • 20-24 slices = 1 student
  • 15-19 slices = 3 students
  • 10-14 slices = 3 students
  • 5-9 slices = 1 teacher :>)
  • 4 or fewer slices = 7 students
This afternoon my students and I celebrated our efforts. I think the biggest lesson I learned personally is that the writing life is all about discipline. Making oneself sit down and put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) on a daily basis requires determination and an ability to stay focused on the task at hand (especially when the online world presents so many other options). Maybe I'd get more writing accomplished if I did it on paper? Something to think about for next year.