Monday, December 23, 2013

In Loving Memory

     December 22, 2012 is a date that I will never forget.  This is the day my father-in-law, Dan Buelow, unexpectedly passed away.  He went in for a simple procedure.  A procedure that hundreds have done and walk out the next day; but this one procedure lead to a different outcome for him.   He went in the hospital and never walked out.  I keep playing that day over and over in my mind realizing that some details are clear and other parts are fuzzy.  I remember the doctor walking out to the waiting room, the hope filled in our hearts, while we waited for the doctor to speak. "He's not going to make it."  The words hit my heart as if they were rocks shattering it to pieces.  All hope vanished...gone just like that. It is hard to lose a loved one and to express the emotions that rumble through your body like a violent storm.  Even one year later it is hard to have reality sink in and face the truth. It is still hard to talk about what happened but I know that it is not okay to keep it bottled in. So I am sharing a poem to help ease some of the pain that lingers and lingers still to this day.


It is not goodbye,
It is not the end,
It is only a gap 
in time that 
slowly passes by
until we all
meet again.

the pain ebbs,
the sadness
slowly seeps out
to let in 
precious memories 
so happiness 
will shine through. 
The memories 
keeping Dan
strong in our hearts.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Perfect Gift

A Staggering Achievement, an old headline from Sports Illustrated about UConn's basketball team.  This headline is glued into my writer's notebook. I paused at this page and I read the headline several times.  As I read I kept thinking about the fourth graders I work with.  How they are developing readers and the bumpy road we are traveling to help them find their desire to read.  I would change the headline to A Struggling Achievement because it is a better title that shows the ups and downs of our book talks.  We celebrate the fact that everyone participated by sharing their thinking about the book. The rest of the session is a struggle...  A struggle to drum up enthusiasm about the book, a struggle to think deeply about the reading so we can stop having discussions focused mainly on plot, and a struggle to have everyone read the pages we agreed upon. 

I offer book choices so that they can find out more about themselves as readers. I share my passion and love for the books hoping it will rub off on them. The frustrations start to mount and the worries start to escalate.  How can I help this group of readers develop reading habits that will help them become avid readers?  As I constantly ponder this question over and over I find myself wishing I could send this letter to them.  A letter from my heart about the perfect gift I wish I could have every student accept with open arms.  

Dear Students,

I've grown to know that I cannot be a reading fairy who sprinkles magic dust and you instantly have a strong passion to read.  However, it is my only wish to be able to give you but one perfect gift.  The gift that lets you see the world and its many possibilities.  The gift so you can travel anywhere...real or make believe.  The gift that lets you read with stamina and fluency.  The gift that lets you learn about anything you choose and share your learning with anyone you please .

The gift to carry a book around with you each and every day so that you can read when a free moment comes your way.  A gift for you to learn life lessons, and to have the characters linger with you even when the book is done and put away.  A gift to share your reading life with others by passing on books to friends who would love this book just as much as you.  A gift to put everything else on hold because you just have to see how the author crafts the ending or it will be a huge catastrophe!  That perfect gift would be from me and that is to help you find the love and drive of why you should have a life where you carve out time each day to READ, READ, READ!  

Mrs. Buelow
Avid and Passionate Reader

This letter reminds me to shove my frustrations aside and think about how to keep motivating, inspiring and encouraging these students to discover who they are as readers.  It is a constant struggle but I won't give up because I believe that every kid will develop a love of reading!  So we keep reading and discussing and learning about who they are as readers and maybe the passion will emerge!  Maybe just maybe they will accept the gift of reading into their lives and see how powerful it truly can be! 

Friday, December 13, 2013

Exploring, Collaborating, and Creativity=Genius Hour

     The third graders at J.W. Reason Elementary were introduced to Genius hour on Wednesday.  Genius hour was developed for students to explore their own passions and strongly encourages children to be creative and think outside the box.  As a group of teachers learning about this powerful movement it became clear that our boys and girls needed to experience it.  We also knew that the kickoff for this initiative had to be BIG and the kickoff really needed to get the kids excited and motivated to start exploring. As teachers it was our time to be passionate and creative to build this anticipation with the children. As teachers it was our time to create an experience for the children not just a lesson.   So the brainstorming began...Here are the ideas we used from Teach Like A Pirate by Dave Burgess.
     Every third grade student would walk into the classroom and see this message posted in the room...Something big is going to happen today at 2:30!  Mrs. Stephens made signs to hang in the hallway and outside her door. All day long the students talked and wondered about the big surprise.  The buzz we wanted to create was well on its way and children were intrigued and hooked!  
    All the teachers involved in the genius hour agreed to wear lab coats and goggles to help enhance the experience for the children.  As soon as I walked into Mrs. Firestone's class with my costume on the wave of excitement swelled and the guessing about the surprise swirled the classroom.  The kids cheered because they knew that the surprise involved science.

     The first part of the lesson began with the video from Kid President titled Pep Talk. This youtube video was recommended on the genius hour blog to use.  The kids loved it and were getting more and more excited so we didn't waste any time and went into reading the book titled On A Beam Of Light: A Story of Albert Einsten by Jennifer Berne. This book was so perfect because the kids started wondering and questioning even more.  Here are some of the questions... How does a light bulb work?... How does electricity work?... If everything is made up of atoms why is air invisible but you can see a book?...What is the moon really made of?  
     The enthusiasm was still strong so it was time for the children to experience the mystery bags.  Each mystery bag was filled with clues about the topic they would explore over the next 3 weeks during genius hour.  The topic was energy so we included a battery, a rock (fossil fuel), a small water bottle, a flashlight, a picture of a gas pump, and a solar calculator.  The children worked in small groups to figure out what all the items in the bag had in common.  They loved it and guessed energy within five minutes.  Even after the mystery bags the questions were still generating.  The boys and girls really wanted to think and wonder and question like Albert Einstein.

The logistics of genius hour  is that the project work would be 3 weeks long. The children can work in groups or alone.  The 4th week will be children presenting their work in front of others.  Support teachers will push in to help facilitate projects and keep the groups moving forward.  I am so pumped for this inquiry-based learning and I know the kids are too.  I will be blogging about the project work next week for inquiring minds who want to know more! 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Finding My Writing Voice

     I think that deep down inside me a writer was hiding, waiting to break out.  My silent voice is now ready to scream out ideas, poems, passions, reflections, and cherished memories.  I am no longer shushing my voice but embracing it. I am no longer afraid to take the risk of trying or playing around with new crafting techniques.  I am ready to live my life like a writer.  
     I know that one way to live like a writer is to carve out time to read and write everyday!  I have to make reading and writing a habit. Katie Wood Ray says, " A writing voice can be crafted by your reading life."  I am in the process of still finding my writing voice but the more I write and read the more it will develop.  The more I write the more confident I will become as a writer.  Every time I hit the publish button on my blog the butterflies start dancing in my stomach and the second guessing begins.  Was I descriptive enough?...How could I have been more concise?... Does my piece have voice?...Did I write about a topic that would interest others?
     Ruth Ayres says, "Writers depend on others to encourage them to keep writing and to nudge them to grow." As a new writer I crave and want feedback from other writers/colleagues and my family.  I didn't realize this until I became a part of the #nerdlution community.  I was receiving feedback and encouragement and it was very energizing! This energy helps me keep writing and pushing through even on the slow writing days.  I have actually published three posts last week, since #nerdlution, Yeah!  
      Every journey has a beginning.  I am looking forward to see where my journey leads me and the paths I will take to continue to grow as a writer.  Right now I love expressing myself through poetry and I found this poem in my writer's notebook.  I wanted to express and share my poetry voice.  I hope you enjoy it.


It begins
like a 
warm gentle
barely noticed.

Then the 
wind and trees
converse with 
each other 
in harmony.

This harmony
a gust 
of wind 
that strongly
whips around,
briefly changing
the appearances 
around you.

Tonya Buelow

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Reading Craze and Readabration

"I was born with a reading list I will never finish."  --Maud Casey

"Books should go where they will be most appreciated, and not sit unread, gathering dust on a forgotten shelf, don't you agree?" --Christopher Paolini

     Do these quotes speak to you about your reading life?  It is like they are screaming out to me so I decided to come up with a PD opportunity for all the wonderful colleagues I work with.  This brainstorm has been slowly perculating over several days so I think it is brewed and ready to go.  It all began when I was having a conversation with Molly Willer, Brittany Cook and Sharon Esswein on how to help kids increase their vocabulary.  Well, one way is to simply have students read more at home and school.  So, we decided to have these second and third graders develop and make reading plans along with a reading stack for Thanksgiving Break.  I shared my reading plans and a large stack with each class and they had a few days to make plans and a stack of their own. These ambitious students immediatly started making a reading stack.  Then another colleague, Scott Jones, at work wrote his first blog post titled What's Next In The Queue?  This was an awesome post which focused on sharing and making reading plans with his fifth grade class. Over the weekend I read another post titled Top Ten Ways to Encourage Children To Read Over Winter Break by Katherine Sokolowski.  I LOVED this post and I thought it would be great to share with teachers and parents.  
     Well, I realized that we are all trying to build a community of readers within the walls of our classroom.  Why not extend that building of community of readers outside the classroom walls to the building walls of our school.  If we become a strong community of readers who read daily, converse and share books than that will naturally carry over to the classrooms.  

   So, if you would like to be a part of a community of readers at J.W. Reason, all you have to do is the following...

1. Make a stack of books you would like to read over break.  Take a picture of that stack and tweet it out to #lrnjwr #readabration.

2. Tweet out the progress you are making on your reading plans during the holiday break to #lrnjwr #readabration  

3.  Many classrooms have a book graffiti wall so why not tweet quotes from the books you are reading and I can solidify all the quotes using storify.  This something I saw a couple of people do on twitter and it seems really cool to try!

4.  After break we will have a "readabration" with coffee and doughnuts to share out about our experience and the books that made our break more meaningful and enjoyable. 

I hope you are as excited as I am to create and foster a strong reading community at J.W. Reason Elementary!  I hope we can start tweeting out our plans by Friday, Dec. 13th. Let the reading journey begin!  

"Books are my friends, my companions.  They make me laugh and cry and find meaning in life." --Christopher Paolini


Friday, December 6, 2013

Making Your Child's Dream Come True...The Recruiting Journey

    This journey actually began when my daughter, Lauren, came charging into the kitchen carrying a slip of paper she brought home from kindergarten.  It was an HGSA (Hilliard Girls Softball Association) information sheet about sign ups.  She handed me the paper and said, "This is what I want to do." I glanced at the sheet and shot a look to my husband.  I said, "This is all you because I don't know a single thing about softball."  He smiled and Lauren smiled and I knew then this was just the beginning.  The beginning of developing a strong passion of the game for my daughter, the beginning of hopes and dreams to play in college, the beginning of a journey. 

     The second part or path of the journey involves Lauren playing travel softball.  Well, that was also the beginning of new challenges, questions and yes, expenses.  Who are the best hitting instructors?... Where should she go for speed and agility classes?...What is the best travel team to be on?...Does she have the right mindset to work hard and earn her spot on the field?...How far will we travel?  We figured out the answers along the way and we knew a new path needed to be explored.  My husband and I just didn't know how to navigate the new route. 

     Luckily, we landed on great travel teams that have provided great learning opportunities, many memories, and some great friendships.  We have traveled as far as Oklahoma City, Tennessee,  Myrtle Beach, Indiana, and Atlanta to play competitively.  Playing on these teams have helped tremendously to shape and push Lauren to be the player she is today. Even though she is a solid player she continues to work and improve to become an elite athlete that college coaches need on their team.   Lauren does have a handful of interests from college coaches in Ohio, New York, and Pennsylvania, but as of now no offers have been verbalized.   

    Right now, as a junior at Hilliard Darby High School Lauren has a 4.3 GPA and she really could attend any college she chooses.  However, it is her hope and desire to play softball in college.  Little did I know how competitive, stressful and overwhelming this process could be. My husband and I thought if she played on the right travel team and attended college softball camps that would be enough but it is not! Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like A Pirate, says, "Promote, market and sell are the business practices that belong in the classroom."  Well, promote, market, and sell are the musts of athletes who want to play in college. 

     This is where the third part of journey takes place!  The questions are still rolling in... Where do we go next?... Who do we talk to?... How do we create a website to attach to emails for college coaches to showcase Lauren?  

     Even though we are facing many challenges, I truly believe in Lauren and I know that if we put forth more effort, and with the right support we can make her dream come true!  My husband who is very connected to the softball world has found the answer I think we are looking for.  We hooked up with NCSA Athletic Recruiting.  They have the means to market Lauren and the networks in place to answer our questions and address any concerns.  Lauren's website is well on its way.  As a parent you want more than anything to help your child as much as possible to make her dreams come true.  I know that we are on the right path and big things are going to happen!   Soon, my daughter's dream to play softball at the college level is going to become a reality!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fostering a Love of Reading

   “I cannot live without books.” — Thomas Jefferson
     I came across this fabulous quote about reading after grading some practice OAA tests.  The words resonated in my head over and over because this is the goal we want for our students more than anything.  Sure, awesome test scores look good for OTES (Ohio's Teacher Evaluating System) and is needed to obtain that ever-so-wanting "Accomplished Teacher" rating.  However, if the students don't foster a love of reading and really have no desire to want to discuss favorite authors, series, genres, etc. than those numbers really aren't so powerful and resonating.  Donalyn Miller, author of Reading in the Wild: The Book Whisperer's Keys to Cultivating Lifelong Reading Habits, says, "In order to build strong literacy skills, our students need reading, writing and discussion-and lots of it."  The next thought that popped into my head is, "What are some small things I could be doing as a literacy coach to help foster a reading community at our school that encourages writing and reading about books?"  
    Currently,I am holding some book clubs during lunch with third and fourth graders.  The third graders I meet with are amazing and they literally devour books and sustain a rich reading life.  I look forward to meeting with these four avid readers and I marvel at their passion for reading. Their love of reading is contagious and inspires me to want to read more.  Our book discussions are rich and engaging.  They build upon each other's ideas and they always have thoughts about which books we should read next and why.  One student even asked if we could hold the book club at his house on a Saturday!  They have even thought about how to do book talks via Skype with a student who moved away from their class in the beginning of the year.  Whenever the book talk is done I often sit and ponder how can I instill the same reading habits these readers possess with all my book clubs?
     My fourth graders are a little more challenging to ignite a reading spark.  I try to use book trailers to make the book more enticing and we have a reading celebration, which usually includes pizza when the book is done.  Sometimes I even wondered if they enjoyed the book club and wanted to participate.  Then we finished our first book titled Stone Fox and they were ready to do another book club and some even started making suggestions.  Okay, I thought this is exciting and hopeful!  So I decided to let them choose which book they would like to read next.  Almost everyone chose a Gordon Korman book titled Shipwreck. So I faced a new challenge of getting multiple copies from the library.  Everyday the students stop and ask when we will begin and when they will get their books. Today when I popped into the cafeteria one student was begging to join our book club.  I am getting pumped up and excited to begin our next book club.  Tomorrow the boys and girls will get their books and our next reading journey will begin!