Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Teatime Tuesday

I've always meant to participate in Bravewriter's Poetry Teatime Tuesday, and we finally did it today. Tuesdays seem packed usually. The kids like to start working on homework from their co-op classes in the mornings, and then we have German and swimming in the afternoons.

But today we had an unexpected snow day, and everything was canceled. So, we had tea and cookies and poetry.

We read mostly snowy poetry, of course: "Stopping By Woods on a Snow Evening" because it always makes me choke up, every single time I read it. And we also read:
 "White Fields" by James Stephens
"Velvet Shoes" by Elinor Wylie (I love this one so much: "Let us walk in the white snow in a soundless space; with footsteps quiet and slow, at a tranquil pace, under veils of white lace.…")
February Twilight by Sara Teasdale
A Sledding Song by Norman Schlichter

We read some poems about birds because there is just nothing like a pair of red and green cardinals, a flock of blue jays, or a red-headed woodpecker against the snow:
"A Bird" by Emily Dickinson
"Be Like the Bird" by Victor Hugo
"Three Things to Remember" by William Blake
"The Chickadee" by Ralph Waldo Emerson
And one of my absolute favorite poems, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" by Wallace Stevens.

It was evening all afternoon. 
It was snowing 
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

And then we had to add in a few cat poems. Poor indoor kitty. She's been positively frantic all day, watching all the birds at the feeder. And so we read
"Poem (as the cat)" by William Carlos Williams
"The Bad Kittens" by Elizabeth Coatsworth
"Hearth" by Peggy Bacon

I'd love to have some more peaceful Tuesdays for poetry reading and tea. I'm envisioning this spot in the spring. But right now, it's a little too chilly out there.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Books Read in 2013

Are you looking for some good books to read this year? Below is my list of Top 10 books read in 2013 as well as the whole list. For most of them, you can click on the title to go to my review on my SmallWorld Reads blog. I was a big lazy last year, so a few go to Amazon. If you're looking for more books to read, be sure to check out my  Best of the Years posts from the past several years.

In 2013 I read and reviewed 38 books and probably read a dozen others (juvenile fiction read alouds to my youngest). I've been doing this for six years now. (See my other Best of the Years posts.) This is my "worst" year in reading in all those years. I was a slower reader. I didn't have any long car trips during which I read non-stop, and our vacation to Paris was so crammed with activities that reading was shoved aside. But there were some great books this year—and some really not so great ones, too.

Top 10 Books Read in 2013 (click for my reviews)

Favorite Book of the Year
Rachel Simon's Story of Beautiful Girl is going to take this year's #1 position, followed very closely by Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. I just absolutely loved both of these, although the first is a novel and then second a nonfiction account of survival in World War II. I look forward to 2014 to find at least 10 books as fabulous as the ones in my list above!

I read several classics this year—a huge bonus of being an English teacher. I don't count these on my Top 10 list because they are perpetually in my top 10.  Here are my beloved classics from this year:
  • Breakfast at Tiffany's (Truman Capote) 
  • Crucible, The (Arthur Miller)
  • Cry, the Beloved Country (Alan Paton)
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Robert Louis Stevenson)
  • The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
  • The Metamorphosis (Franz Kafka)
  • Other Voices, Other Rooms (Truman Capote)
    Raisin in the Sun (Lorraine Hansberry)
  • The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (Anne Brontë)
    To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee)

• I added only 19 books to my Ever-Growing TBR list (last year's total was 38), and I marked off 19. Wow!! For the first time ever, my TBR list will start the new year without having gained more. Somehow, I find that discouraging rather than encouraging, though. I'm not activity looking for books as much as usual.   I learned about books from posts on The Sunday Salon, Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books, from various internet sources, from personal recommendations, and especially from other book bloggers.

 • Below is the total list of books read, minus the juvenile fiction. Each link leads to a review or, rarely, to amazon.com if I didn't get a chance to review it. My star-ranking system is as follows: 5 stars--absolutely must read; 4 stars--highly recommended; 3 stars--enjoyable; 2 stars--ick; 1 star--no, no, no.

Linked up with List It Tuesday

Friday, January 17, 2014

Weekly Wrap-up

The question is, why do we ever even attempt to start back the first week of January? Last week, which sensibly would be the start of our second semester, was a bust all around. Like basically everywhere in the U.S., we had ridiculously cold temps for Tennessee and lots of sickness. I am pretty sure Duncan watched 15-20 hours of Mythbusters, and we went through at least six boxes of Puffs. Ah well.

So, science (Mythbusters) and PE (skiing) basically made up our first week back. But then there was this week, when we got dressed and rejoined society. We started with movie night for my high school lit class on Saturday evening, watching The Good Earth. This is a 1930s movie and my students found it fairly amusing. I was actually surprised at how much it deviated from the book, which we had read back in November. I always enjoy movie nights with my students, regardless of the movie itself. They are a hoot.

Last week, while Duncan languished on the couch, Laurel finished the last part of her Stars and Stripes project for American Heritage Girls. For this part, she delivered the items she collected and/or that her troop members made for Newborns in Need of East Tennessee. Phew! It's been a long process. She did the majority of her project in September and October but then had to wait until January to actually deliver the items.

She and a few girls also spent a couple of hours preparing diapers and sleepers for packets that will be delivered to area newborns. Just that afternoon they prepared over 2500 diapers and sorted around 600 sleepers! All she has left to do now is write up her project and finish a few odds and ends on some badges, and she'll be ready for her Board of Review.

Skiing has been an absolute blast. Our first day was fun, especially for me since all my years of skiing came back to me immediately after not having skied for over 20 years; but the second session was really fun. Randy and the kids had their second lesson and were released onto the actual slopes. They all loved it! We only have two sessions left, but we're already planning a ski vacation for next year—or maybe even this year! As part of Laurel's skiing badge she actually has to plan a ski trip, so maybe she'll find some great deals for us in North Carolina.

This week was our first week back for high school co-op classes. Last week had been canceled because of the cold and possible snow. (Northerners, I live in East Tennessee. If you haven't heard, we close everything for a dusting of snow.) In my World Lit/geography class we are starting The Book Thief. We had a fantastic discussion on book burning and banned books and the Hitler Youth. I'm really looking forward to next week's discussion, after the kids have read the first three sections of the novel. It's hard for me to express how much I love these kids. I think I say this every year, but I am pretty sure this is my favorite class of high schoolers ever.

Laurel was already back in the swing of things last week, as she had assignments from all her co-op teachers during the canceled week. But Duncan and I were completely well and ready to get back this week. He did have his algebra class on Monday; otherwise, his middle-school co-op classes start back on January 27. We got back to his Sonlight world history program, and we've also done lots of language arts this week. He actually still needed to finish his journal and essay from my English prep class, which will continue this semester. Whoops.

We took advantage of a free day and joined a group of friends yesterday at Jump Jam, the new indoor trampoline park. The kids had a blast, and I enjoyed having a chance to chat with moms for an entire hour.

And so we return to the pattern of our lives. Jesse is back at Belmont University for his last semester. Laurel spoils her cat, and Duncan feeds mice to his snake.

Randy began his appointment as interim department head on January 2, and he's actually been enjoying this new position. I'm trying hard to concentrate on my "one word" for the year: deliberate. I am deliberately getting better at ironing shirts for him, since he actually has to wear real grown-up clothes now. And I'm deliberately attempting to blog more regularly, to get back into the swing of words. I'm nearly finished with my series What College Professors Wish Freshmen Knew. If you haven't yet, please read it or just bookmark it for when your kids are older. Really. Professors everywhere will thank you.

And that's the new year in SmallWorld. Feeling a little "blah" this January? Check out my post from many years ago, Combating the January Blahs for a little inspiration. Or just watch a few episodes of Mythbusters.

Linked up at the Weekly Wrap-up

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew: Study Skills

It seems so painfully obvious, doesn't it? But we all had friends who flunked out of college because they just didn't study for whatever reason: lack of study skills, inability to prioritize, choosing parties over studying, or the all-too-common "But I never had to study in high school!"

Homeschoolers often have a leg up on traditional schoolers with study skills. Hopefully, parents, you have cultivated independent work in your home, so that by the time your student is a junior, s/he is generally setting his or her own study schedule and working mostly on his or her own.

But leg up or not, all freshmen are faced with the same threat: the illusion of freedom. For the first time in many students' lives, they are presented with large blocks of unscheduled time: time to hang out with friends, take a nap, play video games.  Mom isn't there to say "do your homework" or "get off the Playstation!" It is sheer bliss—until that first paper is due.

All the faculty members in our panel discussion "What College Professors Wish Freshmen Knew  agree wholeheartedly: students must manage their time well in order to succeed in college. As Dr. O. said, "Plan your time, or the world will plan for you." At this time in a student's life, he emphasized, studying is your job, and you should put the same amount of time into your studies as one would put into a job—at least 40-50 hours/week. (Note: I can personally attest that I spent nowhere near 40 hours/week studying and did great in college, but Dr. O. graduated summa cum laude from Yale and knows better than I do!)

So how should a student study? Below are some key suggestions from our panel:
  1. Set up a big-picture schedule. Use a planner and record all the due dates for exams, papers, etc. from your syllabi.
  2. Set up a day-to-day schedule. Make a to-do list of all the tasks you need to do each day, including larger assignments that are due 8-10 weeks out. Dr. O. suggests that you plan for every half-hour that you are awake. If you don't have a plan laid out, you will lose valuable time trying to figure out what you should be doing.
  3. Prioritize. Get the biggest tasks done first. Don't put off starting a major paper that's worth half your grade to do an assignment that's only worth a few points.
  4. Plan your free time. Give yourself time to have fun, but make sure it is part of your schedule. Don't give up writing a paper so that you can hang out with friends. Make hanging out with friends a reward for finishing your to-do list.
  5. Differentiate between "homework" and "studying": Doing the assigned questions at the end of a chapter is homework; studying is spending your own time going over notes from class, reading your assignment and taking notes, making flashcards, etc. When I was in college, I took notes by hand in class and then typed them out (yes, on a typewriter) back in my room in order to help with retention.
  6. Learn how to study effectively. What works for one student doesn't work for another. Learn how you study best. Is it at the library, or in your room quietly, or with several other students? Do you study best with or without music? Hopefully, a student knows all these things before he goes to college, but if not, he should quickly ascertain his optimum studying environment.
  7. Get rest. If you don't get everything done on your list at the end of the day, don't feel discouraged. Instead, get a great night's sleep and start again the next day.
  8. Join (or start) a study group. Some of the most successful students are those that a part of a study group with other students in the class.
  9. Look for Supplemental Instruction (SI). Dr. M. highly recommends SI, which he says is available at most universities. These are peer-assisted study sessions aimed at improving student retention, targeted at courses that have a reputation for being difficult (e.g., organic chemistry). SI provides regular review sessions outside of class in which students work collaboratively by discussing readings, comparing notes, and sharing ideas for improving class material.
  10. Don't procrastinate. As much as we procrastinators hate to hear it, it's true: procrastination is painful, stressful, and, well, avoidable. Yes, we procrastinators may claim to do our best work because we wait until the last minute, but the truth is, our lives would be so much easier if we actually followed a strict to-do list. Really. Trust me. I've been there. I know what it's like to chip away daily on a major paper, taking notecards and organizing my thoughts; and I know what it's like to start a paper at 8 p.m. that is due at 8 a.m. And  my organized, well-prepared paper was always better.

Studying is a skill—it really is. Parents, help your high school student learn study skills, including notetaking skills. Here are some links with great ideas:

This is #5 in the series "What College Profs Wish Freshmen Knew." See also:
#1: Write Well
#2: Read the Syllabus
#3. Be Responsible
#4. How to Interact with Professors
#6. Get Involved

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Ski Day

I don't remember putting on skis for the first time. As long as I can remember, I had my own ice skates and my own cross-country and downhill skis and boots. I had every kind of winter outwear imaginable, from gators to balaklavas. But that was all a long, long time ago. And while you can never take the Northern out of a girl, you can't do much when there just isn't a whole lot of snow in the South. (Not, by the way, that I'd trade the glorious weather in Tennessee for that of upstate New York, except for maybe 1 month of pure winter.)

 But this year we decided to splurge and do four weeks of skiing at Ober Gatlinburg, our local downhill ski resort. (Cross-country skiing just does not exist here.) Jesse did this special package for homeschoolers for 3 or 4 years when he was in middle- and high-school; but Randy, Laurel, and Duncan had never been skiing.

The three of them started right off with beginner lessons, leaving me to face the slopes by myself. I was a pretty decent skier at one time, but it has been nearly 25 years since I last skied. I was a bit anxious, to say the least.

But it's true: it really is just like riding a bike. As soon as my boots clicked into the skis, I remembered. My body knew just what to do. I didn't fall off the chair lift, didn't crash into any other skiers, didn't even fall. I swooshed down to the bottom like I'd been doing this for all my life.

Lucky for my kids, two of their best friends also signed up for the program. They all had a great time; I'm hoping this will give them the skiing bug. I'm picturing a future trip to New Hampshire or Idaho, a cozy cabin week with roasting fires and thick, fluffy snow.

The snow was actually much nicer than I was expecting. There were no icy patches, and the view from the top? Fabulous. What's better than seeing the Smokies spread out all around you?

The boys wanted to go on the easy slope with me after their hour-long lesson on the bunny slope. They had a bit of a mishap coming off the chairlift but they did great actually skiing. Duncan did plow into me at one point, and we both took a tumble. But that's all a part of it!

The best part about skiing in Tennessee? The weather! We were actually sweating with our coats and gloves on. I can't even reconcile that do skiing in New York, when you're so cold you actually think you might have frostbite for real. We're looking forward to doing it again next weekend!