August 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

Esta semana eu comecei uma nova fase. Uma fase em que sou funcionária permanente de um distrito escolar, com uma posição integral sob a perspectiva distrital, mas trabalhando meio período sob o ponto de vista das escolas: meu tempo esta sendo dividido entre dois campi.

Estou empolgada com a oportunidade de fazer parte de duas culturas diferentes dentro de um mesmo distrito. Uma é a maior escola elementar do distrito, trazendo enorme diversidade. A outra é a menor, criando um ambiente quase familiar. Uma é trilingüe e tem como desafio aprimorar a comunicação interna. A outra é bilingüe e parece ter conseguido organizar grupos profissionais eficientes. Uma eu conheço do ano passado, pois trabalhei lá por 7 meses em período integral. A outra é uma novidade para mim – fascinante, apavorante, excitante e desafiadora.

Hoje eu ziguezagueei entre as duas, me senti sobrecarregada, esperneei quando descobri que querem que eu dê aula em espanhol, tentei escrever um plano de aula, não consegui me concentrar, percebi que perdi a hora de uma consulta ao médico, saí da escola apressada, deixando para trás o pirex no qual levei a salada para o almoço compartilhado…

Chegando em casa, tentei desabafar com meu marido, mas ele só tinha coisas boas a dizer a respeito dos desafios que estou enfrentando. Para completar, passou a apresentar todas as razões pelas quais esse furacão é na realidade uma grande oportunidade, e como vou crescer com essa experiência, e como eu ficaria incrivelmente entediada se só me escalassem para fazer coisas que eu já domino.

E ele tem TANTA razão! Mas eu ainda estou emotiva, e ainda estou ansiosa, e ainda estou amedrontada. Empolgada para começar a jornada, completamente consciente da grande oportunidade que recebi, mas ainda sensível com tudo isso.

Posted in Education, life, Português
August 23rd, 2011 | No Comments »

This week I started a new phase, one in which I am a permanent employee of a school district, holding a full time position from the district perspective, but working part time from the school standpoint: my time is being divided between two schools.

I am excited with the opportunity to take part in two different cultures within the district. One is the largest elementary school of the district, bringing a huge diversity. The other is the smallest, bringing an atmosphere that is almost family-like. One is trilingual and counts on incredibly competent staff, but struggles somewhat to master the communication piece. The other is bilingual and seems to have effective teams in place, and probably has particular struggles I have not yet observed. One I know from last year, having worked there full time for 7 months. The other is very new to me – fascinating and terrifying, exciting and challenging.

Today I zigzagged between them, got overwhelmed, kicked and screamed when told I’d be teaching in Spanish, tried to put together a plan, failed to focus, realized I missed a doctor’s appointment, left school in a hurry leaving behind the bowl I brought my salad in for the potluck…

When I got home, I tried to vent with my husband, but he only had good things to say about the challenges I am facing. Then he went on to tell me all the reasons why this was a great opportunity, and how much I will grow from this experience, and how bored I would be if I were asked to do only things I already master.

And he is SO right! But I am still tearful, and I am still anxious, and scared. Looking forward to begin the journey, fully aware of the great opportunity I have been given, but still edgy about it.

Posted in Education, life
June 14th, 2011 | 1 Comment »
“Não é o caso simplesmente de que a competitividade de outras nações
é amplificada pela proficiência de seus trabalhadores em uma linguagem
específica, mas sobretudo que sua juventude ganha vantagem competitiva e cognitiva
devido ao seu acesso à habilidade excepcional que acompanha o multilingualismo.”
(Jackson, Kolb, & Wilson, 2011)

 

Uma conversa de casamento incomum…

Mas estimulante mesmo assim. O tio de meu marido me pergunta: “Você não acha que o mundo seria um lugar melhor se todos os países falassem Inglês?”

Embora eu tenha certeza de que sua intenção é me levar a discutir, embarco na viagem com ele – contestando, lógico!

Como se meu desacordo tivesse fundamento no fato de minha primeira língua não ser inglês, ele refaz sua pergunta: “E se o mundo todo falasse português? Ou qualquer língua que seja, mas que todos falassem a mesma. Você não acha que as coisas seriam mais fáceis, que a vida seria mais simples?”

Minha resposta e sinceros pensamentos:

Simples, talvez, mas tão desinteressante! Privada de riqueza seria uma descrição mais própria.

Se eu tivesse que escolher uma coisa para apoiar nesse mundo, eu escolheria a diferença. Sou pró diferença, pró diversidade. Percebo o encontro com a variedade como uma das experiências mais enriquecedores que podemos ter e considero esta uma verdade em qualquer âmbito de ser humano. Até em ciência aprendemos que, quando em contato com o diferente, coisas se alteram: experimente abraçar com mãos mornas um copo de água fria. A água amorna, as mãos resfriam.

Mentes estreitas se ampliam

Mudanças, entretanto, vão além de adaptação ou reconhecimento da diferença. Por anos eu mantive a idéia de que a língua é nossa ferramenta para pensar. Assim, quanto mais línguas aprendemos, mais caminhos podemos usar para construir nossos pensamentos. Lendo este artigo defendendo multilinguismo, dei-me conta de que pesquisadores também apóiam essa idéia: aprender línguas ajuda desenvolvimento cerebral e pessoal para além da instrução e da comunicação, ou seja, multilinguismo nos ajuda a crescer, ampliando a própria habilidade de pensar e ser.

De acordo com os autores, aprender outras línguas também ensina sobre outros costumes, aumentando nossa percepção de nuances dentro de nossa própria cultura. Especialmente em um mundo em constante mudança onde o fondue* está derretendo cada vez mais, e as cores e culturas se misturando, essa sensibilidade é fundamental.

Jackson, A., Kolb, C., & Wilson, J. (2011). “National imperative for language learning” *in* Education Week, January 26,  2011.

*fondue aqui se refere ao dito norte-americano de que os Estados Unidos são o “melting pot”, ou panela de fondue, onde as culturas se misturam como os queijos do fondue.

May 17th, 2011 | 1 Comment »

Reading

Reading is to me one of the greatest pleasures. It takes me to interesting places, it allows me to entertain conversations with people I do not necessarily know in person, it lets me live in the skin of fantastic characters, it feeds my thoughts helping me develop my own concepts, ideas, and theories. It is no coincidence that I became a Reading Teacher, since the main reason that drove me to teach was to take part in the development and enrichment of young people’s lives and minds, providing them with the knowledge they yearn for.

Necessary Evil?

To my dismay, however, I have been constantly encountering teachers who still hold a dated perspective of schooling as the necessary evil, the work students have to do to get to the reward. These teachers tend to use anything from free time to candy as such reward, disconsidering the principle that human beings are inherently curious and hungry for knowledge – which is the drive for young children’s explorations, and that continues throughout life if their environment allows.

Learning for life

I see the importance of taking breaks and watching a movie, playing games, or reading a story every once in a while, and I do negotiate with my students that if they do not waste instructional time I can add that fun twist at the end of the week. However, it is not at the expense of teaching, it is one more piece in the puzzle, and it is usually when my students do most of the work. It is what I would call the “application” piece, because when they are watching a movie, playing a game, or reacting to a story, they are independently using the structures and the vocabulary, or digesting the ideas we have been studying – sometimes with my guidance to stay on track, but often not needing it because the “entertainment” is chosen to fit the teaching, and the teaching is chosen to fit their lives, to be useful and meaningful. So the “fun stuff” is actually part of the plan, and it is when, ideally, the cycle comes to a conclusion.

Work x Pleasure

So when I hear teachers defending that the children need rewards, that they need a reason to read (!!!!), or that they are allowing free time as pay for passing a test or doing homework, I feel my heart beat fast and my blood rush to my face in desperation that these children are not being taught that learning IS rewarding – an idea most of them came to school with and are being robbed of. It also leads me to question whether these students are being taught to connect school content with their lives, if they are being stimulated to make sense of what they learn.

Work AND Pleasure

The impression I get is that, in the long run, these children are not being taught that work is what we choose to do for a living because we believe in it, because we enjoy its results, because it fullfills us personally. What they are learning is that work is what we do between our moments of happiness.

I wonder if that is how these professionals feel about their work too.

Posted in Education, life
October 1st, 2010 | No Comments »

CHANGE OF PACE

I have been teaching, mainly preschool and early elementary, for over 10 years, and I always gave my heart, soul, mind and time to the school and the children I worked with. I looked at the world and at diverse situations in my life searching for ways to enhance my teaching and the lives of those I worked with – adults and children.

In Brazil I worked in the same school for 7 years. Although my occupation changed every other year or so, I worked with the same professionals, I was able to grow with the school, and become part of the culture driving the education there. I learned a lot, and I believe my input also helped the school grow. Working at a place without committing to that level feels incomplete, and my current contingencies indicate that such is the case.

As I approach the 40s I wonder if I can dedicate the same energy I have before, which in my perception is key to being a decent educator. The idea that I might not be able to do it to my content leads me to consider not becoming responsible for a classroom full of children as a lead teacher.

OTHER ISSUES

After I spent three months developing myself as a writer, the thought of being in the same place, at the same time, with the same people day after day seems imprisoning. In addition, dealing with the egos of teachers who compete instead of cooperating, and having to sacrifice and bend my core beliefs in the name of an institution stalls personal and professional growth and bitterns my life.

SPEAKING OF PERSONAL GROWTH

On the sweet side, my husband and I have been discussing the idea of becoming parents. This decision cannot wait much, considering my age. Being a parent, much like being a professional, requires a huge dedication to be done to my standards. I do not see myself not working to become a full-time mom and housewife, but I do hope I can have a job that allows me flexibility and time to dedicate to my family.

UNDYING PASSION

On the other hand, each and every time I engage in conversations about education and early childhood, I get excited, inflamed, my heart races and my voice raises – clear symptoms of passion. Leaving all that behind feels like a waste, and would cause an important part of my life to wilt. I wonder what options are out there for me to keep feeding from and giving to this cause impacts me that deeply.

POSSIBILITIES

A few days ago I received an email from my professor from George Fox. She shared with me the news of an Early Childhood Education “colligation” that will meet in Portland for the first time in October. I am fearful of not having much to add, and of being the only one there who is not in a classroom, but this seems like a wonderful opportunity to help me find out what else I could do to put my passion to service, as well as learn more about Reggio Emilia and the Portland schools who are inspired by that philosophy.

Changes are difficult and anxiety-generating, but they are also exciting for bringing possibilities of self-betterment.

Posted in Education, life
September 13th, 2010 | No Comments »

Innovating Children’s Lunchbox

As a child, I always served my plate trying to keep it harmonious, usually relying a lot on symmetry and the color and shape of each food item to create designs that would be as carefully eaten.

Today, looking for inspiration for my book, I found a blog with an innovative idea that made me relive my old habit – now turned into a passion for all things pretty in the kitchen.

In “An American in Bento”, Kashmirkat brings together the “ready-to-eat-lunch-in-a-box” philosophy and the care for aesthetics found in some fares of the Asian cuisine to prepare picturesque lunches using American staples for her husband.

In her first post, Kashmirkat tells us that her inspiration came from her daughter, who had been packing bento lunches for herself for 6 months. Such revelation made me think that, with layouts like the ones she arranges, children would look forward to tackle their lunch. Think of yourself as a child, knowing your mom prepared your meal with a special design. How eager would you be to open up that lunchbox?

Making it Fun With Cooking Tools (or Cooking Toys)

Like so many children (and my own husband) Kashmirkat’s husband has very specific preferences. To play with her sometimes restrictive palette, she uses creativity, coming up with different pictures each day.

Among the staples found in her photos, we often see macaroni salad as a background, decorated with flower-shaped carrots, green beans as grass or leaves, and ham-and-cheese pinwheels as accents. What really called my attention, though, was the shape she gives boiled eggs.

I had never before seen such things, and I envision it as a clever way to make healthy food fun: she uses molds to boil eggs into cars, fish, stars, pumpkins…

Children’s experience of the world happens mostly through play; that’s their default mechanism for absorbing and understanding  what they go through, and that’s their main language for communicating it back. It seems logic to think that incorporating a playful presentation of healthy meals may have the power to reach a child’s will to experiment different flavors and textures.

Keeping the Balance

The key, in my opinion, is to keep balance. I mention that because I have seen disproportionately bounty lunches sent to children at school. An adult-sized bento can be overwhelming and trigger rejection rather than pleasure.

Keeping in mind the child’s needs for vitamins, carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats is a useful blueprint for assembling an appropriate, well-proportioned, fun picture-lunch.

Daily recommended amount of each group for a 1000-calories diet (recommended intake for an average preschool child)

Personal Eating Rituals

Have you ever noticed how you eat your m&m’s? Have you ever asked your friends? Well, I have. My husband grabs a handful, pops them all in his mouth and chews them right away, already reaching for the next handful. I, on the other hand, put one at a time in my mouth, then I bite the edges of the sugary crust to open the candy in two separate shells. Next, I lick the smooth chocolate from each side. Finally, I chew the crusts. I love the thin crunch they have when the filling is gone!

We develop these particular rituals as we come in contact with different types of food, and some foods more than others compel us to explore.

An American Bento of my Own

That brings us back to the American bentos, that with its beauty and variety invite us to play with our food… Inspired on that idea and using the “My Pyramid” guidelines for a preschool child, I prepared the meal below. It has 1/2 oz of grains in the form of whole wheat white bread cut in the shape of a car, 2 tablespoons vegetables (the grassy pickled cucumber), 2 tablespoons fruit in the sunny tangerines, and 1/2 cup milk represented by the cheese string cut up to form the flower stems and the cloud. For meat, I used oven roasted ham. Look at the result below. How would you go about eating it?

My very first bento!

In time: If your child eats lunch at home, instead of presenting lunch in a box, how about bringing back the plate cover, still used in some 5-star restaurants to add excitement to the meal?

Contemporary design for plate covers.

July 6th, 2010 | 4 Comments »

Having just finished my Masters of Arts in Teaching, I am currently between school and work. Being summer and all, finding a teaching job in a grade school is nearly impossible. As a result, I oscillate between being discouraged and dedicating all the attention I neglected to direct at our home during the final months of my Masters: the floors are now always shining, the laundry is (almost) always folded in the drawers, the cars are washed whenever there is sun… But I still feel unproductive because I am not really helping with bills.

Two days ago, however, the light came through a suggestion from Hubby: “Why don’t you take this time and finish your book?”

The background

In 2003 I started teaching cooking to children in a bilingual school in Sao Paulo, Brazil. My students ranged from 4-12 years of age, and each lesson was planned with their abilities in mind, intellectual as well as physical.

As I became more aware about the advantages of introducing the wonders of cooking in a learning environment, I grew increasingly serious about the materials I wanted to use. I designed a program that would evolve as children did, beginning with basic concepts such as pouring, stirring, adding, and recognizing simple ingredients such as flour, water, milk, sugar, etc., and evolving towards measuring and independently preparing the recipes. In 1st grade children were becoming familiar with the differences among chopping, dicing, and slicing, and developing the motor skills to perform each one of these safely. Second graders started to work more emphatically with pre-defined tasks in small groups, making sure everyone had the experiences as a reader, a leader, a measurer, a mixer, a washer and a fetcher before anyone repeated a task. In 3rd grade I guided children through more complex ideas, such as problem-solving how to divide the work or how to prepare a recipe that calls for 2 eggs when you have only 1 per group. The 4rth graders had the most autonomy of all: after learning about certain types of food they were asked to research, choose and prepare a recipe with their group, and we celebrated by sharing the results and voting their favorite.

In every grade, understanding the ‘genre’ recipe was key and, right next to safety and hygiene, it took the center of the stage often at the beginning of each class. I insist that students read the whole recipe from beginning to end before engaging in the cooking. Besides practicing reading, this habit prevents cooks from starting a recipe and having to run out of the house mid-cooking to buy some ingredient they are short of. Also, it gives the chance to clarify doubts before reaching the point of not knowing what to do with that yeast that is not ‘foaming’.

The role of recipes in my classes

Working with all levels of students, and different levels of readers, I learned to differentiate language as well as layout of the recipes I offered them. After researching a lot, I realized cookbooks written for children are actually written for adults to cook with children, or for very literate children.

Since the kind of cooking I wanted to offer was not the ‘kid friendly let’s decorate a box cake with candy’ kind, but rather the ‘let’s learn something healthy and culturally worthy’ kind, I needed reading to be a tool rather than a challenge.

I began using the internet to find images, and often times I drew my own pictures – especially the ones referring to actions – using the very limited drawing programs available to me at the time. I added the pictures to the recipes and left the instructions or ingredients list as subtitles to my beginning readers, and used fewer illustrations as the age and the reading ability advanced.

Now about the book

I am not precisely sure of when I became passionate about the process of learning to read and write. Books were dear friends in my adolescence, but I remember always having books around as a younger child. I remember being read to, and enjoying pictures of specific books. Despite that, not everyone who has good personal experiences with reading and writing becomes an advocate for literacy.

Maybe my ability to speak different languages and my firm notion that the language we speak is directly related to the way we experience the world and build our thoughts also plays an important part in my strong feelings about the importance of fostering literacy from a young age.

More than any of the above – or more as a consequence of both – I believe that the ability to produce and to decipher print, as well as the recognition of its uses and its value, brings enormous freedom and autonomy, which are the core of my teaching philosophy. I chose to be a teacher to help children become lords of themselves, directors of their own scenes, chefs of their own kitchens.

One of the ways I can do that indirectly – meaning, not being in the classroom with each and every child – is by writing a book that will allow them to practice autonomy, mathematics, science, and early literacy skills while they prepare their own food from scratch. Not from a box.

– more to come later about the book –
September 21st, 2009 | No Comments »

Quinta feira passada minha mãe lançou seu primeiro romance, “maria” – escrito assim, em letras minúsculas. A letra minúscula no início de um nome próprio na capa de seu livro é apenas mais uma das peculiaridades de minha mãe, que costumam fascinar a maior parte das pessoas que a conhecem, gostem dela ou nao.

A estória que ela conta em “maria” ganha vida com essas peculiaridades. Por vezes eu sinto meu rosto corar frente a sua honestidade em compartilhar sua complexa humanindade, e penso que eu jamais teria a audácia de exibir minhas falhas em publico como ela. Os defeitos expostos, porém, são libertadores quando associados a uma mulher admirável, suficientemente corajosa para acreditar em si e defender suas convicções.

Além dos insights sobre si, “maria” vividamente detalha características de outros, e costura sentidos invocando-me a cada cena, enriquecendo a história e impondo às minhas percepcoes a realidade dos eventos descritos. Eu vejo, sinto, cheiro e ouço o que a protagonista vive. Como consequência, em vez da empatia que costumo sentir como leitora, meu corpo reage a “maria” com emoções reais em primeira mão.

Seu talento desperta minha sensibilidade para observar a vida à minha volta: aparências adquirem cheiros, emoções ganham cor, sons recebem imagem. Toda essa intensidade é transferida para meu mundo, conectando o real e o fantástico e alimentando minha própria imaginação com o desejo de digerir a vida através das palavras.

maria
regina maria b. de albuquerque pinheiro
ottoni editora, 2009 – Itu, SP
217 paginas

Posted in life
September 21st, 2009 | No Comments »

Last Thursday my mother launched her first novel, “maria” – written like that, with lower case. The font size beginning a proper name on the cover of her book is just another of my mother’s peculiarities, which usually fascinate most people who know her, whether they like her or not.

The story she tells in “maria” comes to life with those peculiarities. At times I blush at her honesty in sharing her complex humanity, thinking I would never have the courage to exhibit my flaws in public like that. Most of the lines, however, liberate me as they portray an admirable woman, courageous enough to assume herself and to stand for her beliefs.

Besides the insights on herself, “maria” vividly details characteristics of other humans and ties senses together when bringing me to a scene, enriching the story and forcing the reality of each event described into my perceptions: I see, I feel, I smell and I hear what the protagonist lives. As a consequence, my body reacts with true first hand emotions, rather than empathetic ones.

Her talent wakes up my sensibility to observe life around me. Appearances acquire smells, emotions become tinted, sounds gain image. All that intensity is transferred to my world, bridging the real-outside-world and the fantastic-inside-world and feeding my own imagination with the desire to digest life through words.

Posted in life
May 24th, 2009 | No Comments »

Living in the United States, race, color and ethnicity became subjects of reflection like never before in my life. These are matters of great importance in the humanistic fields like education and psychology, and what calls my attention is that these aspects are discussed, analyzed and studied almost detached from the whole of the person “carrying” them, rather than as part of a complex individual.

According to Wikipedia, “multiratial Brazilians make up 42% of Brazil’s population”, which is to say that almost half the population of my country consists of mixed race people. Although the actual number is new to me, my observation pointed towards something like that, and I have taken pride in this perception since the first time I got in contact with the schizoid way race is perceived in the United States. More recently, however, I have realized that the separation has its advantages, and the main one I see is the attachment each people has to their own culture, keeping in contact with their origins, their mother language, their customs and traditions. In one word: roots. I come from Arabs, Amerindian and Portuguese on one side and Lebanese and Portuguese on the other. I love having this rich ancestry, but I know very little of the history and the geography of my family. I wonder if this obliviousness was purposeful on the part of the miscegenating couples to avoid cultural shock.

About ten years ago my sister befriended a group of Arab girls in Sao Paulo whose families kept their breed almost pure. I do not think it was a coincidence that these girls could speak at least a few words of Arabic and knew their ancestors’ history. I became envious of them, I wished I knew more about mine, and I asked my relatives for information. Although I was told about our origins, I can only remember some fragments. I do not know the name of the city my great-grandfather came from – or was it my great-great-grandfather? I can barely pronounce his original name – the one he had before he changed it to be more understandable for the Brazilians – and I do not know any words in Arabic. I know absolutely nothing about my Amerindian ascendence, nor about the Portuguese one.

The other day a friend shared the story of an acquaintance who had been adopted. As we often hear happens with adoptive children, this person my friend knew became uneasy with the unknown and would not rest until she found her birth mother. After she met her, she gladly rejoined her adoptive one and dropped the matter.

I feel a little like the adoptive child, who seeks the lost mother  and decides she can be dismissed once they meet. However I still feel the emptiness, the need to belong like these “pure breed” people do. I wonder if other multiracial individuals feel the same, if what happens to me is as common as what happens with adoptive children. That does not solve my personal restlessness, but it would be quite interesting to find out.

Posted in life