Best Books of 2019

Posted on February 16, 2020 by

I had intended to create a ‘Best Books of 2019’ every quarter or so, mainly to share my joy of reading and create a community of readers here and in my social media channels.

It started off OK-I got this I post done with the first chunk of 2019’s reading.

And then the year just sort of exploded – in some ways great, with lots of new professional opportunities (hello AVID Staff Developers!) and others personally challenging (saying goodbye to my dad).

But books were my constant companions, even if I wasn’t sharing. In fact, I met and exceeded my Goodreads challenge despite all the turmoil and turnover in my little part of the world.

So today I’m sharing the books that made a difference to me, the books that were by my side, and the books that you may enjoy, too, as 2020 challenges us to move forward. I’d love to hear your feedback on what you’ve read, what you’re reading now, and also follow you on Goodreads. You can find me on Goodreads here.

A Year of Daily Gratitude: A Guided Journal for Creating Thankfulness Every Day by Lorraine Miller

A Short Guide to a Happy Life by Anna Quindlen

Owls and Other Fantasies: Poems and Essays by Mary Oliver

The EduProtocol Field Guide: Book 2: 12 New Lesson Frames for Even More Engagement by Marlena Hebert and John Corippo

The Storyteller’s Secret by Sejal Badani

180 Days: Two Teachers and the Quest to Engage and Empower Adolescents by Kelly Gallagher

Educated by Tara Westover

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed by Jessica Lahey

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

Rising Strong by Brene Brown

The Miracle Morning for Writers by Hal Elrod

DON’T Ditch That Tech:Differentiated Instruction in a Digital World by Matt Miller

Donna Has Left The Building by Susan Jane Gilman

The Designer by Marius Gabriel

The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo

We Were The Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

Matchmaking for Beginners by Maddie Dawson

The Orphan’s Tale by Pam Jenoff

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

A Place For Us by Fatima Farheen Miriam

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

The Lost Girls of Paris by Pam Jenoff

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

I read 62 books in 2019, and have set my goal for 70 this year. I’m six in…one book behind schedule.

Reflecting on my book choices in 2019 I noticed I pushed myself out of familiar genres. I hope that these titles spark some interest for you, and you find (and share) your favorites. I always love talking books – find me here, or on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter – @mamawolfeto2!

Happy reading, everyone! And remember, ‘You can’t buy happiness but you can buy (or borrow) books, and that’s kind of the same thing.”

primark

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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I Breathe In When The Sirens Scream By…

Posted on January 19, 2020 by

When the sirens scream by breaking the silence, I tell myself to breathe in. Especially when I’m home alone, feeling small in a big big world. Where are you? Are they stopping on my street? Quickly I count – 1-2-3 are you all here?

Maybe it’s a trauma response. Maybe it’s because my babies aren’t living at home anymore, and the sirens are just a reminder. Some days I worry that they will stop next door, lights flashing through the fog, helpers running into my elderly neighbors’ house. I know those days will come for all of us – just like they came for my dad when I wasn’t expecting it.

Meditation

I started a regular meditation practice last summer. I wanted to train my mind to slow down, to be more present and appreciate what is right here. The breath. The love. And the joy that I have no excuse to revel in, really. In meditation we’re taught to acknowledge the distraction from the breath, to be ok with our minds going to sounds and thought that intrude. I’ve learned to let the bell bring me back to myself, to my breath and my practice.

Just like the bell, the sirens always shake me from my ‘daily life’ practice. Maybe it’s because I love having my windows open, just a crack, so I’m able to keep the world on alert.

Or maybe it’s because, in the last six years, the world has changed. My nest has emptied. My safety nets have torn holes, and I’ve found myself bouncing on the ground more than a few times. I hear birds outside – geese high above, and is that a robin’s chirp rising up from under my bird feeder?

My world is changing…

I know my love is in the mountains, doing what makes him shine. I try not to think of the avalanche dangers, the injuries I know too well what can happen when one is out on the mountain, at the mercy of the Universe.

And my girl, well, she’s hundreds of miles away, alongside her fiancé and her double-doodle and nesting before her marriage next summer. She’s a risk-taker, too, but now teaches others how to be safe, how to avoid getting caught up when the cascade of snow buries everything in its path.

Right now, I know my boy is sound asleep just downstairs, one more night under our roof before he takes off for Boston and the snow and studying for four more long months. Maybe I should tiptoe downstairs and gently open his door, checking his breath as I used to when he was three.

Oh, how he’d hate it if I woke him. Better to listen for the silence instead.

When they came for my dad, the sirens were silent. They crowded into his room, the helpers trying to assess amidst the confusion we were feeling. He didn’t want to go. We didn’t want him to go, either, but needed someone to help us find a way back to center. To what was normal, to what we could control. A way out of the silence of his form, still and sideways in his bed.

Breathe in

We didn’t know that was the beginning of the end. We didn’t know that sometimes, the silence can be worse than the siren. That the breath can go in, in, in, in…and that sooner than we think, it won’t go back out.

The sun is struggling to burn through the morning fog now, fog that makes the siren’s scream slightly dampen. But even though I can’t see it, I know it’s out there. I pause, count my blessings and whisper a prayer for whoever beckons for help this morning. I wish you didn’t need it, but I’m glad you’re getting it.

Soon I’ll head to my cushion. I’ll sit up straight, cross my legs and breathe in…out…in…out…and settle silently. I’ll count to ten, then start over again and again until my mind is at rest and the sirens outside the window fade away.

breathe

I’ll listen to the silence. And I’ll try to breathe, and remind myself that with sadness comes joy.

Breathe, Jen. Just breathe.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Using MMTS To Engage Students!

Posted on January 18, 2020 by

Using MMTS (multimedia text sets) is a simple, but not necessarily easy, strategy to engage students in topics, explore perceptions and get kids excited to learn!

What is an MMTS?

A multimedia text set – MMTS for short – is a gameboard of sorts that allows students to engage and explore a topic BEFORE having to do any heavy lifting.

Perception and Reality MMTS Grade 7

In my 7th grade English class, we’re studying “Perception and Reality”, so I created this MMTS to help my students get a jump start on the topic.

You can make your own copy of the Perception and Reality MMTS here.

How to build an MMTS

It’s pretty simple to build an MMTS – start with this template, or use any of my (or other people who share for FREE) already existing multimedia text sets.

Another great part of building and curating multimedia text sets is that you can use, reuse and remix them as much as you want to!

Once you have your template, the next step is to search for engaging videos, photo albums, articles, podcasts, music – anything that ties in with your essential question and will engage your students to think about the topic of study that’s coming up.

I love to use my textbook for this – yes, I do use a textbooks series in my classroom, but not in the traditional way. Textbook publishers are putting more and more digital resources in their series, but I find that the textbook websites aren’t very student-friendly. I like to see what the ‘experts’ suggest and riff off their ideas.

Ther are also excellent free sites like CommonLit, Newsela, and Actively Learn that offer free texts set on a variety of topics.

For video, I love curating YouTube playlists, subscribing to The Kids Should See This and TED-Ed to save ideas for using with my MMTS.

Don’t forget this key component of any MMTS

MMTS are not just docs to click around on – teachers need to build in reflection also. I use Google Forms that I embed in the center box to allow students to reflect on their learning, create their own ‘Wonder’ questions, and start making connections between the topic and their own lives. This critical thinking and communication component elevates the MMTS from simple to complex and primes the students for deeper analysis to come.

I asked these questions:

  • What was the most interesting exploration, and why?
  • Give an example of something in life that is not always how we perceive them to be. Tell me your thoughts about it.
  • What did the explorations make you think about?
  • What did you notice that the explorations had in common?
  • Create one ‘wonder’ question about perception and reality that you’d like to explore in this unit.
  • Is there anything else you’d like to tell me about this MMTS and/or perception and reality?

I got these answers:

  • They made me think that everyone is different, and when they look at a certain thing, every one may see it differently. It also made me think a little about hypnotize. And how that can sometimes be similar.
  • The way I perceive people, the ladder my mind goes through. The explorations made me realize that everyone perceives the world differently, and when we work together we can create cool new ideas.
  • It made me think about different things we could do to improve our world, like the robot thing I mentioned earlier and the augmented reality app on your phone.
  • I wonder how often our reality gets clouded with perception.
  • Even though there might be a lot of people in the world that have done bad stuff and that are unique races that you could assume are bad people don’t assume don’t judge and ask your self the question of what the reality is?
  • One wonder question that I have about perception and reality is what else can make me think about what I am reading, watching, and listening to?
  • Can people make you think differently by what they make you see?

MMTS and your students

When I am ready to roll out a new unit or project, I start with an MMTS.

I often ask students to complete a certain number of ‘explorations’ just to make sure they don’t rush through it. Another tip is to keep the form locked until you’ve given them adequate time to explore. I usually use an MMTS for about 60 minutes of exploration, depending on the depth of the topic and the length of the links I’ve added. The idea is to get them excited, not saturated! Plus, they can always go back to the links at any time in the unit for further investigations.

I love the time in class when students are exploring. They love sharing their ‘aha’ moments or encouraging a classmate to check out what they are viewing/reading/listening to.

Ready to try one?

There’s a huge community of educators creating not only multimedia text sets but also HyperDocs and other digital lessons – and we share them for FREE!

If you’re looking for inspiration or something to remix for your students, visit http://hyperdocs.co. Also, follow @TsgiveTs on Twitter, join the HyperDocs group on Facebook, or comment below what you’re looking for and I’d be happy to help you out!

And if you create an MMTS, it would be awesome if you could share it with me so I can continue to spread the FREE digital lesson love – share it with mamawolfeto2@gmail.com!

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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breathe mamawolfe

Intention, Breath, Renewal, and Resolutions

Posted on January 4, 2020 by

I first noticed the lambs in the field.

Two days ago, they grazed gracefully in the green grassy meadow. Babies spotted black and white and grey kicked their hind legs and nuzzled their mothers. Their unique markings caught my eye as I drove down the two-lane road, not sure where I needed to be at that moment.

Last night they caught my eye again.

This time, mothers and babies huddled close as the tule fog drifted in, coating their meadow with grey light and dropping dew on their wool. And as I glanced back to the road, John reminded me of how nervous he felt driving towards the headlights, the two of us, together. Parenthood always brings that anxiety of abandonment, the fear of leaving our kids parentless when we’re just having a normal day. Always the anxiety of ‘what if’. Always bringing me out of the moment.

‘Look at the sunset,’ he suggested. Ever cautious, he typically reminds me to keep my eyes where I’m going. If you look ahead, he shares, you’ll get where you want to be.

But tonight was different.

The sky, an exhale of pink and silver and mauve was not to be ignored. The first sunset of 2020, caught by chance, brings me to tears.

We’re reminded to make resolutions at this time of year, to identify what is wrong with us and our life, and try to fix it. As if just saying it, or writing it down at the stroke of midnight will somehow result in a different me. Drawing attention to an ‘all or nothing’ mentality as if it will spur me towards some sense of ‘betterness’.

For the last decade, making a resolution hasn’t been my focus for the turn of the December calendar. I’m not a ‘wind-up toy’ able to switch on a date; I’m the same ‘me’ I was the night before, maybe with a bit more anxiety thinking about the push to focus on something different.

My tears don’t stop as I pulled into Home Depot. The sky glows over the Berryessa Hills as I wipe my eyes with the cuff of my sweater and take a breath in. I make my purchase, and as we drive home the sky is dark, sunset replaced by stars shimmering energy drizzling down. I feel my breath like stardust now as I stop and start, careful to focus on the road ahead. Breathe in, breathe out. My intention surfaces with every inhale, a desire to pay attention – the intention to breathe in what I’m about to create.

intention

The possibility of moving onward.

I don’t need the resolution to be outside, to search for your spirit. Every time I look up, the birds or the sunset or the stars of a fleck of spirit dust in candlelight refocuses me, reminding me that you are everywhere and nowhere all at the same time.

I have intention.

I have daily practices beginning with my first breath of ‘thank you’ as my exhale hits the floor. It’s the same me as yesterday and the day before, just another reminder of the divine presence all around me.

I won’t see every sunset in 2020, no matter the strength of my resolve. Some days I’ll see sunsets on social media and wonder what I was doing that was more important. What could possibly take my focus away from right here, right now? I won’t hear every moment of birdsong outside my window. And I’m sure some days I’ll repeat my mantra ‘onward’ just to make it through.

But I will remember my intention of breath, my hope for the possibility of moving forward. I’ll feel your breath like stardust, shimmering down on my shoulders when I don’t know which foot to put first. I’ll know your spirit soars over me with a birds-eye, omnipotent view, reminding me to enjoy life. To breathe. And to just start again tomorrow.

intention starlight

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Harmony: A Teacher’s Work-Life Balance

Posted on December 29, 2019 by

Finding harmony, or a ‘work-life balance’, is not always so easy. Teachers work in environments where we are on display, constantly being asked to flex one way or another, to group and individualize, to plan, execute, reflect and regroup.

Most of the time it’s doable – we find a rhythm to our classes and our workflow and especially after November harmony just happens.

Until it doesn’t. Usually because of an interruption. Or a disruption.

Or a life event that reminds us that being ‘on’ all day without anywhere to hide, without a place to retreat, leaves us very vulnerable.

As an educator, I feel like this sometimes:

In my part of the world, this is the treat in our fall and winter skies – murmurations of starlings, dancing in and out of formation. Their harmony is mesmerizing, only broken by the intrusion of a predator or a decision to rest.

When my dad died last month, this is what came to mind. A disruption of harmony. An intrusion. A storm of emotions and decisions and realities that threatened my equilibrium and pushed me out of teaching. It’s just impossible to face forward at times like this, looking into 120 sets of eyes that hunger for recognition and caring.

This time, I didn’t have a choice.

I just stopped. I focused on what I could do to make me happy, knowing that if I could recenter and regain a little bit of life harmony, the work harmony would fall into place.

A few days in, I heard a knock at my door ten minutes before class started. I hesitated to answer, afraid of how I would react to any sort of request. Surprisingly, when I pushed open the door a tiny little girl on crutches, blond braids slightly askew, chimed, “Mrs. Wolfe, can I show you something? I wrote my hook last night and I think it’s really good!

How could I say no to that? And as she read aloud the few sentences she’d crafted the night before, I smiled. What we’d been learning in my first period English class stayed with her overnight, urging her to write and create and share…a teacher’s dream.

I set an intention at that moment, seconds before the bell rang, to look for more.

“After a storm comes a calm”

Harmony appeared nearly every day after that. Rather than getting caught up in the needs of everyone else, I looked for tiny glimpses of hope that what we were creating in room A-1 meant something. I stepped back from worrying about being behind, and pushing to finish, and settled into the process. Watching the joy in students’ eyes when they ran over to me during reading time, novel in hand and exclaiming they noticed an example of dialogue written just the way we’d been learning about…or pointing to a character’s thinking and wondering why it was or wasn’t italicized.

I helped them push past perfectionism in their publishing and find a platform that best enhanced their narratives, challenging their creativity and showing them that they, too, are published authors.

As my flexibility increased in the classroom, the joy showered down on me and I feel the harmony easing back in. Teaching is hard if you do it right – just like parenting. It’s much simpler to look the other way; easier to take the path of least resistance. This month is teaching me to honor the ebb and flow of my life and of my classroom. I’m consciously practicing creating harmony in my personal life as well as my profession, and the navigation isn’t always smooth. Life cycles don’t always follow a predictable pattern. Stress builds, minds close, and boundaries grip us tightly.

Like the starlings, I’m learning how to rebalance. Practicing mindfulness so when harmony is disrupted, when an ‘intruder’ shakes up my center and pushes me out of bounds teaches me I can handle it. I can harness my power, listen to my rhythms, and swoop low when I need to.

I know I’ll rise up again.

If you’d like a copy of the narrative writing HyperDoc with lessons we’ve been doing, click here.

If you’ve got some ideas for bringing more harmony into our lives, please reach out – I’m confident there are many of us who could use a bit of help.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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