Monthly Archives: October 2016

Trick or Treat…Spell and Read…Give Me Something Good to Teach


So we already know that we teach learners and not subjects.  It is a tricky question when someone asks a teacher “What do you teach?”  The answer is very simply “learners.”  It is easy to think “social studies” or “math”… but it is always “learners” first.  So something good to teach?  You bet – our kids!  Now what to teach and how to teach is a different question… In a world of canned curriculum and a sea of sailing ships of educational trends, it can be tough to decide if it is a trick or treat when it comes to knowing what is best for our kids (aka – learners).

Recently I had the privilege of attending the Minnesota English Learner Education Conference (MELEd) with colleagues from Marshall Public Schools.  Some of you may be thinking “privilege” might be stretching the truth some, but it is so true!  (I know; I know… I am completely addicted to learning.  But would you want a teacher any other way?! 🙂 )


The sessions that I attended focused on best practices based on research to use in our teaching repertoire.  One of the top sessions in my humble opinion was on the topic of differentiation for linguistically diverse students.  Amy Faust Fraser, WIDA expert, shared with the attendees a variety of ways to differentiate for English learners considering the literacy domains of listening, speaking, reading, and writing.  What was really great about this hands-on session was that differentiation helps to support English learners as well as all learners.  One concrete example was how graphic organizers support the WIDA ELD (English Language Development) standards in our teaching.  For example, the Venn Diagram allows learners to compare and contrast two entities. Ms. Fraser provided examples of incorporating the diagram into social and instructional language, the language of language arts, the language of mathematics, the language of science, and the language of social studies.  It is more than just implementing an organizer.  It is about appropriately matching it to the content, the language, and the learner.

Another great take-away from this session was creating a class portrait and student portraits using the WIDA Can Do Descriptors based on ACCESS scores – and knowing who our students are.  EL teachers can collaborate with classroom teachers to provide a list of supporting strategies by the literacy domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing).  These portraits should include assets, contributions, and potential for learners.  This provides insight for the teacher as well as the learner as it is important for each student to recognize strengths and challenges as well as help set personal goals.

Speaking of challenges and goals… Dr. Cari Maguire presented a session that discussed linguistic scaffolds for writing language objectives, highlighting expressive language.  Basically, language objectives address how students are learning concepts considering the literacy domains: reading, writing, speaking, and listening while scaffolding provides learners with stepping stones to climb the hill of learning.  The goal here is that teachers – whether EL teachers or classroom teachers – should be aware of more than the content of their teaching.  We need to know how students are using their literacy skills to learn.  Language objectives look something like this… “Learners will (active verb phrase) using (language target).”  The more concisely we can state what learners are expected to do and how, the more learners will flourish in our classrooms.  That is simply the trick to teaching – learnings flourishing in our classrooms – and it is a special treat when it happens for them all.

The conference highlighted many best practices based on research.  I recommend it for any colleagues looking to learn more teaching English learners – and that’s no trick! 😉

Stay Calm & Teach On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.


You Didn’t Teach Me This in College


Back in 1990, when I was teaching third graders, the most heartbreaking thing happened…I lost one of my students to a farming accident. One of the most difficult weeks of my teaching career. Paul was driving a tractor pulling a trailer behind it. Yes, 8 year olds know how to drive tractors. That is not unusual around here.

When they found him, his head was pinned under one of the wheels on the trailer. No one is sure if he got off to check something or what happened. He had a serious brain injury and died 4 days later. All third graders attended the funeral and sat together. There was nothing in my teacher prep program that had prepared me for that.

Now I am a professor of education and I teach how to be a teacher. We do address this issue briefly in my Children’s Literature class. I show children’s books that may help in the classroom with this life challenge. I share the above story with my teacher candidates, and then share a copy of the letter that was sent home to my third graders’ parents back in 1990. Then I tell my teacher candidates that I pray they will never ever have to go through this.

Sadly, I’ve had two past college students who have. Julie is one of my past college students who was still in college doing her placement hours in a third grade classroom nearby. A tragic bus accident happened and several children perished. One of them being an 8 year old girl who had been in the classroom that Julie was student teaching in.

When I saw Julie on campus afterwards, I gave her a long, tight hug and during the hug she whispered in my ear, “You didn’t teach me this.” The teeny tiny little bit we had talked about this in my Children’s Literature course wasn’t enough. That was eight years ago.

Two years ago, another former college student of mine lost one of his first grade girls to cancer. He teaches in the elementary school that is right across the street from my house. I saw him in the parking lot so I walked over to tell him I was thinking of him and just to ask if he was doing okay. Scott gave me a long tight hug and while giving the hug he whispered in my ear, “you didn’t teach me this in college.”

Most recently, a young man in high school has committed suicide. The school district has brought in several people to be on the crisis team to help these young people get through this tragedy. My daughter is a teacher at the school where this young man was enrolled. My daughter just sent me a text message and said, “Mom, I feel like a counselor. They didn’t teach me this at college.” All I could text back to her was to keep doing what she was doing…listening with a loving heart.

I share these stories because I need your thoughts…what can I do at the university level to help our teacher candidates prepare for this? I honestly don’t know if there is anything? 😦 I still pray they never have to go through it, but if they do, what can I do, as their professor, to help them prepare?

My heartfelt prayers for the family who just lost their son to suicide. I believe that while satan might have convinced him, Jesus walked him home. Please join me in prayer for this family and everyone suffering loss.


Stay Calm & Pray On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

10 Secrets to Longevity


Photo Credit: Jana Beckering

My husband’s Grandpa DeVries was ALMOST a centurion when he passed away. So close…but only a young 99. Good genes, wouldn’t you say? He lived a good life. He shared a little wisdom with his grands along the way too. Want to know what I believe are a few of his secrets to longevity? Read on…

He was a Godly man who believed that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. He quoted John 3:16 quite often in conversation. One of his favorite verses was Provers 3:5-6 which reads “trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; but acknowledge Him in all your ways and He will make your paths straight.”

My hubby’s grandpa was a hard-working farmer, which we all know is an occupation that can have dangers attached to it. One trial that Grandpa DeVries had encountered in his early 50’s was a farming accident that caused him to break his neck.

He was moving a cattle feed bunk with a loader. As he was backing up, the bunk was being lifted at the same time. Grandpa DeVries didn’t realize how high the arms on the loader were getting. They were too high. It caused the bunk to slide back down the arms and hit him. He laid in traction for several weeks along with having to wear a halo for several more.

During that time he learned to be still. He would watch out the window for hours at a time and be meticulously observant. A habit he took with him the rest of his years on Earth. Grandpa DeVries told the story of watching a horse for over an hour. By being still and watching that horse closely, he found that the horse would lift one leg at a time to rest it, and every 15 minutes would change to a different leg. Fascinating.

During his younger years and during his retirement, Grandpa DeVries enjoyed traveling the United States. He often visited family wherever they might be settled.  From California to Texas to Michigan and Connecticut, he enjoyed driving, then later in years, flying around the country. Grandpa DeVries was known for frequently saying “plan like you are going to live forever, and live like you are going to die tomorrow.” No, he isn’t the author of that quote, but he role-modeled it to perfection.

My mother-in-law shared with me that Grandpa DeVries would often say “got to keep moving and thinking.” He was a gentleman who just “kept on trucking” as the saying goes. He certainly wasn’t afraid of a good walk. I remember one trip that we all took to Texas to visit family. While we were there, we toured where Kennedy had been assassinated. Grandpa DeVries walked the whole thing with us.  I remember many of us younger ones were more worn out than he was. On a side note: he went para sailing for the first time…when he was 89. He initially wanted to try bungee jumping, but he found it was too expensive so he chose para sailing instead. I know…astonishing.

Speaking of ‘got to keep thinking,’ if you ever needed to borrow a pen, you could always rely on Grandpa DeVries to have one in his shirt pocket. He believed in keeping the mind as sharp as a tack. He was faithful about attending his grandchildren’s and great-grandchildren’s sporting events. Out came that pen so he could jot down the event’s score on a piece of paper, and then add up the numbers to make sure those score keepers were doing it right. He was always figuring. Doing a little math. Thinking. Keeping his mind active. When he passed away, he was buried with a pen in his pocket.

If there was a family gathering, it was guaranteed that Grandpa DeVries would be there. He had the gift of showing up. Family knew he would be there so we all recognized we had better be there too. He was the glue that held the family together.

If Grandpa DeVries was all of sudden missing in action during those family gatherings, family members understood that he had quietly returned to his room to lie down and take a nap. No announcement made, just gone. He was wise enough to discern when it was time to rest.

Mmmm…coffee. Love the smell of it. Love the taste of it. And so did Grandpa DeVries. He would drink a cup of coffee about four times throughout the day. With breakfast or dinner. At gatherings and with friends. No creamer…just black. He was often seen with a cup of coffee in his hand. Even though you cannot see it, in the picture above he is holding a cup of coffee in his right hand.

When the day was done, and dinner was finished and the dishes were cleaned up, Grandpa DeVries liked to sit down, relax and enjoy 2 – 3 ounces of Mogen David red wine. That’s it. No overindulging. Just 2 – 3 ounces of red wine; which research shows is good for you.

There you have it, a few of Grandpa DeVries’ secrets to living longer. Now I have a challenge for you. Be still and closely observe the picture above. Do you see anything out of the ordinary? Look closely at the bare trees in the window. The surprise is in the branches. When I first noticed it, it took my breath away. But then again, it didn’t surprise me because of the Godly man Grandpa DeVries was. Hope you see it…

For those of you who like lists (Dr. V.) :-), below are Grandpa DeVries’ 10 secrets to longevity. Stay calm and live long, everyone…

*Be a Godly Person

*Be Hard Working

*Be Still

*Plan Like You Will Live Forever; Live Like You’ll Die Tomorrow

*Keep Your Mind Sharp

*Keep Moving

*Show Up

*Take a Nap

*Drink Coffee

*Drink a Little Red Wine


Stay Calm & Live On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.

To Get Where You Are Going…Turn Left At The Cow

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Have you ever had to stop to ask for directions?  No? Lucky you!  Well, let me tell you that it can be a humbling experience.  I mean – at least that is what I have heard. 😉 When asking for directions, it is important to listen carefully to get all the directions just right.  It turns out sometimes the person giving the directions may not actually know for sure, but they sound confident and certain so you just go with it and hope for the best.  Giving directions is so much easier than following them. 😉 Thank goodness my dear friend Siri is on board these days so she can politely guide me where I need to go.

Recently, I had an opportunity to follow Siri’s directions to hear author, Lisa Bullard, speak to an audience at the Southwest Minnesota Reading Council fall conference.  It was a wonderful opportunity to connect with other readers and writers.  From experienced teachers to beginning teacher candidates, we were fired up by Lisa’s story to get reading and writing and help guide the learners in our classrooms to do the same.  “The more we read, the better writers we become” as Lisa shared is something I like to share with my own learners.  “Reading and writing feed each other.”  Oh – that reminds me… the meal at the SWMNRC conference was fabulous!

Lisa’s story doesn’t begin with her writing since birth – although she did start writing early on.  Lisa is currently working on her 93rd book after first spending some time in the insurance field and then 16 years in publishing before turning to the dark side…authorhood.  Her ideas and stories come from life experiences and research.

A few key ideas that Lisa shared with the audience include:

*It’s not the author’s job to share the truth or real story in fiction; it’s the emotional truth that they are responsible for.
*Nonfiction and fiction writers need to research.
*Stories can sometimes be deep inside us.  We just need to research unusual facts and pay attention to life around us.
*Typically conflict needs to start right away to keep readers interested because of short attention spans.
*Perseverance is key.  Start with a word, then a sentence, then a page, then a chapter, then a book.

Lisa shared a lot of great ideas and a lot of great books with us.  You Can Write a Story! is a story-writing recipe for kids that I couldn’t resist purchasing – and getting autographed!  Oh – and we cannot forget the best titled book ever, Turn Left at the Cow.  You know you want to find out more about that one!

A major takeaway for me after listening to Lisa Bullard speak is to keep reading and writing – and to encourage others to join in on the hard work and fun.  We are all writers in our own right.  We just have to follow our directions to get where we are going – and to not be afraid to ask for directions when needed.


Stay Calm & Write On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.