May Your Days Be Merry!

Sweet Wishes for a Merry Christmas!
Sweet wishes for a Merry Christmas!

The Power of Feedback to Turn Things Around

If you are a parent or educator, you understand how feedback can increase children’s motivation and help them reflect on what they’ve learned.  By guiding children through their goals and focusing on progress, not perfection, feedback also helps children learn self-direction.  Recent research notes how effective feedback should link to learning objectives and be specific in nature.  The best feedback is not a letter grade but clear directions on how to improve.  If you’re looking for helpful ways to provide feedback for learning, TeachThought offers 20 excellent techniques.   

The power of giving feedback is evident in the following high school art student’s reflection about his photographs.  His teacher nurtured motivation, self-direction and confidence. 


The Power of Feedback to Turn Things Around

Umbrella, Created by Richard, Age 17, Black-and-white print from a digital camera, Art Teacher:  Don Cerrone

“I look at a some of my old photographs and ask myself, ‘Who did that?’  Mr. Cerrone turned things around for me and showed me that I actually could create photos that I liked and other people liked too.  Now I have confidence in what I do, and I am proud of my photos.  My teacher makes us work at what we are doing.  Sometimes I think I am finished, and he explains that I am not.  It’s good to have a teacher who talks to you about your work.  Mr. Cerrone doesn’t talk about good or bad, but instead how and why.  Nothing is wrong; it can just become more interesting.  One of the challenges for me was the rain, but in the end the rain really makes the shot.”   

The Power of Feedback to Turn Things Around

Grateful for Literacy

What would you miss if you were illiterate?

If you have ever attended a book festival, you know how fun it is to share the enjoyment of reading with others.  At the National Book Festival in Washington D.C., enthusiastic readers (of all ages) attend numerous author talks, book-signings, and family-centered activities that emphasize the importance of lifelong literacy.  This year, while wandering through one of the pavilions, I learned about the work of Room to Read.  This non-profit believes that “World Change Starts with Educated Children” and works to develop literacy skills and gender equality around the world. At their booth, they posed the question, What Would You Miss If You Were Illiterate?”  Festival participates responded with hundreds of replies such as,

What would you miss the most if you were illiterate?


I would miss:
being able to discover information on my own, rather than relying on others.

bonding with someone over a really good book.

writing letters to my friends. 

the internet.

Harry Potter.

the escape from reality when reading a good book. 

reading aloud to my class – my favorite time of day.

making friends online. 

writing in my journal.

not being able to understand.

the fellowship of educated individuals.

peace and quiet. 


being a librarian and sharing my love of books.

love letters from the man I married. 

escaping to different worlds and time periods in my mind.

reading to my children and sharing the love of books with them.

a good laugh.

the inability to read my favorite cooking recipes from

everything because reading is in everything.


Why are you grateful for literacy?

Why Humor Should be Part of Every Classroom

Why Humor Should be a Part of Every Classroom

Most people don’t think of school as a place for comedy.  However, many of us remember our class clowns, especially those with dynamic personalities. They often made class quite interesting.  For teachers, however, a class clown can be a nemesis who disrupts class and derails lessons.  Fortunately, not every teacher feels that way. 

In a recent NPR podcast, educator/host Lee Hale asked, “What if we looked at class clowns differently?  What if, instead of seeing them as a nuisance, we saw them as gifted?” Thankfully, there are teachers, like Leann Ferguson, who see their potential.  She observed how her nemesis could command an audience, so she enlisted his help to keep the class on track. 

That’s good news because students often remember things that make them laugh.  In their book, If They’re Laughing, They Just Might Be Listening authors Elaine Lundberg and Cheryl Miller Thurston describe how a classroom filled with laughter is a classroom with positive energy.  They share a number of reasons why humor and laughter should be part of every classroom including: 

Humor motivates and energizes.  When a teacher creates a learning environment where humor is welcome and even encouraged, students often try harder. 

Humor gives students a “hook” on which to trigger recall.  When we learn, we link new information with old information.  We relate the new to something we already know, in order to fit it into our world and make sense of it.  Humor can help us make that link.

Humor encourages creativity.  Because humor often comes from the unexpected, it surprises us with a new perspective, giving us new ways of looking at familiar objects and events. 

Laughter helps build relationships.  Laughter brings people together, both physically and psychologically. 

Laughter helps show that mistakes are a normal part of learning.  When teachers laugh at their mistakes, they show students that mistakes are not the end of the world. 

Laughter feels good.  Laughter gives us pleasure.  We should appreciate it, welcome it, and encourage it in our lives – for no other reason than it feels good!

Humor Should be a Part of Every Classroom

Practice Tips for Learning to Play an Instrument

Practice Tips for Learning to Play an Instrument

Detail from Still Music, 1948, Ben Shahn (1898-1969)


Does your child have a passion for learning an instrument?  Is daily practice an enjoyable part of her life?  Does she like to perform?  Learning to play an instrument is an excellent way to develop creative thinking, self-expression, perseverance, and responsibility.  If music is an important part of your lives, you will appreciate the following advice from virtuoso violinist Joshua Bell (via Kaufman Music Center).  He shared his knowledge with students at the Special Music School, New York City's only K-12 public school for musically gifted children.  Read more at Kaufman Music Center’s overviews of his sessions. 

Practice:  The more the better.  Joshua practices wherever and whenever – at home, in hotels, even at airports between flights.  “You feel good after you practice.  It’s just getting started that’s the hard part.  It’s like jumping in the water.  Sometimes you don’t want to jump in the water because it’s cold, but you know that once you get in, it feels great.”

Focus on challenging passages:  “Work on just one section at a time, until you can play it five times in a row without a mistake.” 

Improvisation:  “Even in pieces that you know, there’s a sense of improvising.  It should sound very spontaneous.  There’s an art to sounding improvised, which is very important.  Music should always sound as if you’re making it up at the moment.  You’re telling a story.” 

Tips for Learning to Play an Instrument

Children Talk About Their Art:  All The Jazz


Children have many ideas about the creative process and bring unique experiences to their artistic adventures.  Creating art helps them learn more about themselves, others, and the world. 

Writing about their art  further refines their ideas, thoughts and experiences.

All the Jazz:  Children Talk About Their Art

All the Jazz, Created by Janier, Age 11, Grade 5, Collograph print and cut-paper collage, Art Teacher:  Jean Cohn

What Does Your Visionary Learning Environment Include?

American Visionary Art Museum.  What does your visionary learning environment include?
American Visionary Art Museum, Baltimore, MD

If you have visited the American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) in Baltimore, you have experienced an environment filled with self-taught, intuitive artistry.  “Since its opening in 1995, the museum has sought to promote the recognition of intuitive, self-reliant, creative contribution as both an important historic and essential living piece of treasured human legacy.”  The museum’s education goals include “increasing awareness of the wide variety of choices available in life for all . . . particularly students.” This emphasis on self-exploration and creativity is even mirrored in the building’s mosaic exterior.  

Reading AVAM's education goals creates a sense of possibility. They believe that “being indoctrinated with ideas of what is not supposed to work, or what cannot work, only stifles human innovation and idea making.”

Possibilities. . . Imagine your visionary learning environment. What does it include for your children/students (and yourself)?

Mine includes: 

  • Opportunities for students to challenge themselves and to make mistakes.
  • A curriculum that promotes creativity and the arts.
  • An environment that cares for and values others. 
  • Time to experiment, try new things, and reflect. 
  • Exposure to the natural world.
  • Time for play.
May this new school new bring new possibilities

Children Talk About Their Art:  My Formal Living Room in Perspective

Children have many ideas about the creative process and bring unique experiences to their artistic adventures.  Creating art helps them learn more about themselves, others, and the world.  Writing about their art  further refines their ideas, thoughts and experiences.

Children Talk About Art:  My Formal Living Room in Perspective
My Formal Living Room in Perspective, Created by Fabiha, Age 10, Grade 4, Pen and marker on paper, Art Teacher: Nathaniel Solomon

"I have been interested in art for my whole life.  I want to be an interior designer when I grow up.  I love designs, drawing, and writing in my journal.  My love for art grows stronger as I get older.  I also love to doodle.  I have a dream to build my own perfect house.  I started sketching my own furniture.  I was very focused and interested in this project." –  Fabiha

"My love for art grows stronger as I get older."

Also view:  

The Courageous Lion  by Leah

Children Talk About Their Art:  The Courageous Lion

Children have many ideas about the creative process and bring unique experiences to their artistic adventures.  Creating art helps them learn more about themselves, others, and the world.  Writing about their art  further refines their ideas, thoughts and experiences. 

The Courageous Lion by Leah, Age 6
The Courageous Lion, Created by Leah, Age 6, Grade 1, Art Teacher: Silvia Huggler

The Courageous Lion

Cut-paper collage

"Art allows me to use my imagination.  In art, I really feel free to show my creativity.  Maybe, I can even inspire the viewer.  I chose to make The Courageous Lion because I am a big fan of The Wizard of Oz.  I love the character of the lion.  It took a long time to make my collage, and I carefully planned everything.  I did a lot of work – I made paper by rolling a crayon and painting over it.  I tore and cut shapes, and then I arranged them all."  – Leah


A Large and Most Authentically Built Tall Ship

L'Hermione:  The largest and most authentically built tall ship in the last 150 years

“Twenty years ago, a small group dreamed of reconstructing an exact replica of General Lafayette’s 18th-century ship called the Hermione. Today, the majestic vessel is the largest and most authentically built Tall Ship in the last 150 years.” 


In 1777, Lafayette, at the age of 19, secretly and against the wishes of the French government, sailed to America and volunteered to fight on the side of America in the Revolutionary War.  Lafayette served with General Washington through the winter at Valley Forge and returned to France in 1778 to lobby for the American cause.  The French King finally agreed to support the Americans with a military force.  Frigate Hermione sailed Lafayette back to America in 1780.

(adapted from

When French forces helped trap British General Cornwallis at Yorktown, the Hermione was part of the naval blockade, which led to the British surrender. 


Craftsmen have built a beautiful, authentic replica using original drawings of the Hermione’s sister ship.  The process, which took 17 years, used the same materials and techniques (oak timbers, linen sails) that were available in the 18th century.  (I walked aboard to admire the magnificent craftsmanship during the ship’s stop in Baltimore.) On July 4th, Lafayette’s flagship will pass in front of the Statue of Liberty!   To learn more about the historic voyage, the ship, and the remaining itinerary, please visit the website:

The Hermione sails again in America!

Nurture Gifts, Strengths, and Creativity Through Play

Nurture gifts, strengths, and creativity through play

While nurturing children's rapidly developing skills, it can be difficult to align their love and excitement for learning new things with academic tasks.  This summer, let your children take the lead.  Listen to what they want.   Allow them to create, discover, and learn through play.   A considerable amount of  research supports the importance of play, and it is a wonderful way to encourage creativity and a love of learning.  Play is thinking, exploring, and imagining.  Children who are playing are working hard – in their minds!

Why Starting a Collection Builds Cognitive Skills

How to be a Creative Role Model

Curate a Virtual Museum with Padlet

Try Padlet to Create and Collaborate

In the past, I have used Evernote and Delicious to organize my online resources, but thanks to the expertise of edtech teachers, I recently started experimenting with another online tool, Padlet.  Social bookmarking services, (Delicious, Diigo, LiveBinders) allow users to “tag” their bookmarks and search for additional resources and are useful when collecting a set of resources to share with others.

For example, in an art class, students can bookmark online museum collections and add their favorite artworks to share with other students.  (The Metropolitan Museum of Art offers more than 400,000 digital images that can be downloaded for free.) The use of tags makes it easy to filter the artworks by medium or genre (history, portraits, still life etc.).  Students can then use these images to collaboratively curate their own virtual museums.  Working in small groups, they would select a theme and images and write the descriptive/interpretive information.  This activity encourages engagement, analysis, and various perspectives.

Padlet is a collaborative resource that enhances student engagement in many ways.  It functions like an online bulletin board that can be shared with others, and it’s easy to use.  Students don’t need an account to start adding to the teacher created “wall.”  Padlet also works well for small group projects.  Instead of students creating a display board (like those used during science fairs), they can create an online posterboard with text, images, and video.  It is a creative way to curate and collaborate. 

Celebrate National Library Week

Celebrate National Library Week
What Libraries Do

Enhance the Standards with Poetry & Improv

Sing that Poem!

Take Five for Jazz!

Hearts of the Tree

L'arbre de la Famille
L'arbre de la Famille/The Family Tree: Mosaicultures Internationales Montreal
The Heart of a Tree

Nature's Benefits

Beautiful photograph of Bryce Canyon in winter
Beautiful photograph of Bryce Canyon in winter

Spending time outdoors is good for children (and parents).  According to the Nature Conservancy, there are many benefits:  “Kids need nature.  Studies repeatedly show that time spent outside in nature leads to better health and improvement in the classroom.”  I agree, when I’m cooped up indoors for too long, I get lethargic.  I can still hear my mother’s voice, “Get outside and out of the house!”  I grew up in Maine, and this time of year, we bundled up in our chunky Carter wool overalls to play in the snow (and to beat the winter blues).

America’s National Parks offer many options for nature seekers.  On Martin Luther King Jr. Day (January 19, 2015) and Presidents Day weekend (February 14-16, 2015), the Park Service offers free entrance.  That's right, free!  These photographs of America’s prettiest national parks in winter are spectacular! While visiting the parks in winter is not feasible for many of us, it’s never too early to start planning for this summer.  Until then, become a backyard naturalist, take a walk around the block, or try one of these winter outdoor activities

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Contact Information

Debra Lemieux

If Then Creativity


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