Missing by Catherine Macphail

I picked this book up as a quick read, appropriate for Halloween. I finished it in about an hour, with a lot of distractions. It definitely fits the bill as a quick read and I think my students will enjoy it.

Maxie is angry- very angry. Her older brother, Derek, disappeared on his way to school 2 years earlier. Now, her parents are struggling to deal with his absence and overlook Maxie in the process. When the family finally receives the dreaded call, telling them Derek’s body has been found, she thinks they will finally be able to move on and be a normal family again. However, her mother only falls deeper into depression and her father continues to snap at her. When Maxie begins receiving mysterious phone calls telling her that Derek is still alive, she doesn’t know how to react.

I am not normally a fan of mysteries, but I did enjoy this book. I think because I am always fascinated by the news stories about missing children I wanted to find out how this novel ended. I had never read any of Macphail’s books before this, but I would be interested in reading some more from her!

Parent-Teacher Conferences

While jumping from blog to blog, I stumbled upon a post at Learning and Laptops. It immediately caught my interest because I am still exhausted from our parent-teacher conferences last week. We have 3 nights of conferences and one afternoon and we make appointments with parents for 15 minutes each. Ninety-nine percent of our parents come to the conferences and they normally focus on grades and a lot of small talk. It always bothers me that conferences seem to serve as nothing more than a face-to-face reading of the report card (or the report card to come!). Learning and Laptops has taken conferences in a new and exciting direction!

Instead of reviewing grades, Learning and Laptops discussed what students were actually learning. Her students filled out assesment where they answered the following:
Assess your learning in class so far this semester. Look at your participation, growth in writing, comprehension, etc..
Where, in terms of your learning, do you want to be at the end of the semester?
How are you going to get there?
What can I do to help?
Write a message to your parents.

What an amazing concept! Students filled out the assessment and brought a copy home before conferences so parents could read them. Then, the parents and teacher were able to discuss that student’s actual learning and feelings at the conference. What a valuable use of time! Parents were able to take the time to react to the assessment at home and then reflect on it with their child’s teacher. Many parents and students took the time to reflect on the conferences and their thoughts regarding the new format right on the blog- most of the comments are positive!

This is definitely something I am considering for the next set of conferences, in the spring. I would have to rework the student assessment slightly for my grade level, but my students are definitely capable of reflecting on their learning. I think metacognitive thinking is so important for learning at any age and a habit that students should get into. I already build metacognitive strategies into my reading and writing workshop, and would love to bring into more areas of the classroom.

NaNoWriMo

I’ve been working on my writing curriculum for the year. Our state testing has been moved from March to May, so I am not as rushed as I was in the past. Because of this, I don’t have to teach persuasive writing now, like I normally would. I can push that off until later in the year. I’ve been fooling around with different ideas and I think I know what I am going to do: NaNoWriMo.

It turns out that the awesome people over at NaNoWriMo have a separate site dedicated to young writers. They even have a curriculum, with sample lessons! I usually hesitate when it comes to teaching fiction because I am uncomfortable with it and my students usually have a very tough time with it. However, writing fiction in conjunction with NaNoWriMo seems like it will be a lot of fun!

Wish me luck!

Stress Relief

Last week we had Parent-Teacher Conferences at school. No matter how prepared you feel, this is always a very long and stressful week. I started thinking about how I destress and wanted to share what I came up with.

See, I am still a little kid at heart. When I want to escape from the world, I grab a book, run the tub, and take a loooooong bubble bath. I have a small addiction to a great bath products company and my bathroom is full of shower gels, bubble bars, and bath bombs. The company is Lush, a company that specializes in handmade bath products. If you love indulging yourself while also using vegan, fresh, and handmade products, I highly recommend checking them out! Tonight I took a long hot bath with an Ocean Salt body scrub and an Ice Hotel bubble bar slice. I finished a decent mystery book and relaxed, completely unbothered by the rest of the world. :)

Professional Development

My district has decided to give me district days for my monarch trip in February. That means I have 2 professional development days to put to good use this year! I have spent today scouring the internet for workshops and I am coming up empty! Ideally, I would like two separate workshops- I am looking for something in Responsive Classroom, reading workshop, or writing workshop. It needs to be in NJ and preferably the cost should be $50 or less (we are reimbursed up to $50). Anyone have any ideas or recommendations? I am coming up with nothong, no matter what I google!

Writer’s Notebook Wednesday

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“Don’t drop the ring, don’t drop the ring, don’t drop the ring!”

I repeated the mantra over and over in my head as I rolled the thick, heavy wedding band across my thumb. Below my feet, the wooden planks that made up the dock seemed to have spaces the size of textbooks between them. I inched the ring up higher on my thumb, feeling the large space between the metal and my skin, as I imagined the horrified gasps of the wedding guests when I dropped it. In my mind, I could hear the plunk of the heavy ring on the wood followed by the bloop of the ring hitting the water before sinking to the bottom of the bay. Gripping it tighter, I repeated my new mantra under my breath, “Don’t drop the ring”.

“May we have the rings?” the minister asked suddenly. With a sigh of relief, I handed over the wedding band. As Julie turned to place it on Scott’s finger, I bent down to straighten her train. As I did so, I glanced at the dock beneath my feet and uttered a silent byt grateful prayer of thanks to whichever god looks over small-fingered Maids of Honor and expensive wedding rings.

Mexico!

I have great news…..this weekend I received word that I have received a fellowship from EIRC/Geraldine Dodge Foundation to visit Michoacan, Mexico! For those unfamiliar with this part of Mexico, I will be visiting the Monarch butterfly sanctuaries right before the butterflies begin their migration back to the north.

I AM SO EXCITED!

Now, I just need to get permission from my district to go on the trip. I will use both of my professional days, but will need two more from the district. Wish me luck!

Writer’s Notebook Wednesday

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This is my first contribution to Writer’s Notebook Wednesday! It is a personal narrative I have been writing alongside my class:

As we pulled into the stranger’s driveway, the excitement in the car grew. The garage door was open and we could see two golden-fleeced puppies playing in a large crate.

“We are definitely getting one!” Megan exclaimed. We all laughed, but we knew it was true. We could never leave without a puppy, having seen them.

Quickly, we piled out of the Rav-4 and introduced ourselves to the breeder. She let us know that the boy was the one wearing a green collar and that the little girl was the one in the pink collar. The boy was already reserved but the little girl was available.

“Go ahead, you can let them out and play with them. Take them out on the front lawn!” the breeder said. Megan rushed to the cage and opened the latch.

A tangle of legs and tails piled out, all golden and fluffy. Yip yip! Both puppies raced towards the lawn, tumbling over their unsteady legs wagging tails. We watched them play with each other, racing around the lawn and garden, wrestling and playing. Megan chased the little girl and then sat down in the garage. Without a sound, the little girl slowly approached. She sniffed Megan’s foot expectantly and before we could say a word, she threw herself into Megan’s lap! We were in love! After a few more minutes, Megan scooped up the puppy in her arms and said in a decided voice, “We are getting her!”.

With a laugh, we turned to the breeder and made it official. As the money was turned over and the contract was signed, we made our way to the car with our new baby girl. After an hour of playing outside with her brother, meeting a whole new family, and being adopted- she was exhausted. As we pulled out of the driveway, she snuggled up on the backseat, between all of us. As she slept soundly, surrounded by the love of her new family, Mom leaned back and said, “Welcome home, Lucy”.

Meetings

I have been thinking lately about the many meetings we have at school. A few of these meetings always focus on language arts and the “best” way to teach. Over and over I hear that while “independent reading is not a waste of time” it is not possible for students to read for any extended period of time. Just recently, I was told that students will read for 7-10 minutes, and then just stare at the page, pretending to read. I dare not tell these administrators that my current classes can read for 50 minutes, uninterrupted, and beg for more when we stop! While they read, I float around the room checking pages, holding conversations (which check comprehension without the student even realizing it), and looking over reading logs. While I agree that there are those students who we must work with very closely in order to build their stamina, I think it does our children a disservice to assume that reading for any length of time is an impossibility for them! Teaching is about expectations. I expect my students to read during workshop, they know my expectations, and they read.

Many districts seem to think that the average American child will only read short pieces of text and only with a specific purpose in mind. For example, we should give a 1-2 page piece to our students + a graphic organizer. This graphic organizer will ensure that they do the reading we ask of them while not staring at the ceiling. I fully support the use of graphic organizers as organization tools and guidance, but why are we making our students completely reliant on them? Why can’t a middle school child read a novel and actually enjoy it? It seems that student+novel+enjoyment just does not equal out for many administrators. Instead, we shortchange many students by giving them one page to read plus a one page organizer to fill out as they read. Too many teachers have removed independent reading and choice from their classrooms. Instead of spreading a love of books and a passion for reading, they are making reading a chore.

In my classroom this year, my students are readers. Everday they recommend books to each other, to me, and to their parents. I have had 3 parents approach me since Back to School Night to say something along the lines of, “I don’t know what you are doing in that room, but my son is READING!”. The most telling sign? My two classes have the highest combined amount of Scholastic orders each month so far. Instead of the average $20-50 ordered in the other classes, my two classes order over $100 of books each month.

Somehow, we need to convince more administrators and superintendents that the workshop model is the way to go. Lectures and textbook readings are not grooming students to be readers. They are building a hatred of reading and books. It has to stop!

Barnes and Noble Educator’s Night

I am off to Barnes and Noble for their Educator’s Reception tonight. The girls from school are meeting me there and we have been thinking positively all day: we will win something! They will be raffling off books and gift cards. I want to win the $500 Barnes and Noble gift card. I can only imagine how much fun I would have with it!

The store also offers 25% off all purchases for educator’s this week, so I am sure I will come home with some goodies. :)

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