TCRWP Saturday Reunion

At 5:40am this morning, I was out the door and headed towards school, where I would drop off my car, meet up with some friends, and head to the train station. By 6:35am I was on a northbound train headed to Penn Station. By 8:00am I was inside Riverside Church on Riverside Dr. in NYC. After years of trying to attend, I was finally at Teacher’s College Saturday Reunion.

When my colleagues and I arrived, we picked up our schedules and began scanning the multitude of workshops being offered. Within moments I announced I would be eating my brown bag lunch on the run and attending all four sessions. My colleagues quickly agreed. How could I possibly choose to give up a session for something as silly as lunch?! As I read the descriptions of the many sessions being offered, I was circling possibilities left and right. How on earth would I ever decide which workshops to attend?

Eventually, I made my choices. In the meantime, we made our way to the main chapel to hear the keynote speaker. Tomie dePaolo (author of over 200 books, including Strega Nona), renowned and award-winning author/illustrator gave a rousing talk entitled “No Teacher Left Behind”. He was a brilliant speaker and had the packed church in stitches. He shared many tales of his childhood and the importance that reading and writing held in it. He is also a strong supporter of teachers. He told us that his personal book sales have decreased 50% since the inception of No Child Left Behind. He and his agent attribute this to the huge number of teachers and school districts which can no longer purchase and use his books because they must focus on “the test”. It was a staggering statistic and I would be very interested in hearing if other authors have experienced a similar drop in sales.

After dePaolo’s speech, I made my way to my first session. I was very excited to finally hear Mary Ehrenworth (om/gp/product/0325006881?ie=UTF8&tag=thereazon-20&linkCode=as2&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=0325006881″>The Power of Grammar: Unconventional Approaches to the Conventions of Language) speak, as she heads the middle school aspects of the Project. She gave a great presentation on working with stronger readers, the ones who are usually left on their own in workshop. She shared some great picture books to use in small groups that allow students to stretch their thinking above and beyond the literal. I ended up with a great list of picture books and plan to order one immediately, for our Holocaust unit.

More importantly, Ehrenworth told the group that we can not expect our students to be readers if we are not readers ourselves. We must share books with them, carry books around, even tell them, “I’m sorry, I didn’t even get to finish planning my lesson last night- I was reading this phenomenal book!” You will teach them more with that non-lesson that you would with any mini-lesson. She also shared a great analogy, courtesy of Lester Laminack. Ask any middle schooler what they can’t wait to do, and invariably you will hear “drive”. We don’t teach them this desire- there are no minilessons, no group discussions, no direct instruction on why driving is great. Instead, their experiences with cars and in cars have made this a natural desire. We need to make reading just as natural a desire. They should want to read, they should desire to read. I can’t wait to share that analogy with some of my colleagues!

My next session with with the famous Lucy Calkins (The Art of Teaching Reading, The Art of Teaching Writing). Her session was standing room only and it was like being in the presence of a celebrity. While she didn’t teach as much as motivate, she was extremely inspiring. She shared some sample writing with us and I still managed to learn a lot.

The third session was one I was looking forward to because it focused on grammar. A project leader (whose name escapes me right now) took us through a typical week of grammar instruction in the middle school she coaches. It was a great marriage of direct instruction and inquiry, and a model I think my district would be satisfied with me pursuing. She also told us that we shouldn’t spend more time planning our grammar lessons that we actually spend teaching grammar. So if we teach 20 minutes of direct instruction grammar during word study, then don’t plan for 3 hours. I took lots of notes in that session and walked out with a booklist of books I must buy! Already I am planning to get Constance Weaver’s The Grammar Plan Book: A Guide to Smart Teaching and Don Killgallon’s Grammar for Middle School: A Sentence-Composing Approach–A Student Worktext. Has any used either of these? Or have a suggestion for where I could find them a little cheaper?

I was very excited for the last session. Georgia Heard shared her poetry unit of study with us and it was phenomenal! First of all, she was a lot younger than I expected (which surprised me, for some reason). It was so inspiring to hear her share her own experiences with poetry in the classroom. I also have a much better understanding of the doors to poetry that she discusses in Awakening the Heart: Exploring Poetry in Elementary and Middle School. I took copious notes in all the sessions, but especially hers, and can’t wait to go back and read them over to let them really sink in.

I swear, I was such a fangirl today. I could have stayed at TC all day, because I was finally in the presence of these men and women who have shaped so much of my teaching. They were practically celebrities to me. To hear my own beliefs and experiences in the classroom affirmed by the Project leaders and the other teachers attending the Reunion really strengthened my resolve to continue what I am doing. It was an invigorating, renewing, energizing day. I would go every month if they offered it! My next goal is to attend a summer institute at TC, as soon as I can afford it (our district doesn’t pay for it). If 5 hours taught me this much today, I can’t imagine what a week would do! I would just need a little more sleep. Getting up at 5am killed me today!!

Oh, and I finally experienced a document camera/ELMO for the first time today. How do I get one in my classroom?! It was amazing! I could already name a million ways I would use it in my classroom!!!

Slice of Life Challenge #21

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Sliding

in and out of lanes

like a first time ice-skater.

Horns honk t

he driver ignores them,

continuing his cell phone conversation,

oblivious to the slamming brakes

and angry shouts.

I count down the blocks as we pass them by-

58th, 57th, 56th….

how many more til Penn Station?  Will we make it?

Gripping the door handle,

I hold on for dear life,

hoping no one cuts us off

and that we stop cutting off everyone else.

The light up ahead turns amber, then red.

The oblivious driver continues forward,

not seeing the light.

Stop, stop, stop, I pray.

At the very last moment

he slams on the brakes.

We are safe at the red light.

I look up-

10 more blocks to go.

Slice of Life #20

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I love reading. If you told me I could do absolutely anything I want for an entire day, I would choose reading. I love sitting on my couch, with its chaise lounge, stretching out with a good book.

I have spent the majority of today reading the conclusion to my favorite trilogy, The Sweet Far Thing (The Gemma Doyle Trilogy), by Libba Bray. Hours have flown by as I have delved deeper into this almost-800 page tome. I have had it on my nightstand for over a month, but I held off on reading it until spring break, when I knew I would be able to give it the attention it deserved. How right I was! I have been pulled into Gemma’s world and am almost done with the book.

Granted, I haven’t left my house yet today. But who needs to leave when you have a good book?

Poetry Friday

When I was in college, my favorite professor was a William Carlos Williams expert. I fell in love with his poetry and the fact that he was a native New Jerseyan, like myself. Today I want to share part of his poem, “Spring and All”.

All along the road the reddish
purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy
stuff of bushes and small trees
with dead, brown leaves under them
leafless vines-

Lifeless in appearance, sluggish
dazed spring approaches-

They enter the new world naked,
cold, uncertain of all
save that they enter. All about them
the cold, familiar wind-

Now the grass, tomorrow
the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf
One by one objects are defined-
It quickens: clarity, outline of leaf

But now the stark dignity of
entrance-Still, the profound change
has come upon them: rooted, they
grip down and begin to awaken

-William Carlos Williams

read the rest here

Sweet Valley High- A Necessary Re-release?

In order to get the word out about the re-release of the Sweet Valley High series, Random House has been circulating a memo among journalists (*source- Gawker). Along with publicizing the “new” series, the memo highlights a few of the editorial changes made by the publisher to ensure the books will be accepted by savvy teens in the new millenium. In 1983, the twins drove a red Fiat- in 2008 it’s a red Jeep. In 1983, Elizabeth was an editor at the school newspaper. In 2008, she is an editor for the school newspaper, which is a website, and also runs an anonymous blog. These updates make sense and I understand why the editors implemented them. However, I was infuriated and disappointed by the first change noted in the memo: in 1983 the twins wore a “perfect size 6″. Today, it’s a “perfect size 4″. First of all, I have a problem with any size being deemed perfect. Body image issues, much? Even if they were changing the size to an 8, it would still be wrong. I can guarantee that some girl is going to read that and feel like she isn’t good enough for not being that big/small, as she won’t be “perfect”. If they are going to bother updating the series (which was no great literary shakes) they could at least attempt to be sensitive to their readers (teenage girls).

What editor deemed it necessary to even make this change?! To begin with, would teens today not know what a size 6 is? The change from a Fiat to a Jeep seems necessary, as most teens would have no idea what a Fiat is in 2008. And the update from a newspaper to a website also makes sense, as most schools have some type of website. But in the eyes of Random House, the greatest improvement made by the Wakefield twins in the last 25 years is that they shrank?! As if teenage girls don’t have enough body-image issues from television and magazines, we now need to raise the Wakefield twins from the dead and make then skinnier?

I’m sorry, but what exactly was wrong with leaving them as a size 6? And don’t give me the BS that women’s size labels have shrunk in the last 2 decades so it was necessary to update that in the book. Not one teen girl would know that. If they did, it would not keep them from enjoying the series. Is it too much to ask that Random House promote a healthy body image? I would be happier if no size was included in the twins’ descriptions at all, to be honest. I don’t think it’s necessary to tell the reader their clothing size. Actually, looking back, I read a few of the books when I was younger and I have no recollection of Elizabeth and Jessica’s dress sizes being mentioned. Perhaps it was mentioned in passing once or twice, but it was certainly never a focus of the books. Great- it makes it even worse, in my opinion, that the Random House publicity department chose to highlight the girls’ sizes in their press release.

*Sigh* I think tween and young adult literature has come a long way in the last twenty-five years. But it seems that the publishers still need to come a little farther when it comes to advertising their books. Teens, especially teen girls, do not need to focus on tiny, skinny, unrealistic girls in their novels. Just look at this press release, and at the covers of books like the “Gossip Girl” series- all skinny, model-like girls. Speaking as a tiny, skinny girl (who was frequently made fun of in her teen years for being “too skinny”), who is naturally tiny, I am offended! Books should be about escaping into another life and another world. Readers shouldn’t have to focus on what a character is “supposed” to look like. That’s what your imagination is for!

Please, publishers, let this be a lesson. Size does not matter in cases like this!

In the interest of full disclosure, I was never a huge SVH fan. I thought the characters were shallow and always felt bad for Elizabeth because she was the smart girl who rarely got the popularity or other “cool” stuff. On the other hand, I love reading “Gossip Girl” as a guilty pleasure series. In other words, this isn’t an indictment of YA chicklit. It’s just an indictment of the way these books are advertised.

Slice of Life Challenge #19

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“Excuse me, do you know where I could find a mystery book?”

The little old woman jerked me out my book-seeking haze. As I struggled to balance the mammoth pile of books in my arms, I glanced around the bookstore.

“Umm, I think there is a mystery section. I don’t work here, but I think it’s somewhere over the-”

The little old woman interrupted, “Oh my goodness! I am so sorry! I thought you worked here! It’s just you had that big pile of books and I thought you were putting them away……I am so sorry. I will go find an employee and ask them. Excuse me.” She looked embarrassed and quickly made her way towards the information desk at the back of the store.

Looking down at my arms, where I was trying to juggle approximately 15 new books that I needed, I laughed to myself. I definitely looked like an employee. Because seriously, who in their right mind carries that many books around a bookstore unless they are cleaning up and putting them away?

- – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – - – -

A list of the books I needed (aka purchased) today:

1) How to Read Literature Like a Professor
2) 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus
3) Size 14 Is Not Fat Either (Heather Wells Mysteries)
4)Birds & Blooms
5) Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder
6) A Northern Light

New Look!

Yes, you are at the right blog.  :)  I am doing some spring cleaning and while I loved the colors of the old style, it wasn’t very professional-looking and tended to get cluttered too easily.  I’m not 100% happy (I wish I could change the background color from gray to green) but I am satisfied right now.

Reflecting on Reading Workshop

My school is on spring break this week and I am enjoying some much needed rest and relaxation. However, I am also using this week to do some reflecting and planning. Last night I ordered a few books that I want to use in planning our April Poetry Month and our upcoming Holocaust unit. But today I finally sat down and did some of the professional reading I have been putting off.

I read about half of Franki Sibberson and Karen Szymusiak’s Day-to-Day Assessment in the Reading Workshop: Making Informed Instructional Decisions in Grades 3-6 and can’t wait to read more! As Franki and Karen say in the beginning of the book, there is a dearth of professional literature related to reading and writing workshop in the intermediate grades. As a 6th grade teacher, I have a hard time finding appropriate professional reading. Books either focus on early readers or middle school readers. Perhaps if my 6th graders were in a middle school environment it would be easier, but we are in an intermediate school. In our district, 7th and 8th graders are in the middle school. Thus, I have been looking forward to reading this book. I had no idea how awesome it would be!

Franki and Karen have broken down their reading workshop into manageable chunks. I am thrilled that each chapter deals with a different routine in reading workshop, including how much time is spent on each one. Very few books get into the nitty gritty of a teacher’s routine and even fewer include as much real classroom anecdotal evidence. I’ve been reading, flagging, reading more, jotting ideas, and flagging more. I’ve already come up with a few new ideas to integrate into my workshop. Even better, I have a new perspective on my reading workshop. I’ve struggled with assessing my readers this year. While I know I have succeeded in creating a room full of passionate, habitual, and critical readers (Atwell) I also know I have not done the best I can in terms of assessment. I need that hard data to back up my choice to use reading workshop (it’s not used in the intermediate/upper grades in my district) and Franki and Karen’s book is full of authentic and realistic assessments that I can integrate into my workshop routines.

This type of reflection and reading energizes me.  I am brimming with new ideas for my classroom and can’t wait to implement some of them!  I am also planning to attend TCRWP Saturday Reunion this coming weekend, which will also be an inspiring bit of professional development.  I should be rested, relaxed, and re-energized when we get back to school next week!

I’m only about halfway through the book right now but I expect to finish it tomorrow. I expect I will re-read it over the summer when I am planning for next year. I can not recommend this book enough!

Hot Books in March

I apologize…I am a few days late with this month’s installment of Hot Books in my classroom. For my new readers, a quick explanation: Every month I publish a list of the 5-6 books that are currently the most popular reads in my 6th grade classroom. To see previous lists, please click on the Hot Books tag under keywords.

Allie Finkle’s Rules For Girls: Moving Day by Meg Cabot: I haven’t even had a chance to read this novel, Meg Cabot’s first foray into middle grade fiction. I received an ARC at ALA Midwinter and passed it on to one of my pickiest girls. She finished the book in one night and came in the next morning raving about it! She told me I needed to read it, but first she had a list of classmates to pass it on to. It’s been making it’s way around my classroom ever since and Cabot has been winning fans left and right. The same student also read my ARC of Airhead by Meg Cabot and passed it on to another friend (thankfully, I had time to read and review it first!

The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt: I have loved “Wednesday Wars” since I first read and reviewed it back in December. I tried to handsell it to my students but rarely succeeded (historical fiction is always a hard sell to middle schoolers, I think). I finally succeeded when I used “The Wednesday Wars” as part of my historical fiction literature circles this past month. The lit circle who read “The Wednesday Wars” absolutely loved it and they have been recommending to their classmates. During conferences, one of their moms told me “I can’t believe my son. He sits down on the couch at night, pulls on a blanket, and opens that Wednesday book. All on his own! It’s amazing!” That some boy just finished it and told me it’s one of his favorite books of all time!

Marley: A Dog Like No Other by John Grogan: Our latest read-aloud is a huge hit. It’s the first time I have read a non-fiction novel aloud and my students are loving it. Marley is easy to relate to and my students are laughing and sharing their own stories throughout our shared reading time. Puppies and puppy stories are always fun and my students are relating to the Grogan family and Marley. Be careful, though…there are a few versions of Marley’s story. Marley: A Dog Like No Other is the middle grade version of the novel. Marley & Me: Life and Love with the World’s Worst Dog is the adult best-seller and deals with the Grogan family’s attempts to conceive, too. Just a caveat emptor. :)

The Watsons Go to Birmingham – 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis: Another choice in our recent literature circles, this was not a popular choice on the first day.  To be honest, I blame the cover.  It doesn’t exactly scream “read me!” to middle schoolers.  However, at the first meeting, the originally unhappy literature circle group was singing the praises of Curtis.  They thought the novel was funny and touching, but “not too touching!” they told me.  Heaven forbid it was too sensitive. :)  Both boys and girls alike enjoyed the novel and they learned a lot about life in the south and the Sixteenth St. church burning in 1963.  Now if only the publishers would give it a better cover…..

These are only a few of the novels currently making a splash in my 6th grade class.  I have promised my classes that after spring break I will have many more books for them.  I will actually have a chance to read and review so I can bring them in a handful of ARCS and other books I have in my to-be-read pile.  I’m sure next month’s list will include many of those new titles.

Slice of Life Challenge #18

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Back in January, we purchased tickets to see Michael Buble at the Borgata in Atlantic City.  Growing up, I used to listen to Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the rest of the Rat Pack.  Over the last few years I have become a huge fan of Michael Buble. He has a gorgeous voice and balances his own ballads with the beautiful music of the past.  He also has a wicked sense of humor and keeps me in stitches whenever I see an interview he gives.  Thus, when I saw he would be in AC, I purchased us tickets without a second thought.  Buble is music my boyfriend and I can actually agree on- as a music-minded person, he appreciates the full band and classic songs.  We both love his jokes and sense of humor.

After watching most of the NCAA games last night, we packed into the car and drove the 1.5 hours to Atlantic City.  Once we got there, we were happy to see that the parking deck had a lot of empty spaces and we would have no trouble parking.  We parked on the 4th level  and attempted to get into the Borgata.  We ended up taking the stairs to what we thought would be the entrance.  Instead we ended up in a dead end.  We backtracked and eventually found the elevators to the casino floor.

Once inside we made our way to the Event Center.  We arrived about 20 minutes before Michael came out.  We caught the end of the opening act, Naturally 7, an acoustic group that used their voices as instruments.  Very cool!  Then, right before 9pm the lights suddenly went out. It was pitch black…until these amazing lights came on, forming an MB. The crowd, full of men and women ages 5-95, went insane with excitement!   Suddenly, the opening to “I’m Your Man” began to play.  The music played a long intro, drawing the crowd to their feet in search of Michael.  And then, there he was!  Clad in a classic suit and tie, his voice filled the theater.

Michael sang and entertained for about an hour and half.  His interactions with the audience kept everyone laughing and his voice kept everyone swooning!  It was an amazing night!

On top of everything else, Michael’s girlfriend was in the audience, only about 15 feet from our seats.  For those who don’t know, his girlfriend is Emily Blunt- the actress who was in The Devil Wears Prada.  She walked out of the concert with us and was absolutely stunning.  She was also incredibly sweet and down-to-earth.  I was star-struck!  She wasn’t as tall as I expected.  Nor was she wearing any make-up.  Yet she looked incredible.  It was amazing!

The entire night was a dream….I can’t wait to go to my next concert!

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