Flip Video Camera

Agh!  I just caved and bought the Flip Video Ultra Series Camcorder, 30-Minutes (White) from Amazon (Deal of the Day)! It’s 60% off and I think it will be awesome to use in the classroom. I can already foresee a future of book trailers, book commercials, interviews, digital storytelling, and more!  The deal is only good for today, and is the cheapest price in 9 months.  Come on, you know you want one too.  So that I have someone else to commiserate with. OK, or plan with!

Anyone else use a Flip in their classroom? How do you use it?


(I figure it will also be good to have around for non-school related things, too.  I really should own a video camera!)

Awesome New Blog

Thanks to Jen for sharing a great new blog- The Spectacle.  

This is a place for authors of middle grade and young adult books to discuss writing science fiction, fantasy, and everything else along the spectrum of speculative fiction.

I am a huge fan of dystopian and apocalyptic fiction for kids, so this is right up my alley!

Memoir Writing

This past week my class has been mining their writer’s notebooks for possible memoir ideas. Memoir is a hard concept for my kids to wrap their heads around, because it’s so different from the genres we have studied thus far this year. But as we finish reading The Giver and talking about the importance of memories, it seemed apropos.


I’ve been working on my own examples to share with them, too.  We’ve read examples of memoirs from Knucklehead: Tall Tales and Almost True Stories of Growing up Scieszka, Knots in My Yo-Yo String (Jerry Spinelli), and When I Was Your Age, Volume Two: Original Stories About Growing Up (various memoirs by children’s authors), but my own examples always seem to ring truer for them.  So this weekend I will be writing a few of my own memoirs to share this week when they choose their seed ideas!

Exhausted and Envy

Sometimes you just have those weeks that absolutely beat you down.  This was one of those weeks.  I am sitting here on the couch, struggling to keep my eyes open as I watch Friday Night Lights.  Hopefully, I will be heading to bed soon and getting a full night’s sleep!

I did finish Envy: A Luxe Novel tonight and now I am dying for the final book in the series! Plus, my girls are devouring this series. It’s crazy how quickly they have fallen for the series. They even asked if we could have a ball instead of a graduation dance! Though they aren’t sure where you would buy a ball gown nowadays. LOL. But if you are a fan of Godbersen’s series, definitely pick up Envy: A Luxe Novel. I couldn’t put it down!

Music to My Ears

“Miss M., I’m so tired today because I was up really late.  I could not put down The Luxe!  It’s sooooo good!”

And once this student told me the above, I immediately had a waiting list for my copy of the book.  When she finished the last chapter in class today, she immediately walked it over to the next girl on the list.  Nothing makes me happier than seeing my kids recommending books to each other.  

Oh, and how did my day end?  With my late dismissal girls fighting over the boys in their books.  Passionately defending their choices.  And backing them up with evidence from the text that proved what amazing “husbands” they would make.  Gotta love it!

The Principal’s Office

Anyone watch The Principal’s Offce on TruTV?  It’s one of my new favorite shows.  They show principals dealing with discipline issues all over the country (and our local high school is on frequently).  If you haven’t seen it, you should definitely try and catch some of the repeats.

Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow

Ready to Dream by Donna Jo Napoli and Elena Furrow and illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft is a visually stunning book.  You can not fully appreciate the gorgeous illustrations until you hold it in your hand.  If you have not seen this stunning new picture book, find a copy right now!

Ally is so excited to be going on a month-long trip to Australia with her mother.  She is especially excited to use her artistic talents to draw her adventures in this new land.  When she arrives in Australia she meets Pauline, an Aboriginal artist who shows Ally that art isn’t always made with crayons, markers, paints, or even paper.  And that sometimes what seems like a mistake can lead to new discoveries.  Napoli and her daughter Furrow craft a lovely story about a young girl learning the true meaning of art.  And at times their prose is poetic.  

But the real star here is Bronwynn Bancroft.  An Aboriginal artist and designer herself, she has made this book a masterpiece.  I wish I could frame each and every page.  Her painting of Ally’s plane crossing the ocean is so visually soothing that I want to tear it out, place it above my bed, and stare at it as I drift off to sleep each night.  This book is a fantastic way to introduce Aboriginal art to students.  I can’t wait to share it!

Why I Love Letter-Essays

Around December each year, my students are ready to begin writing letter-essays (usually after a few weeks of learning how to write literary essays and respond to our reading).  While responding to almost 50 letter-essays is enough to drive me crazy, not to mention the thought of having 100 of them next year, I love it.  

In their letter-essays, my students write me friendly letters about the novel they are reading or just finished reading.  The letters must be a page long and are not book reports- very little summary is included and there are no strict guidelines to follow.  Instead, I ask them to tell me about their thinking.  We have studied literary essays and spend the first half of the year working our way up from short responses to longer ones, so by December they are ready.  I also include a list of sentence starters for talking about reading and metacognition (in case they get stuck).  While they are usually hesitant at first, the letters are always awesome!  And there is very little pressure- I grade on a 4-point scale.  

We recently finished the first month’s letters and I am thrilled with the work my students have done so far!  They explain why they are reading what they are reading, what they like about it, what they don’t like about their books, how they choose their books, and so much more.  It’s a window into their world and the thinking that they do.  And I love that this is an assignment that my best readers and more reluctant readers can both do with ease.  No one is right or wrong.  And I learn even more about my students as readers, so I can help them pick books they will hopefully love.  

One of my students is reading The Luxe and she had this to say in her letter-essay:

Thank you for recommending The Luxe by Anna Godberson. This book is by far one of the best books I’ve ever read. It is full of romance, mystery, and even some jealousy. By reading this book, it has made me realize that I love mystery books, because it starts out at her funeral, I wonder how that happened. And, this really looks like a series that you could be getting used to seeing me read. 

And the best part is that she has been watching me read Envy: A Luxe Novel and she mentioned how it inspired her to pick up The Luxe.  That makes me one proud teacher!

Walter Dean Myers and Dope Sick

The Learning First Alliance has posted a great interview with author Walter Dean Myers about his upcoming book Dope Sick and about how best to help young people who get on the wrong track.   The book was inspired by the time he has spent with young men in juvenile detention centers, discussing how they ended up where they were.  This quote from the article broke my heart:

I’ve spoken to so many of these young men. I had a very sad experience recently. I spoke to a kid in an elementary school and told him about a book I was working on. Then, three years later, I met the same kid in a juvenile detention facility and he asked me if I had finished the book. Very sad.

Myers also discusses what he thinks schools can do to reach out to students, especially those who are slipping through the cracks.  I fully support his vision of involving students in books, rather than just reading them, answering a few questions, and moving on.

PUBLIC SCHOOL INSIGHTS: As you reach out to kids who begin to see their own experience in your life and begin to take hope from it, do you have a sense of what schools can do to help impart the same kind of messages? Either specifically through your Second Chance Initiative, or more generally?

MYERS: One of the things I would like to see is what I saw at the Harlem Children’s Zone—that is, the schools bringing in parents. Have parents come in and discuss some of these ideas with the children.

[Schools can] have open forums on books, rather than [have students] just read a book and then go back and answer questions about it.

Allow the kids to challenge books. I love it when someone challenges my book and will perhaps bring me in, and I’ll have to defend the book. That’s great, because that gives me an opportunity to go there, talk to these kids, and let them know. I say, “Listen. This is how I went about writing this book. This is what I meant to do. This is what I felt like I should be doing. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t work, but this is how I did it.” At that point I’m humanizing the process for the kids.

The entire interview has been posted on their website, Public School Insights, which celebrates what is working in public schools and aims to enrich the national conversation about public education.

And there’s more!  Want a preview of Dope Sick before it is released on 2/10? The first three chapters are now available for download on AdLit.org. And wait, it gets even better! The entire book will be available online at harperteen.com from February 10-24.

What I am Reading This Week

Envy: A Luxe Novel by Ann Godbersen- My favorite guilty pleasure books! This is my relaxing and fun read for the week,

Spaces & Places: Designing Classrooms for Literacy by Debbie Diller- I will be moving classrooms next year (and moving from a 2 hr block of Language Arts to 1 hr) so I am starting to think about how I want to arrange my space.

Skeleton Creek by Patrick Carman- An interesting new concept for reluctant readers and mystery-lovers, this middle grade mystery combines online videos with a creepy mystery. I am intrigued!

What are you reading this week?


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