The River by Mary Jane Beaufrand

I put Mary Jane Beaufrand’s The River on my wishlist months ago. I remember reading about it on a blog and immediately adding it to the list of books I wanted to read. All I remember is that the premise, a missing little girl, grabbed me because it sounded like a true-crime novel. Last week I purchased my copy after weeding through my wish list and boy and boy am I glad I did!

The River is the story of Ronnie Severance, a high schooler whose parents move her from Portland, Oregon to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, hours away from her friends. She doesn’t fit in and she is haunted by the sounds of the Santiam River, running right through her backyard. She misses the sounds of traffic, yelling pedestrians, and other city noises. The river provides an eery and dark soundtrack to her new and depressing life.

The single bright spot in Ronnie’s life is Karen, a young girl that she babysits. Despite their obvious difference in age, Ronnie and Karen connect as friends. Karen brings out a more adventurous side in Ronnie while she tries to keep Karen a little more tethered to the earth. (Someone has to be responsible!) But when Karen is found drowned in the Santiam, everything changes. While the police feel that it is nothing more than a tragic accident, Ronnie is haunted by the feeling that something more sinister happened. And when she begins to investigate on her own she takes her life into her hands.

This is a page-turner that is full of suspense. I began reading it Friday and could not put it down. I read it during silent reading, read it when I got home, and finished it before bed. Beaufrand keeps her reader on the edge of their seat with a completely realistic murder investigation. I felt like it was ripped from the headlines, in a good way!

This book deals with the murder of a young child and the ramifications of meth use on addicts and those who love them. The death and drug usage are mature, but I don’t think I would keep my 6th graders from reading it. They are great self-censorers and I know some of them have dealt with issues equally as weighty in their own lives. I think this is an important book because meth usage has spread over the last decade and has really destroyed many small-towns. While I was aware of this, the story really drives home how powerful the drug is and that almost anyone can fall victim to peer pressure and addiction. Our choices affect others and can even result in death. The River is a great example of a pebble being thrown into a pond- the ripples of our actions spread farther than we can imagine or control.

E-readers in the Classroom

On Friday I had my first experience with an e-reader in the classroom.  During enrichment, we were reading because the class technically finished on Tuesday but they won’t switch to a new enrichment until this coming Monday.  As I looked over the top of my book at the sea of children reading, my eyes fell upon something that did not fit in with the rest- a Nook!

One of my students had pulled out her Nook and was deeply entrenched in Pretty Little Liars #4: Unbelievable. I watched her for a few minutes before sitting down next to her and quietly asking if I could see her book. The Nook was awesome. While I don’t think I want an e-reader for my children’s/YA books (because I like to donate them to classroom libraries after reading them), I might like a Nook for my adult reads, magazines, and newspapers. It was pretty cool to play with and the rest of my students were fascinated. My Nook-reader explained how it works to the rest of her class and they loved it.

I had been waiting for an e-reader to pop up in my classroom this year. I was a little worried that if/when it happened, it would cause a disruption. But after students got an explanation, they settled right back into their own books. It was awesome!

Article of the Week Sources

After my last post, a few people asked me where I get my articles for the weekly Article of the Week.  Honestly, I think I use a different source each week!  However, here are some of the sources I have used so far this year:

I’m always looking for more current events for middle schoolers.  It seems that most websites are geared toward high school and the reading level is too difficult for many of my sixth graders.  Please post any other websites in the comments!

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Trailer

The trailer is finally here!  I laughed at the trailer and think the movie will be  a big hit.

Article of the Week with Middle Schoolers

Last year, after reading Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It, I was inspired to start using an Article of the Week with my 6th graders.  Like Gallagher, I see a distinctive lack of background knowledge with my students which makes it hard for them to read at times.  Gallagher uses his Article of the Week with high schoolers but I figured I could do the same with my 6th graders if I tweaked the assignment just a bit.

Each Friday I hand out a new article.  Most of the time they are related to current events, but they can also be editorials, opinions, information nonfiction, and even reviews.  I try to focus on topics they might not otherwise learn about, though for the past two weeks we have been reading in depth about the earthquake in Haiti.  Each week they are responsible for a close reading that shows evidence of reading the text- highlighting, writing in the margins, underlining, or otherwise marking up the article.  Then, they respond to a critical thinking/opinion question with at least one paragraph.  Next week, as we move into the 3rd marking period, I plan to up the ante a bit and require at least half a page for their answers.

Every Friday at the beginning of class a volunteer summarizes the article and a few volunteers share their answers.  Sometimes we get into debates, sometimes we learn from each other, and we always learn something new from the article.  These past two weeks the articles have focused on Haiti and my students really *got* it.  It was much better than a quick chat about the earthquake and now they are raising money through donations of their change and leftover lunch money.  I’m so proud of them!

The AOW has been the best decision I made this year.  I love that my students are broadening their horizons and expanding their schema.  I also love that it doesn’t require me to grade anything or add to my never-ending pile of papers.  I walk around and check for completion, glancing to make sure that the question was answered.  I don’t assess grammar or spelling- as I explain to the parents, this is an exercise in critical thinking.  We cover the grammar and spelling at other points during the workshop.

As far as assessment, each AOW is worth ten points.  I grade using a point system, so each marking period my students start with a perfect score on the AOW.  This marking period we had 8 weeks where I planned to use an AOW so each student received an 80/80.  If a student didn’t complete an AOW they lost 10 points.  An incomplete AOW loses 5 points.  As I tell my students, they have a perfect score and it’s their responsibility to keep it that way!  :)

Inspiration from a Ghost Tour!

This weekend I got to visit my favorite town in the world- Princeton.  My fiance and I took a ghost tour of the town on Saturday night and it was awesome!   Princeton has always been my all-time favorite town and despite the fact that it’s only 40 minutes away, I don’t get there enough.  But the ghost tour, arranged by Chris’s company, sounded like a good reason to head west and hang out in town.  Boy, was it worth it!

We left around 8pm and spent almost an hour and a half wandering the streets, listening to tales of murder, hauntings, and unmarked graves.  So much fun!  I thought I knew Princeton fairly well, but there was so much I had never even delved into before!  Some of the stories really got me thinking and might have even inspired a story idea or two.  ;)  It’s amazing what setting can do for your writer’s block.

*I would totally recommend Princeton Tour Company.  I plan to do another ghost tour with some friends and I definitely want to do the Literary Greats tour and maybe a Grub Crawl!

A grave in the Quaker cemetery for James Potter.  Yes, I am that much of a Harry Potter dork.  ;)

Haiti

As a follow-up to this post, my students met today to talk about their Article of the Week.  (Every Friday my students receive a current events article/editorial and must read and respond to it over the course of the week.  The articles broaden their horizons and provide background knowledge and scaffolding for them).  We discussed the latest news from Haiti while reading the updates on CNN and watching a few videos from their student news.

Then we discussed what we can do.  The students decided to put their change in our class bucket for the next week.  Next Friday we will count the money and divide it by four, giving 25% to each class.  Each period will then vote on the charity they want to donate their portion to in order to support the aid work in Haiti.  We spent a few minutes browsing the websites of various charities in class today and they started keeping a list of the ones they connected with.

It was a great experience today.  The kids really seemed to “get” it.  They talked about what it’s like to live with their own lives while knowing what is going on in Haiti.  I am so proud of them!

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