Tonight, my friend Brian will be Jon Stewart’s guest on The Daily Show! He will be talking about his new book The Most Human Human: What Talking with Computers Teaches Us About What It Means to Be Alive. (My review coming soon )
Today was my last class with my seniors (they spend 1 semester with me and then swap to another English teacher for the next semester). We spent the last few minutes of class reflecting on what worked and what they would change for my next group. It was a productive conversation and they had some great ideas.
As we wrapped things up, I reminded them that they can always come borrow books and to email me if they want any recommendations or want to share books with me. They started chatting amongst themselves as they packed up and one student stopped me as she got ready to leave the room. She said one simple sentence and continued on to her last period class.
“Thank you for reminding me that I love reading”.
Needless to say, I smiled for the rest of the day.
For the past few days I feel like I have been walking in the shoes of some of my more reluctant readers. As a voracious reader, it is often difficult for me to imagine not enjoying a book. I read constantly and widely, across many genres. However, suddenly I am that reluctant reader. During the summer I enjoy reading some of the adult books that I put aside during the school year in my quest to read the award winners before they are chosen. This year, one of those books is Justin Cronin’s The Passage. I had heard a lot about this book and downloaded it onto my new iPad after school ended. I have been attempting to read it for the last week and I feel like I am getting nowhere!
It is such a strange feeling for me, someone who loves reading. I don’t know how to handle this. The book is dragging for me. It’s not that I don’t like the story- in fact, I love the world Cronin builds and the premise is fascinating. Yet, I drag myself over to the book and have to force myself to read. Once I read for a little bit I find myself pulled in again, but I also find myself constantly annoyed. It’s a huge book and despite reading for a week, it’s like I have barely made a dent in the pages. I am just under page 400 and there are 1400 pages in my ebook. It’s like it will never end, which is discouraging as a reader. I love the book and hate it, all at the same time.
As I’m reading I am trying to put myself in the shoes of my reluctant or struggling readers. Is this how they feel when they are given a book? How discouraging must it be to read for an extended period of time and feel like the book is never ending and you haven’t made any progress! A lot of my colleagues and friends have read or are reading the book and I feel like there is peer pressure on me, making me want to finish the book. But I also feel like I shouldn’t force myself to keep reading! It’s quite a conundrum. I also feel like the odd one out, because all the reviews I have read praise the book and refer to the edge-of-your-seat action. Yet, I have to force myself to pick it up.
I do plan to finish the book, because the plot does fascinate me, even if the execution is dragging on forever. I want to know what happens at the end! But I am glad that I have been placed in the position because as teachers, I think it is important that we identify with all of our students. One of the best ways to do that is to put ourselves in their shoes as often as possible. I look forward to sharing my experience reading this book with my students once school starts up again. I feel like it will serve as a bridge between myself and some of my reluctant readers.
A few links from around the blogosphere that you might be interested in:
- Betsy Bird was awesome enough to film the ALA Awards live. Want to see what it’s like to be in the room when the awards are announced? Check out Part One of her videos. I know I plan to show the Newbery and Sibert portions to my students later this week.
- If you are anything like me then you are trying to find a way to teach your students how to do research without copying sentences word-for-word from any old website. I.N.K. has a great idea for teaching students how to research and I can’t wait to tweak it for use in my own classroom.
- The Reading Countess asks, “What would our classrooms be like if we didn’t have standardized testing mandated by NCLB?”
- Donalyn Miller, aka The Book Whisperer, shares an email she recently sent to her student’s parents about the importance of completing at-home independent reading. She says so eloquently what I always want to say. Just because there is not written work with independent reading each night does not mean it’s optional or less important than any other homework!
- Be sure to check out the latest edition of the Children’s Literacy Round-up at The Reading Tub!
This morning I decided to toss my plans for the day to the side and completely revamp our day. Instead of spending the day working on persuasive entries in our writer’s notebooks and how to take notes from nonfiction, I printed out two news articles about the earthquake in Haiti, pulled up this slideshow from the NY Times on the smartBoard, and printed out the one-pager from the NY Times.
As a class, we located Haiti on Google maps, read the article together, and discussed what the students had been hearing/seeing on the news and in the papers. The whole lesson was eye-opening for them, and they were stunned by the photos of the devastation. They asked what we could do to help and are spending the weekend brainstorming ideas as part of their Article of the Week activities. Next Friday we will come together again and settle on a way for our team and school to hopefully make a difference.
Were my lesson plans important? Of course. Was it more important to seize upon the devastation happening and Haiti and open my students’s eyes to the tragedy? Absolutely, As teachers, we need to be ready to change our plans at the lsat minute. We need to grab teachable moments and broaden our students’s world views. We need to teach them to be global citizens.
The latest issue of Choice Literacy has a great article about schoolwide literacy activities that is a must-read. My personal favorite is the story of the middle school where students broadcast their current reads on their lockers. I’ve spent a lot of time today trying to figure a simple way to do something similar with my own students. I love the idea, but I know it would be very difficult to keep up with the covers that would need to be printed for the idea described in the article. I’ve come up with a few ideas and will be experimenting tomorrow.
The idea I think will work best is laminating a sign for each student that will read “I am reading _____________” and they will fill in the title of their current book. Most of my students have whiteboard inside their lockers so we will try to use Expo markers. Needless to say, I will be playing around with the idea a lot tomorrow.
In the event this doesn’t work, does anyone else have any suggestions? We have tall lockers that line both sides of the hallway. Due to privacy/theft concerns, I am hesitant to have students place their names on the signs. Also, we have a serious lack of printers (especially color printers!) so printing the book covers probably isn’t an option. Any ideas?
Now is your chance to have your say! Betsy, over at Fuse#8, is running her newest poll.
Vote for your top ten middle grade books of all time (not just this year or last year) by January 31, 2010. This will NOT include YA books or early readers. You should list these books in your order of preference. That means, your #1 chapter book would be the one you feel is the most important or the best, so Betsy will give it 10 points. Your #2 choice will receive only 9 points. Etc, etc.
I am getting ready to start my list now. I already have well over 10 books so it’s time to get to work. Make sure you do the same!
The Edublog Awards are one of my favorite blogging awards. Through the nominations I always discover new and interesting blogs. This year, I decided to take the plunge and nominate a few blogs.
My nominations for the 2009 Edublog Awards are as follows:
Best individual blog- Jen Robinson’s Book Page: Jen’s blog is amazing. She posts thoughtful, insightful reviews of many middle grade and YA books. And it that wasn’t enough, she also does the Kidlitosphere Round-up, Children’s Literacy and Reading News, and is the literacy evangelist for the Cybils. Her hard work exposes books to parents, teachers, librarians, and many others!
Best resource sharing blog- Two Writing Teachers: Stacey and Ruth are my own personal writing gurus. The minilessons they share are always inspiring and never fail to make me sit down and plan out my own version. They work hard to share new mentor texts and professional books with teachers while also writing their own book. Finally, they encourage their readers to write alongside their students and they provide memes as opportunities to do this. I love participating in their Slice of Life Tuesdays and Memoir Mondays!
Best teacher blog- The Book Whisperer: Donalyn Miller is the book whisperer; a teacher who can find the right book for any student in her classroom. Her blog is a veritable treasure trove of book recommendations, classroom experiences, and her own reading life. It should be required reading for any language arts or English teacher.
Best librarian / library blog- Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog: Every year I run a mock Newbery with my 6th grade students. That means I read, read, read. I love to talk about my reading with other adults who enjoy children’s literature and that is why Heavy Medal is one of my favorite blogs. Jonathan Hunt and Nina Lindsay do a phenomenal job posting thought-provoking questions about eligible titles and the conversations in the comments are almost scholarly. I always leave the blog feeling like I have learned so much about children’s literature.
One of my favorite back to school activities is “In a Million Words or Less”. My mentor teacher used this activity when I was student teaching and I fell in love. For those who don’t know, the assignment is for parents. It asks each parent to write the teacher a letter, in a million words or less, explaining what makes their child special. The responses I get are truly amazing. There are just some things I would never learn about the student or would take me most of the year to discover. When a parent tells me that their son/daughter has a special talent or a specific anxiety I can look out for them from the beginning!
I handed out my assignment on the first day of school. The students always love that they get to give mom and dad homework! I explain to the students that because their parents have work and outside responsibilities, I give them a whole month to finish their assignment. That night, I already had my first emailed responses. I share the responses with my teammates, special ed teacher, and specials teacher as needed.
“In a Million Words or Less” is an invaluable assignment. The letters I receive are priceless. If you are interested in trying it out, my handout can be found below.
Back in April I was lucky enough to have coffee with Kathi Appelt, who was in the area for a school visit. We had a great time talking about books, writing, and blogging. Before parting ways, Kathi told me she had a book I absolutely must read. She said she knew I would love Bella & Bean by Rebecca Kai Dotlich. I wrote down the title and promised to look for it. Of course, I promptly forgot about all of this in the chaos that is the end of the school year.
Last week I was at a district meeting and was thrilled when the supervisor pulled out Bella & Bean for a read-aloud! Of course, I immediately remembered Kathi’s recommendation (and then felt bad for forgetting!). After listening to the story, I was hooked. Kathi was 100% right- I loved it! I can not wait to share this book with my students this year.
Bella and Bean are best friends. Bella is a writer- a poet- always playing with words and concentrating on her writing. She begins each day ready to sit at her window-side desk, writing about the beauty around her. her best friend Bean is outgoing, fun, and hands-on. She’s always trying to get Bella to put her writing aside to come and play by the pond. All day long Bean pokes her head through the window of Bella’s house and tries to get her attention. She shows Bella her new hat, shows off her “cute toes”, and tries to convince Bella to think of the word “Bean” if she is concentrating on words. Bean is adorable and I wanted to run off with her! The illustrations by Aileen Leijten are precious and you just want to dive into the book with Bean.
But Bella will not be distracted. She even gets grumpy with Bean!
I don’t have time for hats, Bean,’ said Bella. ‘I’m writing new poems…I can’t think about rivers and moons when you are talking about hats,’ said Bella.”
Bella perseveres through the distractions and is rewarded- her poems are stunning!
But what about Bean? And their friendship? I won’t spoil the ending for you because it is absolutely perfect. I admit I couldn’t wait to find out what happened while we were being read to! I will just tell you to get this book ASAP.
I can not wait to use this picture book in my 6th grade classroom this upcoming year. There are so many ways I foresee using it. Of course, it will be wonderful during our poetry unit. Bella’s poems are not only wonderful but her methods and wordplay will inspire many students. It will be a great mentor text for my 6th graders. One of my favorite lines says,
“The sky poured stars like sugar…”
How gorgeous is that? I love it! I can already see Bella inspiring many of my writers. She certainly inspired me.
Bella & Bean is also a window into the writing process. I think I will start our writing workshop this year with this book. What a wonderful way to introduce my students to the workshop we will be a part of during the year.
But the story is not just about writing. It’s beautiful on so many levels. It’s also about friendship and tolerance. It’s about taking time to live life, not just watch it go by. It’s about being disciplined but also having fun. It’s about opposites attracting. Due to the multi-layered text, this book is perfect for kids of all ages, from preschool to high school. In fact, the adults at my meeting all fell in love with it! There is no age limit on this one. And anyone who aspires to be a writer can’t help but be inspired by Bella & Bean. Be sure to pick this up for your classroom library! And maybe even for your teacher library.