National Book Award Nominees!

Today was chaotic at school and I missed the National Book Awards nominees announcements!  Thankfully, my twitter friends reminded me as I began to see the hashtag popping up. And then I almost let out a scream when I saw that one of my favorite books of the year was nominated!  I reviewed Eliot Schrefer’s Endangered last month and I haven’t stopped raving about it since.  Congratulations to Eliot on his National Book Award nomination!  Now get out there a pick up a copy before everyone else beats you to it!

The other nominees are now on their way to my house.  I haven’t read the rest of the Young People’s Literature Award nominees yet, and some of them aren’t even published as of this date, but they are now pre-ordered.  The list runs the age gamut, from a recommended 8+ to upper-YA. I’m excited to read them!

Nominees:

I also ordered a few of the adult nominees.  John Green and Penny Kittle both recommended the nonfiction nominee Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. Plus, I somehow never added Junot Diaz’s books to my library.

What are you looking forward to reading form this year’s nominees?

Learning to Take Risks- Jumping into Literary Analysis With My Freshman

A few weeks ago, I participated in the English Companion Ning‘s Webstitute “Work with Me”. (By the way, if you teach English and are not yet a member of the Ning, get yourself over there ASAP and sign up. It is free and full of ideas, networking, and just plain fun.) The best session in the webstitute, for me, was Penny Kittle’s “Craft Analysis”.  This year, I have been struggling to get my freshman to take risks in their writing.  I teach at a math, science, and technology magnet-like school and all of my students are brilliant.  However, many of them are very analytical and black-and-white when it comes to writing.  They tend to write a lot of plot summary and avoid any type of analysis.  I figured out that they were afraid of being wrong and losing points, but nothing I tried was working- they were still regurgitating plot and not analyzing and thinking on their own.

Lately, I have also been reading a lot about our students’ deficits with close, deeper reading.  (Too Dumb for Complex Texts?)  Colleges have been lamenting that students are unable to read complex texts and end up in remedial courses.  I want to make sure that my tech-driven students are readers who are ready for the rigors of the rest of high school and college.  I have spent weeks (maybe even months!) brainstorming ways to bring this to the forefront in my classroom, too.

Then I participated in Penny’s portion of the webstitute.  She shared a craft analysis project that she did with her students and I was immediately inspired.  It was exactly what I had been trying to come up with, but had been unable to pull together in any type of organized manner.  Penny was kind enough to share her handouts and I immediately downloaded them.  Over the past few weeks I have been working on tweaking the project for my particular students while also working through the project myself, in order to model it for them.  I am rereading Judy Blundell’s National Book Award winner, What I Saw And How I Lied. I’ve storyboarded about half the book while also writing my thoughts, noticings, and questions. It’s really made me work hard and notice Blundell’s craft moves, things that didn’t jump put at me on my first-draft reading. I was so excited to share this with my students and see what they came up. This past week, we started the project.

I am so thrilled with what is happening in my classroom right now!  We started with storyboarding earlier this week and it really clicked with my kids.  While they were hesitant at first (rolling eyes, mumbling about how it was for little kids), it was fascinating to watch them storyboard William Maxwell’s “Love” and then share their pages with the class.  Not one page looked like any other student’s page.  They all thought differently and displayed their ideas differently.  It was so cool to see them standing at the document camera and explaining their thinking, engaging each other. Later in the week, one of my students met me at lunch for some writing tips/help and he told me that storyboarding is really helping him because, “it’s making me stop and think a lot, and when I think about the story it’s easier to have ideas about it. Then I don’t have to just write what it’s about.”

Right now, each student should be working on storyboarding the book(s) they chose to reread.  I had each student respond to an assignment on Edmodo telling me what book they would be analyzing.  They picked some great ones!  Examples include The Book Thief, The Shadow Children series, Between Shades of Grey, The Knife of Never Letting Go, The Thief, Impulse, Paper Towns, The Hunger Games, And Then There Were None, Ender’s Game, Twelfth Night, Of Mice and Men, The Outsiders, Thirteen Reasons Why, North of Beautiful, and so many more great books!

Next week, I will have them working on the project in-class one day, sharing their craft noticings with other readers and comparing their books.  I am dying to know what they are coming up with and I can’t wait to see their storyboard notebooks.  I will be sure to share their progress here!  By the first week in March, each student will produce for me a 2-page paper analyzing the author’s craft and sharing their analysis with me.  Absolutely no plot summary is allowed!  They will use their text notes/storyboarding to draft the paper, along with any notes they take from their peer discussions.  They will share drafts with each other on Google Docs/typewith.me, assisting one another.  Spending the next four weeks doing this will hopefully help them to become better risk-takers in their writing.  I am so looking forward to the results!

When You Need a Pick-me-up

Today was one of those days. You know those days that start off completely wrong and only continue to increase in frustration as the hours tick by? That was my day.  When I got home (after a long day at school followed by home instruction), I sat down to relax.  I decide to peruse the latest issue of NCTE’s Voices in the Middle. When I turned to Penny Kittle’s contribution to the journal, I breathed a sigh of relief.  There are lots of people out there who believe what I believe about reading and writing instruction.  Recently, I’ve been feeling like I am floundering, like there are too many people who think tweens and teens can’t become readers.  That those who don’t read by age 10 or so are doomed to never read for pleasure and we should just move on to helping them pass the test.  So thank you Penny Kittle.

Penny Kittle’s article, Mission Possible, can be found on the NCTE website (if you are a member of NCTE).  For those who aren’t members, I am going to share a few of the lines that really brought a smile to my face and firmed up my resolve to help my students morph into lifelong readers. But I strongly urge you to go seek it out and read it for yourself.  I’ve printed out a copy to hang in my room as a daily reminder that I’m not fighting this fight alone.

This is the most important work you will do as a teacher.

You get one year to make a mark.

You get one year to infect each child with a need to read, with a belief that it matters, with the desire to turn off the Celtics and pick up a book.

YES!  We can turn our students into lifelong readers when we show them the power of choice.  Empowering students to choose their own books, their own genres, their own authors opens up new doors.  How do I know?  It happens every.single.day in my classroom.  Today I helped students find new books.  One student just finished his first book since 4th grade.  Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Among the Hidden hooked him.  Now he is moving on to the entire series.  But when he came crashing through my door this morning, waving the book over his head and shouting, “I finished it, Ms. M.!  I did it!  And it was awesome!  You were right!  Can I have the next book?!” I just wanted to hug him.  He left today with a list of books he wants to read this year and I couldn’t be prouder.  Are we there yet?  Not completely.  But the door has been opened.  And when he completes his 40 book genre requirement in June he will be prouder than he can even imagine right now.  And I will smile.

Alan stopped reading in eighth grade. He remembers he used to read, but now he doesn’t have time for it. He loved war books because he was curious about his father’s service in Vietnam, but there weren’t any war books in English class. Novels and poetry and Shakespeare took over in high school, and it was all so far outside of his interests at 14 that he refused to try anymore. And really, who at 14 has the maturity to choose differently? It was book after book, month af- ter month, nothing that he wanted to read. He skimmed SparkNotes to pass his classes, but by 11th grade, he’d dropped to the lowest level in English. He wouldn’t read the classics, so they were read to him. Alan no longer saw himself as a reader because he wasn’t motivated to read within the narrow space we allowed.

We can not give up on these students.  Just because they don’t enjoy reading for pleasure, don’t pick up a book instead of “Call of Duty”, and would rather text than read doesn’t mean we can’t turn them on to books.  But if we want them to be readers we need to respect them and give them the credit they deserve!  A student who tells us they hate reading deserves to be heard.  Why do they hate it?  Could it be for the litany of reasons my students list every year?  Things like being forced to read only novels an adult chooses.  Or being told they can’t be trusted to choose their own book (usually they realize this through the actions of adults rather than their words).  Maybe it’s because they read below grade level and no one tells them they can do it.  No one works them.  Or maybe it’s because they are overwhelmed and don’t know where to even begin when trying to choose a book.  I hear all of this and more each year.  Yet in June, every student leaves my room having discovered something they like to read.  And most of them are readers who walk out the door grasping a list of books they can’t wait to read over the summer and following year.  So we can make them into readers.  If we see them as readers and provide them with authentic motivation.

As Kittle states in her article, providing a classroom library that is vibrant and static, ever-changing, is a tangible reminder that I expect my students to be readers and will accept nothing less.  They may not all read on the same level, and some may never reach grade level during the 180 days I have with them, but they will read and they will improve.

We need to give students time to read.  Yes, in class.  This means sharing read-alouds and allowing students time to read their independent reading novels without being forced to write inane summaries all the time and without being forced to constantly answer basic recall questions to “prove” to us they are reading.  Instead, when we show students that we value reading then they will value it.  Does that mean working even harder to make time for everything we are responsible for in English?  Sure it does.  But nothing else will make students readers.  And making them into lifelong readers is the greatest gift we can give them- academically, culturally, and in life.

Nancie Atwell (2007) said, “For students of every ability and background, it’s the simple mi- raculous act of reading a good book that turns them into readers, because even for the least experienced, most reluctant reader, it’s the one good book that changes everything. The job of adults who care about reading is to move heaven and earth to put that book into a child’s hands.”

I believe you can make it happen.

This year.

Today.

Right now.

Atwell says it better than I ever can.  She  and Penny Kittle have helped relight a fuse that was beginning to flicker out after a frustrating day.  All it takes is getting to know our students as readers and then helping them find that one book.  THE book.  The one that will change their life forever.  I’d say that’s the most important standard we can cover, regardless of our curriculum.

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