Ruth, over at Inspiring Readers and Writers, has posted some though-provoking questions on her blog. I’ve been mulling them over for the last few hours and decided to share some of my thinking here on The Reading Zone.

-Do teachers have time to write & read for personal reasons? If we don’t have time for it, then why would we think our students have time for it? Plus, in reality, it’s not about having time, but making time.
This question immediately hits home for me. As an avid reader, I do see my time for reading sometimes diminishing. I choose to watch TV or even nap instead of reading. Every so often, 2-3 days will go by and I will realize I haven’t been reading. When I don’t read, though, it’s almost like there is a dull ache deep down inside of me. Reading is such a huge part of my life that its absence is noted almost immediately. In all honesty, I really do make as much time as possible for reading, specifically reading for pleasure. I may not review every book I read on the blog, but I am constantly reading. This is something I am always bringing up with my students.

I try to discuss my own reading on a daily basis in my classroom. In my booktalks, while helping readers choose their next book, and when having conversations with students- I will talk about the books I have read lately. I know they keep track, because they will frequently respond with “Ms. M., you were just reading another book! You are already on a new one?” or “Wow, you read a lot!” This always makes me smile, because I know they are paying attention to my reading life. I also share my experiences with abandoning books and why I choose to read certain books over other books. It validates the choices that my students make when they see their teacher making similar decisions. By this point in the year, my students are even comfortable disagreeing with me and telling me that I should give a book “another chance”. Sometimes, when I abandon a book I think it serves as a better advertisement than my book talks! Certain students flock to my abandoned books list because they know they enjoy books I usually dislike.

In the classroom, I advertise my reading life on a bulletin board. It’s actually not a real bulletin board….it’s just the front of my desk covered in butcher paper and surrounded by a border. Every month, I tape my reading log to the front of the desk so my students can see the list of books I completed that month. By the end of the year, I will have 9-10 lists on my desk. This matches the reading logs my students keep in their reading binders, again validating the work they are doing in their reading lives.

As for writing, I admit I am guilty in letting that slide. I want to write. I want to be published. I want to be an author. But I suffer from the same confidence problems that my students do. I am not confident in my abilities and tend to put my writing to the side, choosing other hobbies instead. However, blogging has been a new outlet for my writing, forcing me to reflect on my teaching practices while also writing daily (or almost daily)! Plus, Writer’s Notebook Wednesdays force me to publish something on my blog every Wednesday. It’s great motivation!

-What about teachers who “don’t like” writing or reading? Yet, everything academic revolves around reading and writing.

This statement is all too true, and all too annoying! Everytime we have a grade-wide language arts meeting at school, I am surrounded by groans. As most of our teams are departmental, not everyone teaches language arts in our district. This means many teachers are quite vocal about their hatred of the humanities. I frequently hear how much this teacher hates reading or that one hates to write. How can you be a teacher and dislike reading? Regardless of the subject, you must read in order to teach, study the latest pedagogy, and be an informed citizen for your students. The same goes for writing!

I do think that when teachers say they hate reading and writing, they are referring to reading and writing for pleasure. I can name on one hand the adults I know who read and write on a daily basis (not related to work). It is an unfortunate effect of living in the digital age. I do my part though, constantly making book recommendations and passing on books I have enjoyed. Sometimes, I think my books are the only books some adults around me read all year! Yet, as I said above, I can’t imagine not reading 100-150 books each year, personally.

-Is it a realistic expectation for teachers to read and write for their own personal reasons, outside of teaching?

This question forced me to really sit down and think. Is it unrealistic to expect our teachers to read and write for pleasure? The language arts teacher, writer, and reader in me says “No!” Reading and writing should be a part of daily life for all adults. But another part of me says that’s wrong. I would be highly offended if someone told me that I needed to study history and math for my own personal reasons, outside of school. I don’t teach those subjects and they very rarely come up in my own classes. I can understand a math teacher saying that they never have an opportunity or reason to share their reading/writing (or lack thereof) with students, thus rendering it useless as a model for them. In that same vein, I can’t recall ever discussing math with my students, other than the occasional reminder of how to figure out their averages. While I surely use math in my own life, it’s just not something that would come up in my lessons at school. If I don’t enjoy doing math problems in my spare time, and it wouldn’t be useful in my classroom, why should I force myself to do it?

Wow, what great questions, Ruth! As I was answering them, I came up with even more questions of my own. Is departmentalizing the right thing to do for our students? When we compartmentalize each subject into its own sepatate niche, are we doing our students a disservice? Should they be immersed in reading and writing in all subjects? Obviously, I have a lot more thinking to do. In the meantime, check out this post from the The Book Whisperer. She has some similar thoughts.


Male protagonists

We are about to finish our second read-aloud of the year, “Emma-Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree”. I want to begin a new read-aloud very soon, but a few of my students have pointed out that our last three novels have been about female protagonists. We read “The Talking Earth”, “Tuck Everlasting”, and “Emma-Jean Lazarus…”. We did begin the year with Ralph Fletcher’s “Flying Solo, but that jumps between a few protagonists.

I have been looking at my books and nothing is really striking my fancy. I try to keep my read-aloud between 150-200 pgs, for time’s sake. Very few of the books I have read recently fit into this category. So far I have be come up with “The Red Kayak” (a bit on the long side, but I do love it) and “The Schwa Was Here” (which I am in the middle of reading for the first time myself). Does anyone out there in the blogoshere or kidlitosphere have any suggestions for a great read aloud, with a male protagonist?

Down to the wire!

Nominations for the Cybils close on Wednesday, November 21st. Be sure to nominate your favorite books of the year before then! Remember, anyone can nominate a book they have read, so don’t be left out.


Fantasy and Science Fiction

Fiction Picture Books

Graphic Novels

Middle Grade Fiction

Nonfiction: Middle Grade and Young Adult

Nonfiction Picture Books


Young Adult Fiction

Be sure to enter your nominations! I love the Cybils….besides giving me a great “to be read list” just by looking at the nominations, I think it is amazing that the kidlitosphere can come together to honor the best books if the year. 🙂

Olive’s Ocean by Kevin Henkes

I read this novel after reading MentorTexts’ review a few weeks ago.Twelve-year old Martha, a Wisconsin resident, is preparing for her family’s annual beach vacation when Olive Barstow’s mother rings her doorbell. Olive was a fellow seventh-grader who was struck by a car and killed. She had only moved to Martha’s class in the last few months and had been viewed by the kids as “weird”. Olive’s mother hands Martha a page torn from Olive’s journal, telling her that Olive would want her to have it. In this single entry from Olive’s life, Martha learns more about her classmate than she could have ever imagined and is stunned to learn how much they had in common.

“I hope I get to know Martha Boyle next year (or this summer). I hope that we can be friends. That is my biggest hope. She is the nicest person in my whole entire class,” Olive’s journal reads. Martha is haunted by this journal entry for the rest of the summer, wondering what she ever did to spark Olive’s desire to be her friend. Olive’s sudden and tragic death is also a constant reminder of mortality- her own and those around her, especially her beloved grandmother. Martha spends her summer trying to figure out how to best honor Olive and also figure out her own hopes and dreams. Her steady, predictable life is also changing, as she experiences her first kiss, first crush, a near-death experience, and changing family dynamics.

Kevin Henkes delves into the mind and heart of a twelve-year old girl with surprising results. Martha is average- she isn’t the prettiest girl, the smartest girl, or the most popular. She is everygirl, and I think my students will connect with her because of that. This isn’t an action-packed book by any means. It is very introspective, but you are swept into Martha’s world by Henkes’ wonderful writing. Previously, I have only read Kevin Henkes’ picture books, so I was delightfully surprised at how adept he was when channeling his writing into Martha’s voice. I also loved how he arranged his chapters. Some are long, some only a paragraph or a few sentences. It works perfectly in this novel.

I would love to read this book as a read-aloud. However, I have been noticing that most of my read-alouds focus on female main characters and it’s time for me to go in the male direction. Also, there is a bit of profanity and a few mild sexual references in the book (nothing more than what a student would hear on primetime TV). I am thinking I may hold onto this until later in the year, though!”Olive’s Ocean” by Kevin Henke is a 2004 Newbery Honor book.

A day away

Other than attending a meeting for Odyssey of the Mind this morning, I have taken the day off. No lesson plans, no reviews, no planning. Instead, I watched the football game and finished reading Philippa Gregory’s “The Other Boleyn Sister”. (Loved it, by the way!) I also relaxed while watching the birds finally flock to my thistle feeder! Today I saw goldfinches, dark-eyed juncos, and house finches.

I’ll be back tomorrow, hopefully with a new review! I’m also looking forward to reading about everyone’s experieces at NCTE!

Poetry Friday!

Where the Sign Ends

There is a plait where the sign ends
And before the structure begins,
And there the gravel grows soft and white,
And there the supermarket burns crimson bright,
And there the morass-bistro rests from his floor
To cool in the peppermint window.

Let us leave this plait where the snake blows black
And the dark structure winds and bends.
Past the pivots where the aster fluoride grow
We shall walk with a walrus that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the plait where the sidewalk ends.

Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the chinchillas, they mark, and the chinchillas, they know
The place where the sign ends.

A few days ago, while blog-surfing, I stumbled on this post from Miss Rumphius explaining OULIPO poetry. OULIPO is a form of poetry created in 1960 by a writer and mathematician. The form is designed to examine verse written under strict constraints. There are many constraint forms. One of these forms is called S+7. In S+7, the writer takes a poem already in existence and substitutes each of the poem’s substantive nouns with the noun appearing seven nouns away in the dictionary. This can also be used with verbs.

While I am as far from a math person as possible, this idea intrigued me. Above, please find my S+7 constraint form of Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends”. It was so much fun!! I also used this as my Writer’s Notebook Wednesday entry…..I guess I’m kinda cheating this week! 😉

This week, Poetry Friday is hosted by Big A little a. Check it out!

Reflections on Writing about Reading

For the past two days, my 6th graders have been focusing on writing about their reading. Before this week, they have been using stickies for the past few weeks and then using those to help them with their book conversations. This week, we graduated to writing off post-its and growing our ideas.

Yesterday, I started by modeling off one of my post-its from Tuck Everlasting. I decided to use a stickie that discussed a quote where Babbitt compares life to a wheel, always turning. With the class watching, I grew my post-it into a 6 sentence paragraph about my thinking. We reviewed some of Nancie Atwell’s sentence openers for letter-essays and then I set them off. I had the students choose one of their Tuck stickies, place it at the top of their desk, and then grow that thinking into a paragraph in their notebook. I was so impressed with the results! There was a lot of deep thinking and some great connections made!

Today, I wrote off of a personal thinking stickie, from Ch. 10 in Tuck. Again, I modeled for the class but this time I wrote 9 sentences (a typical paragraph that I expect from my students). Like the day before, I set them off to choose a stickie of their own and write at least 9 sentences about it in their letter-essays section of their reading binder. I thought they might struggle a bit more today, due to the length, but boy was I wrong! Most of my students (in both classes) wrote well over 9 sentences. In fact, a few wrote an entire page! They were all dying to share their thinking and we listened to everyone read their thoughts aloud. Again, I was impressed! The thinking had gotten even deeper, and they were writing about things they noticed regarding author’s style, literary elements, symbols, motifs, and predictions they had for the remainder of the book! I was so proud!!!

We will continue to work our way forward with our writing about reading, working our way up to 3+ paragraph letter-essays that they will write to me on a monthly basis. 🙂

Oh, and my students are LOVING “Tuck Everlasting”. I can’t get them to stop reading! Actually, their enthusiasm must be contagious, because I was never a huge fan of the novel before this year. However, I decided to do a close reading of the book, seeing as it is “the greatest children’s novel”. I was inspired by Monica over at Educating Alice, who was inspired when she read “Charlotte’s Web” critically for a children’s lit course. I went over the entire novel, writing in my book and responding in my own reader’s notebook. I also read every article, interview, and review of “Tuck Everlasting” that I could find through Ebscohost. I have a brand new appreciation for the novel and I absolutely love it!

Like Monica, I plan to spend the weeks after we finish “Tuck Everlasting” going back over the text with the entire class, looking with a critical eye, annotating and digging even deeper. From the response I am getting from my class so far, I know this will be a success. I will be sure to keep you all updated!