Wordle in the Classrom

Today I used Wordle in the classroom for the first time.  I loved it!  More importantly, the kids loved it!

We have been working on thinking about our reading in reading workshop and today’s mini-lesson was about using our thinking to write a paragraph explaining our thoughts.  We were reading Sandra Cisneros’ “Eleven” (one of my personal favorites) and the kids were going to jot their thoughts while we read.

 However, I decided to Wordle the story first and presented it my class under the document camera.  I explained how Wordle worked and then we talked about the words that seemed most prominent.  My students then used that thinking to make some predictions about the plot of the story and the direction it would take.  It prompted some really great ideas and the visual really kept the kids interested.  I can definitely foresee using this a lot this year!


Monarch Emergence and Document Camera

Wow! This past week both of my classes were witness to one of nature’s miracles- the emergence of a monarch butterfly from its chrysalis. I have never managed to have both classes view this miracle as monarch usually emerge early in the morning, before we arrive at school. This year, I remembered to move their cage into the air-conditioned (and dark) supply closet overnight. When I removed them in the morning, both chrysalids were dark. I assumed that they would both emerge that morning. Well, lucky us- one held off until after lunch!

What made this experience even better was the fact that I hooked up the document camera and placed it only a few inches from the chrysalis. Then, I hooked up the document camera to the TV. Well, watching the monarch emerge, close-up, on the TV was amazing! (And it allowed me to keep the kids away from the cage so they didn’t inadvertently knock into it). Well, you could hear a pin drop as we watched our two boys crawl out of their chrysalis, flip upside-down, and slowly begin pumping their wings.

I love my document camera!!!

Our Monarch Release

Below is a brief slideshow of the monarch release our team held earlier this week.  All of the pictures were taken by our “class paparazzi” who did a great job!

Click to play Monarch Release
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I am beyond thrilled to be a panelist for the 2008 Cybils Middle Grade Fiction panel! Check out the announcement on the Cybils blog.

Not familiar with the Cybils? For newcomers, Cybils stands for The Children’s and YA Bloggers’ Literary Awards, and they are the only book awards of any sort from the blogging community.

Still curious?

1. Nominations open to the public on Oct. 1 at cybils.com. Anyone 13 or older – authors and publishers included – may nominate a book!

2. In order to be eligible, books must be published in English between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15.

3. The books will go through two rounds of judging. Finalists are announced Jan. 1. Winners are announced Feb. 14.

The Cybils are a fantastic award and I am honored to be a part of the middle grade panel. Get ready to start nominating!

Guest Post by Beth Fehlbaum

Today, Beth Fehlbaum, author of Courage in Patience: A Story of Hope for Those Who Have Endured Abuse (Kunati) has agreed to do a guest post on TheReadingZone. As a fellow teacher, I love hearing from writers who are also teachers! I always hope that their hard work will inspire me to put a pen to paper more often. 🙂 Beth is currently teaching and doing a blog tour for her debut novel, Courage in Patience.

Have you ever seen the t-shirt that says, “I will not have a temper tantrum. I will not chew gum in class. I will always be on my best behavior. I am the teacher. I am the teacher. I am the teacher..” ?

I am a teacher in my “day job”– and school started for this year just three weeks ago, which means my students and I are all still in the ‘honeymoon phase’, so I haven’t ordered that shirt for myself just yet. Now, when spring fever kicks in around the middle of March, I’ll probably have that t-shirt slogan tattooed on the palm of my hand so I can see it up close when I smack myself in the face several times a day and ask myself what on earth possessed me to think I could teach these insane children anything!

Around Christmastime last year, I signed a contract with Kunati Books and Fed-Exed it back to them. At that point, I added a new profession to my resume’: professional writer. Since that time, in just about the same amount of time it takes for an infant to develop from conception to birth, my debut novel, Courage in Patience, a story of hope for those who have endured abuse, has become a reality. I’m juggling my day job of teacher with my night job as author.

I wrote Courage in Patience partly because of a therapeutic assignment. I went into recovery for childhood sexual abuse, almost four years ago. I have always written stories and poetry as a way of processing what was going on in my life, so it was natural for me to use writing as a way of working through my grief, anger, and shame. I shared them with my therapist, and he suggested that I try writing a novel. It took me about four months, trying to pull myself out of my own head enough to write about someone other than myself. Then, I gave myself permission to imagine how it would be for a fourteen or fifteen-year-old girl to be removed from her mother and stepfather’s home after being sexually abused by her stepfather for six years, and placed in the care of her biological father, who she had never known. With that premise, Courage in Patience was conceived.

I wrote it mostly in the middle of the night; I wasn’t sleeping well at the time any way, and, as the story grew in my mind, I would wake at two in the morning, and realize that my “Muse” was already hard at work. All that was needed to get the story down in black-and-white was for me to get out of bed, brush my teeth, and get a Diet Coke before I settled in at my kitchen table with my laptop. I’d write from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. or so– and have to drag myself away from my keyboard to go get my face on and do my hair for work. I look back on that time now and I have no idea how I functioned. I think I was hyper-caffeinated and just plain driven to tell my protagonist, Ashley’s, story.

Of course, Courage in Patience went through many metamorphoses, sort of the way an embryo looks like a funky little shrimp before it grows with time and nurturing into what we recognize as a baby.
Like any new parent, I’m tired right now, but it’s a good kind of fatigue– the kind I wouldn’t trade for anything because I worked so hard to get this baby into the world, and I love it as only a proud new parent can. It is my hope that readers will love Courage in Patience— and Ashley– as much as I do.

Courage in Patience by Beth Fehlbaum

From the publisher: After six years of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse from her stepfather, 14-year-old Ashley finally finds the courage to reveal the painful details of her experiences with her mother, who refuses to acknowledge the problem and turns her back on her daughter. After confiding in her teacher—the only adult whom Ashley can trust—she is removed from her home and sent to live with her father and his second wife, Beverly, an English teacher. Nurtured by Beverly, an extraordinarily positive influence in her life, Ashley and a summer school class of troubled teens learn to face their fears and discover who they really are.

Courage in Patience: A Story of Hope for Those Who Have Endured Abuse is a powerful, gut-wrenching, heart-wrenching story of sexual abuse and survival. Ashley has been abused by her stepfather for years, ignored by her mother for even longer, and slowly destroying herself in a bid to escape. When she finally turns to a trusted teacher, CPS is called in and Ashely is pulled from her nightmare of a home. When CPS contacts her birth father she moves to Patience, Texas to live with him and his family.

The beginning of the book is graphic. Fehlbaum details the abuse that Ashley faces on a daily basis. However, the second half of the book is about Ashley’s road to survival and thriving in Patience. She begins to live a normal life- making friends, getting to know her new family, and dealing with small-town politics. However, she still struggles with the ramifications of her abuse on a daily basis. She begins seeing a therapist, along with her father, mother, and younger brother.

I really appreciated how Fehlbaum showed a true-to-life picture of sexual abuse by following Ashley through her abuse and her road to survival. While some might feel the book focuses on too many stories, I disagree. Ashley’s teenage voice rang true and her story felt like I was reading a memoir. Her story is tragic and horrific, and her road to recovery is bumpy and imperfect. To me, that seemed more realistic than many other books. It also gave the reader a picture of that road to recovery, whereas many other sexual abuse-themed books focus only on the abuse itself.

This is a graphic book, one that I would recommend only for teens and adults. However, it is very powerful and I believe it is an important book.

Interview with Terri Fields

After reading My Father’s Son, I was dying to know what inspired this awesome story of a teenage boy whose world is turned upside-down when his dad is arrested and accused of being a serial killer. Luckily, the wonderful Terri Fields was kid enough to answer a few of my questions. Below is my interview with her!

I absolutely loved reading your latest YA, My Father’s Son. What inspired you to write My Father’s Son? Was there a certain case in the media that made you start thinking about the families of those accused of horrible crimes?

I was interested in the idea that we want to see our parents only in the role we have conceived for them. Teens, especially, have so much other turmoil in life that their parents are supposed to be a constant.
But is that reality? To investigate, I created a very extreme plot situation.

It’s awful, but it seems like these crimes are in the news more often in recent years.  How did you go about researching for the book (if there was any research necessary)? Did you interview family members? Read newspaper articles?

I read a lot about serial killers, especially BTK, whose family believed him to be an honorable citizen and loving dad right up until he was caught.

As someone who feels like there aren’t enough hours in a day (which is why it took ten days to get these questions to you!), I would love to know how you make time to write! Are you a full-time writer or do you have a day job? And what is your daily writing routine like?

I have just retired from teaching. I now have two part-time jobs related to education that still enable me to work with students and teachers. I think that’s important because it helps keep my voice honest. I also do tons of author visits which I adore! Because I have been a writer while raising two children and teaching, I’ve found that I don’t have a writing routine. I grab time whenever I can, and I love escaping to that inner world of my imagination. I’ve written for grades K-12.

What are you reading right now?

I just finished a book called The Fiction Class which I recommend.

And just for fun, what is your favorite dessert?

Hot Fudge Sundaes. If only someone could figure out a way to take the calories out of them, I’d eat one every day!

Me too, Terri!  In fact, I could go for a hot fudge sundae right now….

Thanks for stopping by, Terri!  It was great getting inside your head for a few minutes!