Slice of Life #31

Thank goodness for lunch time.  I was absolutely starving as I walked into the faculty room.  I walked over to the large, industrial strength refrigerator in the corner and pulled open the door.  The fridge was packed with faculty and staff lunches.  I froze- what bag was my lunch in?

I suddenly couldn’t remember!  Did I pack my lunch in a paper bag this morning?  Or was I reusing a plastic grocery store bag?  And what color was the bag?  

I was starving and surrounded by bags of lunch, yet none of them seemed to be mine.

Then, I saw it!  There, buried in the back, was my bag- carrying a salad, dressing, croutons, and goldfish crackers.  Thank goodness!  I grabbed the bag, made my way to my usual seat at our lunch table, and settled in for a quick 20 minute meal.

Slice of Life #30

Ten minutes after school began this morning, I had one of my students go home with pink eye.  Her eye was so swollen, she couldn’t even open it!  I sent her off with classwork and homework for the next two days and carried one with our morning routine.  When lunchtime rolled around, I was already exhausted.

“Sarah, your eye is really red.”

My head shot up and my mouth froze in mid-chew.  What?!  As my teammates all nodded in agreement, I polished off my sandwich in record time and headed for the nurse’s office.

“I just got kicked out of lunch because my teammate’s say it looks like I have pinkeye.  I think I might have just irritated my eye when I put in my contacts, because I do wear contacts, and it’s not itchy or anything but one of my students did go home with pink eye this morning….” I babbled to our substitute nurse.

“Open up and let me see.” As the nurse peered into my eye, my mind was racing.  I can’t get pink eye!  That means 2 days out of school, antibiotics, no contacts, and wearing my really old glasses for days.  Glasses with a scratch on the lens!  I knew I should have ordered new ones this past year.

The nurse finished her exam and said, “It doesn’t look like pink eye to me.  Did you wake up this morning with any eye issues?”  I shook my head.  “Ok, then it’s probably nothing.  Just watch out and try not to touch your eyes too much today.  It’s probably just allergies”.

Relieved, I headed back to the faculty room.  But I knew I would be taking my contacts out as soon as I got home and throwing that pair away!  No taking chances for me.

Slice of Life #29

As I organized my notes for our Holocaust unit of study, I started making a list of the books I would be making available to my students for their book clubs.  At this point I had a pretty good selection of WWII novels, allowing each book club to focus on a different aspect of the Holocaust and WWII.  Using our essential questions, they would be focusing on these different aspects and then sharing them with the class at the end of the unit.  

So far my list was pretty varied:

Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler’s Shadow
Boy Who Dared
Someone Named Eva
Behind the Bedroom Wall
The Green Glass Sea
Under the Blood-Red Sun
I Am a Star: Child of the Holocaust

We would be reading The Devil’s Arithmetic as a class read-aloud, but it still felt like something was missing. As I perused my bookshelves, I found one more book that would be perfect for my developing readers and would cover an aspect of the war that was not already represented. T4 a novel is a verse novel about the T4 program, which targeted the disabled. Perfect! But our school library did not have any copies and I only had one. WIthout even thinking, I logged onto Amazon and placed an order for more copies. I also quickly checked our local library and found two more copies that students would be able to check out.  Within minutes, I had completed my book club planning!

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller

This is a review I have been struggling to write for about a week now.  Honestly, I was overwhelmed- where could I even begin?  A large part of me wanted nothing more than to post a review that consisted of, “GO BUY THIS BOOK NOW!” but I realized that wouldn’t be very helpful to my readers.  So I will attempt to review Donalyn Miller’s amazing new professional book about the power of reading in the classroom and somehow make sense of the over 100 post-its flagging various pages, passages, and chapters!  (See the picture to the right to look at all my flags)cimg3434

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is a slim book packed with information. Donalyn Miller shares her strategies for connecting all of her students with books and helping them become lifelong readers. As someone else who firmly believes in in the power of choice and independent reading in the classroom, her thoughtful and thorough look at how we can do a better job for our students is a joy to read.  

One of my favorite parts of the book is Donalyn’s reworking of the types of readers.  Schools of education teach future teachers about reluctant readers, struggling readers, and other labels for reading.  Donalyn disagrees with these labels and has come up with her own.  As she says, there is no hope in “struggling” or  “reluctant”.  As teachers, we should use positive terms to describe these readers.  

Instead of struggling readers, she refers to developing readers.  These are students who are not reading at grade level for any number of reasons, usually out of their control.  They have the ability to become great readers if their teachers give them the opportunity to read, read, read (with support)!  And instead of reluctant readers, we have dormant readers.  These are students who are passed over by many schools because they can read and they pass the state tests.  But they aren’t readers.  They need teachers and classmates who engage them in reading, helping them to become lifelong readers.  Finally, underground readers are gifted readers who see the reading that they do in school as a necessary evil and very separate from their own reading lives, which are usually rich.  I was an underground reader- reading at my desk while the teacher lectured, reading ahead during whole-class reading, and getting A’s on “reading tests” without even bothering to read the book.  Donalyn points out that districts spend most of their resources on developing readers but we let gifted readers and dormant readers fall to the wayside, so long as they can pass the federally-mandated tests once per year.  What a shame.  (I love these terms and have started using them as part of my own professional language and I think that is something more teachers need to do.)

Donalyn Miller also provides plenty of ideas for integrating independent reading into even the most rigid of schedules.  My own teaching schedule will be changing drastically next year and I was thrilled with her ideas.  Every idea she mentions promotes reading as as a lifelong habit and pleasure, ingraining it into her students’ lives.  She also models her own reading curriculum and the ways she appeases both her district ( gotta pass those damn tests!) and her own principles.  She truly is an inspiration!

In this day and age of standardized tests, scripted curriculums, budget cuts, and teacher layoffs, Donalyn Miller’s The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is truly an inspiration.  This is a book that MUST be put into the hands of every teacher in the nation.  And we NEED to get it to those who make policy in this country- from state senators to President Obama himself.  This book must be read, it must be discussed, and many of the ideas absolutely must be implemented if we are going to reverse the sad course our educational system is taking this century.  Like Donalyn, I too am a book whisperer.  I have seen the growth in my students in just 10 short months when they are given the opportunity to read, to grow, and to become lifelong readers.  And I have seen the results of just a few months in a traditional, rote reading class the next year.  They lose that spark.  They forget that love of reading.  And that is the saddest part of teaching right now.  

The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is sitting on my shelf right now, in a venerated spot right next to my other teaching bible, The Reading Zone: How to Help Kids Become Skilled, Passionate, Habitual, Critical Readers. This is a book that I know I will be turning to again and again.

Slice of Life #28


I was in the mood for something sweet today, something different.  I didn’t feel like having anything that was in the fridge or the pantry.  Hmmm, I could make cookies, I thought to myself.  Looking around, I seemed to have the necessary ingredients.  But what kind of cookies?  I hopped on the computer and started looking for ideas.  After a few minutes, I found the perfect recipe- Smores Cookies!  Delicious, pretty easy to make, and definitely something different.  I gathered up the necessary ingredients, mixed everything in my KitchenAid mixer and patiently waited for the pure deliciousness that I knew would be these cookies.

And I was right!

They came out of the oven soft and delicious.  And they tasted even better than I could have imagined.  The hardest part was not eating all of them at once!

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

“Dead girl walking,” the boys say in the halls.
“Tell us your secret,” the girls whisper, one toilet to another.
I am that girl.
I am the space between my thighs, daylight shining through.
I am the bones they want, wired on a porcelain frame.

Lia and Cassie are best friends, wintergirls frozen in matchstick bodies, competitors in a deadly contest to see who can be the skinniest. But what comes after size zero and size double-zero? When Cassie succumbs to the demons within, Lia feels she is being haunted by her friend’s restless spirit.”

Laurie Halse Anderson’s newest YA novel, Wintergirls, is a haunting story of loss, depression, anger, and anorexia. Lia is literally dying to be thin.  She and her best friend Cassie, who is bulimic, spent most of their lives competing to be skinny-skinnier-skinniest.  The book opens as Lia learns that Cassie has died alone in a motel room.  Despite the fact that they haven’t been friends for almost a year, Cassie’s death sets Lia on an even more dangerous course.  Lia has been in rehab twice, and after the second time she distanced herself from Cassie.  But on the night she died, Cassie called her 33 times.  And Lia never answered.  

Lia tries to pretend she isn’t affected by her friend’s death, telling her parents, her therapist, and herself that Cassie’s death isn’t hurting her or causing her to relapse.  But at night, she is haunted by Cassie’s ghost, encouraging her to continue starving herself so that they can be together again, as wintergirls- stuck on the border between life and death.  And relapse isn’t the issue- Lia never stopped starving herself.  Instead, Anderson shows the reader the vast array or strategies that girls like Lia use to fool their parents and doctors into thinking that they are eating and staying at a healthy weight.  

The book is told from Lia’s perspective and you are literally in her brain.  The style decisions made by Anderson make the book even more powerful.  There are strike-outs, fragments, sort-of-poems, and words that creep in from the right margin like thoughts fighting to be heard.  Lia’s head isn’t a good place to be.  In fact, you may even hate her at some points.  But you can’t turn away from her.  She is that girl we’ve all known, whether she is a reflection of us or a friend in middle school, high school, or college.  On the outside, she has it all. Her divorced parents live in the same town, she has a great stepsister who adores her, she goes to a normal high school, and has a best friend.  But somewhere in there, Lia gets lost.  As she says, she “failed adolescence” and lost herself.  Constantly berated by the voices in her head that call her “Stupid/ugly/ stupid/bitch/stupid/fat” and unable to look at food without seeing it’s calorie count in parentheses, she is swimming in a fog and about to drown.

Wintergirls isn’t an easy book to review because I don’t think any of my words can do it justice. However, it is a book that every girl, parent, and teacher SHOULD read. Like Anderson’s Speak, this is a powerful, haunting, and lyrical book. It deals with the issue of eating disorders by getting into Lia’s head.  It’s not an easy book to read- I literally felt sick to my stomach at points and my heart was racing throughout it.  In fact, I had to put it down twice because I actually felt stressed out.  When I couldn’t figure out why I was suddenly feeling nervous and stretched, I realized Anderson’s writing was eliciting this physical response in me.  Talk about words having power.  

This is a book that should be read, passed on, and recommended.  This novel will make an impact.  I’m throwing out my prediction now- this will be a National Book Award Finalist or Printz winner.  It’s that powerful and important.

Slice of Life #27

As I scanned through my radio presets, I stopped on the country station.  Is this Kenny Chesney? I thought as I listened to the song that was pouring through my speakers.  Why don’t I know this song?  Does he have an album coming out?  No, he can’t!  He just had a new album this past fall!

As the song continued to play, I started humming along.  Kenny Chesney is one of my favorite artists and I own all of his CDs.  How could he have a new song without me hearing anything about it?  

As the song faded and the DJ started to speak, all of my questions were answered.  “That’s “Out Last Night” by Kenny Chesney, off his new album, Greatest Hits II.  It’s not out until May, but you just heard his newest single!”

Phew, now I could relax.  And I had until May to preorder my summer album- Kenny’s greatest hits!