Monday, August 26, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 8/26

 It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Shelia at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers give the meme a kidlit spin. Open your Amazon wish list or your "to be read" list in GoodReads as you visit participating blogs. You'll find some great titles to keep you reading.

Last week's read alouds went well. For the first time in memory, I had students snag books the first day or two of school, read them and return them the very next day. Whoa. I have readers in my room!

I have readers in my room who care about books. Saturday night I got a late night text from a student who had just finished The Fault in Our Stars. She didn't love the book and that worried her. She texted to ask what I loved about the book. Wow. Our reading conversations have just started. I'm hooked.

Thursday we previewed books in class. I like to give students a Book Pass organizer with the current year's Florida Teen Reads book covers along the margins. Our school's literacy council hosts reading events around these titles all year and all English and reading teachers get a set of the current year's Teen Reads titles. I think all of the titles in my set got checked out: amazing.

Luckily I had tucked The Healing: a novel by Jonathan Odell and Sarah Stevenson's The Latte Rebellion in my school to bring home to read this weekend. The Healing is wonderful. It's a multi-generational story of Granada, a slave girl, who comes into her own as an apprentice to Polly Shine, a women who heals slaves. Grenada heals on many levels and I especially like how Odell weaves time through a perspective and story threads.

I didn't read as many books as I wanted to this weekend. I spent most of my reading time on students' surveys and letters and narratives --the initial assessments that make up our first week of school.

Still,  I finished Crichton's Next, a novel about genetics and genetic manipulation. There is a talking African Grey, a multi-lingual orangutan and lawsuit between a bio-engineering start up and a cancer survivor. The idea that our very essence, our cells can be owned and commercial exploited is an exciting thread in Crichton's plot.

And I re-read Sara Kajder's Adolescents and Digital Literacies this week with the purpose of really connecting to how Kajder coaches teachers in the book. I love Sara's work. She consistently pushes my thinking and affirms my beliefs about what it means to be a good teacher.

Up Next


James Paul Gee's Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses came in the mail this week. It's a dense read that I will likely take my time with. This week I plan to re-read Peter Johnston's Opening Minds. Johnston reminds me that  language is world building. I want the world my students and I construct in our classroom this year to be inclusive, engaging and true. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Getting to Know You

Today is the second day of school.We are just coming together as a community of readers and writers. Today we read model texts from Handler's Why We Broke Up and Walls' Half Broke Horses and began to write narrative.

Yesterday I gave students a quick, sentence survey to complete when they walked into the classroom. Music was playing. The surveys were on the tables. I greeted students at the door and told them where to sit (assigned seats at the start helps me learn students' names). Students sat right down and started in on the survey. Amazing how that works on the first day of school.

I responded to the surveys, just quickly, yesterday. It's the first chance I get to connect with students, so I keep comments short and positive. It is important for me to turn around that first set of surveys in twenty-four hours. It helps me establish community.

Before I returned the surveys to students a student asked, "was this graded?"
I smiled and said, "Yes, indeed, it was a test. I believe as John Green does; everything is a test." I do not grade the sentence completions. I make sure students understand that, but I also make sure that they know that I am assessing what they know and are able to do. The more accurate my assessment, the better able I am to plan instruction that meets their needs.

I show them Green's comment (it's less than a minute in length). Many confess to being fans and have read his work (bonus!).

Some students "failed" the sentence completion test. They jotted single words on each line and forgot all about end punctuation. Other students were able to demonstrate fluency with sentence structure. Some surprised me with variety. One student stood outside the box.

Students are grateful for the feedback. I often hear whispers of "she read it" and see smiles.

One of my students is friends with students I had last year. He stopped by my classroom during pre-planning week and said hello. He's enthusiastic, but even I did not expect the sort of answers he jotted down on his survey. The focus of every sentence: me. I couldn't help but laugh out loud.

Aside from his ability to maintain a singular focus, this writer tells me a lot about himself. He is able to control introductory elements in a sentence, use gerund phrases, correctly punctuate a subordinate clause -- he can do a variety of things as a writer (even if it the joke gets repetitive and his phrasing redundant). He must be gifted.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by Stacey Shubbitz and Ruth Ayres of Two Writing Teachers.
Join in the community. Write, connect and comment. I promise you'll find fun in the process.
Samples todays' slices here or get the full menu on the about page.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Book Talks and Read Alouds: It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Shelia at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers give the Meme a kid lit spin. I encourage you to visit others participating. Keep a notepad handy or a window with your Amazon wish list open; you'll find lots of great titles to read.
Today I meet my new students. It's the first day of school and I'm a little nervous. Will I remember students' names? Do I have enough planned? The first day is what it is. Often class periods rubber band between 15 and 47 minutes. It all depends on homeroom, a special occasion reserved for the first day of each semester. We send students to homeroom to pass out schedules and post those that remain unclaimed on our classroom doors for administrators to gather. That part takes some doing on a ninety-five acre campus. It takes time, but we get an instant idea of how many students do not report to school based on unclaimed schedules. Also, students missing a class period are quickly located and sent off to see guidance counselors. Sometimes students are antsy to get the day going and I know they will chaff at some new rules put in place this year, so I thought I'd lighten the mood with Offill's 17 Things I'm Not Allowed to Do Anymore.

With my own students, those I will see everyday, I plan to read pieces this week to build our reading and writing community. I'm going to start with The Night Bookmobile.

I likely won't read Niffenegger's The Night Bookmobile in its entirety, but I will read enough to taste the language and get a sense of the character's discovery. I plan use  it to frame students' thinking about their own reading histories.

Pat Conroy lived in Orlando for a time growing up. There is a wonderful scene describing his mother and our downtown library in his recent book, My Life Reading. I'll pull a few scenes from the book as we get started with our own reading narratives. Conroy's voice, description and rich vocabulary will make a good model for the kind of writing I'd like us to do this week.

The opening two poems of Salas' Book Speak will be segue perfectly into this week's initial Book Pass.

On the book talking side of things, I've planned to start sharing the Florida Teen Read titles by week's end. I'm including a book talk row in my lesson plans for the start of school. I know as we go through the year, the books I want to share are not as planned ahead of time--I share titles I read each week and pull favorites from the classroom library--but we'll see. I'll begin with a few favorites that will serve double duty as writing models. Always a bonus when I can make a read aloud work on many levels.

Happy first day of school!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

If You Were a Chair

If you were a chair what sort of chair would you be?
Lazy boy or ladder back, architectural or Queen Anne
Maybe you'd be an Adirondack, relaxed, a little laid back.
Or an arm chair sturdy enough to lean into and push off from

Would you be tradmark classic "the Aeron chair"
or classic modern, a Garden Egg
Maybe Casual Coed, a bean bag, say is more your style
or Club chair, smartly dressed, suits your sort.

What do chairs do when we close the doors and turn out all the lights?
When the school rooms are empty and night sounds echo
Rolling chairs wheel and deal, sliding across slick floors
they kick up their heels and cast sassy looks
Rolling chairs shift their weight leg to leg, caster to caster,
sometimes they spin, laughing at the merry-go-round moment.
Bowling down hallways, they get stuck on stairs.

Writing desks rather wobble,
There fronts stuck out, their molded plastic behinds
the least flexible in the field
still they enjoy a stroll to catch a glimpse of stars
outside on the softball field, sometimes they pitch a
game to the teachers' stools
and win.

When we close the doors and turn out all the lights
swivel chairs slide out the seams of night's fabric
they swing to the gym for a dance party
be bop, the twist, the Harlem shake
swing and spin those swivel seats know how to
cut loose and have some fun.

But every night like day must end,
chairs wander back and right the rooms
 whose rows and desks they left beret
they settle in as Sunday night
shifts light from dark
to peek of day.

{ draft in progress this poem is..rhyme and meter is a off, but I'll keep working at it}

This is my first week as the English department chair at my school. I'm doing a lot of thinking about what that role means. What does an instructional leader do? How does one act? What sort of support do teachers need? I have a lot of questions. I like thinking about them and about how I define leadership. I'm not quite ready to write about that yet, so I imagine that and Maya Woodall's poem about certification test stress is where this poem idea sprang from. I like the idea, so I'll play with the chair images and try to finish the piece.
In the meantime, while I'm thinking things through and trying to lead by example [or at least not make too many mistakes before September!] in thought word and deed, I'd love to hear what you think a department chairs should be.

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by Stacey Shubbitz and Ruth Ayres of Two Writing Teachers.
Join in the community. Write, connect and comment. I promise you'll find fun in the process.
Samples todays' slices here or get the full menu on the about page.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Love is the Secret: It's Monday What Are You Reading?

There is so much I loved about Saenz's, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. It's a story about friendship and family and coming of age and love. It's also a story about coming to terms with others and yourself, being honest and living your truth in ways that are uniquely difficult for teenage boys discovering their sexuality. I borrowed the book from the library, so I marked pages I wanted to come back to to gather scenes, sentences or possible read alouds. The book surprised me again and again with scenes full of  poetry and art and exercise and recovery.   I tried to be good and use sticky flags, but  I can see now that  I did bend a page corner or two.

I am planning to talk up the book next week as soon as I purchase a copy or two for my classroom library. I want to read this snippet to get students writing about their own views of themselves as readers. Listen in as Aristotle thinks about reading, his father and Dante:
"The truth is, I'd lied to him. I loved the book. I thought it was the most beautiful think I'd ever read. When my father noticed what I was reading, he told me it was one of his favorite books. I wanted to ask him if he'd read it before or after he'd fought in Vietnam. It was no good to ask my father questions. He never answered them.
 I had this idea that Dante read because he liked to read. Me, I read because I didn't have anything else to do. He analyzed things. I just read them. I have a feeling I had to look up more words in the dictionary than he did (20)."

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe is a book to read with a box of tissues by your side. Forewarned is forearmed. I cried and cried, not because it was said (it was in parts) but because it was beautiful and the characters true.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Shelia at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent of Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye of Unleashing Readers give the Meme a kid lit spin. I encourage you to visit others participating. Keep a notepad handy or a window with your Amazon wish list open; you'll find lots of great titles to read.

I'm a little behind the times when it comes to catching up on award finalists. Endangered was the final title of the Amelia Awards I hadn't read. I am glad I found it. Another tissue box companion book, Schrefer's  recounts war in the Congo and an American teenager's survival story. Sophie is enroute to her mother when she buys a Bonobo from a man on the street. Thinking she did the right thing, her decision to purchase the animal she names Otto changes the course of her life. 
Schrefer builds tension page by page with contrast. This scene where Sophie and Otto, who has recovered his health after a few weeks with Sophie, are out walking is the first sighting Sophie has of war approaching.
 "He'd become really good on his feet. Or off his feet, I guess, I should say. Otto was still and unsteady walker, staggering a stretch and then holding my hand for a second before getting up the courage to toddle farther. But when he was near a tree--or a drainpipe, or a car, or (as I learned the hard way) a wobbly filing cabinet--he would suddenly be up in the air. My idea of space was limited left, right, front, and behind, but he had a wonder sense of up. He's disappear from my hands, and I'd look around for him getting panicked, until I'd hear a telltale raspy laugh and find him dangling from a ceiling fan, revolving on one of the blades...
I loved video chatting with Dad, but otherwise my social life was pretty narrow. That's why Otto and I were on our own when we met the strangers. We were taking a walk along the sanctuary's overgrown driveway...well, I was walking, and Otto followed me along the treetops, calling down to me, amused that I would be so silly as to choose the groung when there were thrilling branches t oswing from. He would go for minutes through the jungle canopy, then come across something scared him--a snake under his fingers, a snapping branch, a songbird flying in his face--and he'd be in my arms. Then he was back into the trees again.
The sanctuary was far from any major road, so I was shocked when I turned a corner and saw four guys trudging up the driveway toward us. Two of them had mangy-looking dreadlocks. All wore mismatched army uniforms.
I backed up, my body tensed. My skin felt like rubber.
One of them held up his hand. "Zila, mundele. Don't run. We're lost, and we need you to guide us (50)." 
I could use this scene for many lessons. I love the idea of support and reassurance at the start. How Sophie lets Otto find his way but stays near to calm him and reassure him when he gets scared. Sophie's body language, especially the penultimate sentence, would be interesting to study and them imitate as a way to develop character in narrative. Surely we could speak and write from the richness of this text.

So many books, so little time to write about them! I'm going to leave the remaining few from the past few weeks as images only. I may come back to say more about them next week. If there's a particular title that you'd like to hear more about, let me know in comments and I'll come back to it.

Recent Reads

My favorite professional book read of late is Calkins, Ehrenworth and Lehman's Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement. I agree with Stacey Shubitz about Pathways to the Common Core. "It's a book every teacher in America should read." Clear, concise, contextualized discussion of the changes we will see as we implement Common Core Standards. Read Shubitz's assessment at Two Writing Teachers here.

Up Next 

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Sneaking In

I snuck in to school last week to get a jump start on organizing my classroom. Actually, I didn't sneak. Lots of people knew my plans. I even signed-in as a volunteer, printed out a sticker badge and wore it, but I like the sound of sneaking in. I like how it feels a little risky but still safe-- it's not sneaking out after all. Though I imagine come February I might want to do just that.

My room was a disaster area. Seriously. I inherited more materials than I had cabinets or bookshelves to contain. I ended the year with one arm in a shoulder sling. I'd had rotator cuff surgery in March and in June was not cleared to lift more than a pound. Terrible timing. I dislike leaving the school year unfinished; it difficult to leave the materials, packing and unpacking for later. My department co-chair retired. We planned her exit and how I would take over her duties. The plan was that she would have students help move her materials in the back half of my classsroom. We'd park the materials and supplies in my discussion circle area until I got furniture in which to store things and was able to lift more than a pound with my right arm. I ear-marked the last week of July to sneek in and tackle that organization job. I anticipated the work. I planned for it, but I don't think I realized just what I was in for.

Fortunately, a teaching colleague asked a student to post working in my classroom for service hours on the students' Facebook page. I had help: two or three student volunteers, my son and my mom. We did the job in three days.

Once you start cleaning and organizing, well, it's hard to stop. What an opportunity though. I'm talking deep cleaning. 

I got rid of books that my students haven't read in years. I packed up some to give away and recycled books that were no longer salvageable. I faced the fact that I tend toward pack-rat saving books even if covers get mangled or pages get torn. I felt fearless. I told myself I would throw away files I had not used in three to five years. The first step was clearing the floor and starting to sort.
Now to sort and organize.

 I recycled a lot of paper. There is something liberating about cleaning and getting organized. 
Same side of the room but from the opposite direction.
I'm not one-hundred percent finished. I stacked a lot on the desk at the back of the room, so I still need to take care of that, supply the tables and freshen up the decorations. I'm excited though.Teachers officially report back to work on Monday. Me? I'm going to sneak in a couple more times this week to make sure I'm ready.