Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Steve Thomas was working as an anchor on a tv sports news program for kids, but is fired cuz he lacks "star quality". He ends up attending the country's biggest sporting event anyway, covering the super-bowl for the Washington Times. He uncovers a steroid doping and cover-up story worthy of his reputation as a tough investigative reporter. His partner in this investigation is his former co-host/budding girlfriend, Susan Carol.
In addition to a "whodunit" and "can we prove it??" mystery, this book is also rich with insider details of both the reporting industry and of the NFL. The romance between Susan and Steve is totally PG, although there is some slightly colorful (PG-13) language.
I can't wait to recommend this to some boys who love football, who themselves are budding reporters, and who are just beginning to figure out romance and such.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
A couple of my guys, who I had to fight to protect from getting pulled for "interventions" based on their damn DIBELS and CRT scores, did particularly well. They've both made substantial progress; both are up two whole grade levels!! Yeah!! I knew they'd become stronger readers quicker by reading lots and lots of cool books (not by reading boring fluency passages over and over). Here are some of the books these two particular guys have recently finished: Hugo Cabret, Cirque Du Freak, The Sea of Monsters, Holes, Esperanza Rising, Here B. Monsters, and How To Train a Dragon. No wonder they're making such great progress.
Honestly, I believe fluency interventions do have a proper time and a place. I've seen many kids make an impressive leap in their decoding skills after a few weeks of doing daily timed, repeated readings of short passages. But I think this specific strategy is best for kids who are around a mid-third grade reading level---it's not so great for fifth and sixth graders, even for those fifth and sixth graders who are "low". It's also best to turn right around and put those newly developed decoding muscles to great use---reading fantastic literature.
My current metaphor (and, again, I'm not dogmatic about this) is that if you want something you can grow in six weeks, like a dandelion, then stick kids in intervention pull-out groups where they read and reread contrived, boring texts. If you want something that takes 12 years to grow, like, say, an oak tree---or critical, habitual, responsive, lifelong readers--then put kids in year after year of strong reading workshops. I'm just super glad to have some data right now to support this metaphor and belief. I think it's fair for educators to be asked to back their "instincts" with results. What a nice December gift I've been given.
Monday, December 10, 2007
1. I am currently zipping through The Diary of Anne Frank, for the very first time.
2. I learned to read before I turned 5 and have no memories of the process, just mom's stories.
3. It's only been in the last two years that I've started reading lots and lots of kid lit.
4. Contemporary mystery novels are my escpape books.
5. My all-time favorite book, a novel called The Brothers K, by a brilliant writer named David James Duncan, still continues to shape how I relate to the world. It's a deep well of hope and goodness to which I often return.
6. My reading interests are very broad: I like adventure books, fantasies, mysteries, realistic fiction, poetry, contemporary non-fiction on religion, science, and politics, biographies, funny books, and gothic, urban fantasy stuff. Here's all I need to get into a book: sentences that are well crafted and either a great story or some interesting ideas to explore.
7. Ok. I'll admit it. I aspire to be not just a reader of fine books, but also a writer.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
This is the story of Helen Keller and Annie Sullivan, told strictly from Annie's point of view. Episode after episode full of wonderful "teacher" moments were what captivated and enthralled me. I remember reading the play "The Miracle Worker" in seventh grade. I didn't like it much, although I can still remember reading the "water" scene--when Helen suddenly connects the hand-spelled word W-A-T-E-R to the liquid pouring out of a water pump. Miss Spitfire ends just after that epiphany--and everything that comes before made this same scene much more astonishing and powerful.
What makes a book really fantastic, for me, as a reader? When it takes the notes, melodies, and rhythms of my spirit and creates a magnificent symphony. I'm no Miracle Worker, but this book reminded me what I know about teaching; that it is hard, joyful, frustrating, passion-filled, mistake-ridden, impossibly tender, frequently painful, very discouraging, and incredibly nourishing work. That it demands almost everything and gives back even more. Thank you, Sarah Miller, for such an excellent book.
For a much calmer, but still quite positive review, visit Fuse 8, here.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
I don't really know if this particular blog space will grow into a location where SLC teachers can share book recommendations, writing triumphs, etc. etc. But give me a few months, it might, it really might. Like I wrote down in my notes from one of the great conference sessions this weekend, you can only create what you can imagine. Here's what I imagine: SLC teachers and coaches as a community of writers and professionals similar to the beautiful and powerful flock in NYC at Teachers College. It could happen! Instead of yearning to be part of such a community, maybe I can help create one in the city (and for the children) I love most.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
There's nothing that perks my interest in particular titles like the fact that real life kids are choosing them. After I get back from the NCTE convention in NYC I'm planning to submit a "kid picks" article to The Edge of the Forest, a monthly children's literature e-zine. I hope that feedback from my class of readers will provide other folks with some valuable information.
I hope Broadway isn't closed down next weekend. I'm supposed to go see Wicked with my brother on Saturday night.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
In your sound rejection of an ill-conceived voucher program last night, you have given this Utah public school teacher a strong sense of community support. I've always felt a sense of stewardship when trusted with the education of our community's children, but your vote last night has reminded me that this stewardship in not just about the trust of my students' parents. There are also thousands and thousands of everyday citizens who are trusting me with these children, citizens who are also deeply committed to academic growth and future opportunities for my twenty-seven students. Your vote, in support of public schools, has energized and bolstered my passion for teaching in the public system. Thank you!
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Now that I'm teaching older elementary aged children (5th and 6th graders) I've reoriented my "transitional" book radar. It's no longer books that ease readers into the world of chapter books that I'm constantly searching out (a big priority as a teacher of "struggling" fourth graders). Rather, it's chapter books that are smack in the middle of the middle. Books that are harder than "easy" or "beginning" chapter books, but easier than those chapter books that fifth and sixth graders who are reading "on grade level" often enjoy. For lack of any better identifier, and I think it's pretty fitting, I'm gonna call these "fourth grade" books. This is one of those books, and I am very glad to have found it.
Monday, October 29, 2007
Jonothan Kozol's Letters To A Young Teacher was a great, inspiring read. I was, as I've already mentioned, frustrated at some points when he we wrote about teacher-led activism. But, overall, I found his words comforting, motivating, and helpful. It also helped me realize that there are lots of fabulous things about working for the Salt Lake City School District. Our schools are somewhat segregated, with the whole East and West side divide, but certainly not as segregated as many cities across the nation. And our district services the whole city so overall we have a huge range of demographics. Even little old Washington Elementary has a nice blend of racial, ethnic, and economic diversity. I wish there was more economic diversity, but we do have some variety, ranging from extreme, homeless levels of poverty, to making-ends-meet poor, to a few families who are comfortably middle class.
Kozol provided a whole chapter on the voucher debate, which is a very hot issue here in Utah right now. We are going to be voting next week on whether to keep and implement the voucher program that the state legislature created last year or to dissolve the legislation and continue Utah's oddly progressive history of strongly supporting public schools. (When you have family sizes like ours, what choice do you have but to keep the public schools strong??)
Saturday, October 27, 2007
I remember when I used to set my night-time brain waves to work on complicated physics problems. I loved waking up with an answer to a problem I'd drifted to sleep puzzling over. So, this still happens, but these days the problems I puzzle out are far more complex and interesting.
Monday, October 22, 2007
Yes. Yes. Yes.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Here's mine: I can get "tough" kids to work hard, to feel positively connected to a class of their peers, and to care a whole lot about my expectations of and for them.
I honestly don't know how this superpower of mine works. It's very real, though. And it is truly one of my most special abilities.
I was perusing the files of one of my "tough" kids this week cuz I wanted to figure out why such a smart guy is so far behind academically. I found a series of suspension slips last year, at his school in California. One per month, starting in January, all the way through June. This year he's been working hard to learn, figuring out his place with the other kids in "appropriate" ways, and letting me in to his world so far as to let me know that his dad's gonna be "in Draper" for another few years. (Our inside language for the state penitentiary.)
One thing I really struggle with, though, is that I really want these kinda kids to develop a source of internal motivation to make good choices, but I often feel like they're over-dependent on me.
What's your superpower?
Saturday, October 20, 2007
These four books present fascinating facts about a variety of animals. By organizing the information around types of adaptations, they skillfully keep the principles of evolution near the center of the stage. The result of these voice-filled texts, which are also full of many amazing pictures, is powerful enough to ALMOST make me wanna trade one of my math classes for a science class.
We get some bonus dollars added into our supply budgets this year if we go the extra mile on our school efforts to build school-to-home connections. I think three copies of each of these great books would be a great way to spend some of my extra $.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Monday we started Bud, Not Buddy. What a fantastic read aloud. I LOVE Bud's narrative voice and I get way into thoroughly embodying his tough, sweet, funny, and observant character. I'm going to pull a sample of excellent essay writing from the first chapter, from the part when Bud discusses why it's rough being a six-year-old.
My student teacher is being the given the gift of teaching my whole class for five full days next week. The wonderfully rewarding, rich community building experience of reading out loud to my students will be the part of the day I most miss.
Sunday, October 14, 2007
Saturday, October 13, 2007
We had our first Publication Party yesterday. It was incredible. All twenty-six of my students had amazing stories that they stood up and read in a group that included twelve of their peers, two or three parent guests, and two or three school staff members. Each circle of "readings" was facilitated by a carefully selected sixth grader. We rehearsed for the event on Thursday and also talked, (and talked and talked,) about trust, courage, and respect. On Friday, in addition to sharing these slices of their lives, they were also very kind and gracious listeners.
Yesterday I added a new "lecture" to my ever growing repertoire. Here it is:
When you say to other girls things like, "You're going to have babies when you're young," or "Your mom probably had you when she was 19 or something," you are A) purposely hurting another girl, which isn't ok, and B) giving power to a very terrible idea. That terrible idea is that women should be judged by the choices we make about when to have babies. We (women and girls in this world) need to honor the fact that we all make different choices about when and how to become mothers. When you use those particular words to hurt another girl you are adding to the power of a belief that hurts lots and lots and lots of girls and women. We can make the choice to hold off a while on having babies, if that's what we decide for our own lives, without thinking that all people who decide to have babies when they are "young" are bad.
Maybe that's the book I should write. 50 Important Lectures for 11 and 12 year Old Kids.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Oh yeah, for future reference: the scene where Peak climbs a sky scraper and gets arrested at the top was a great "hook" for booktalking it.
I've realized that there aren't that many teachers who blog in the kidlitosphere and those of us who do have something valuable to offer: real live kid readers. Well, here's some data from my first six weeks of working with a class of fifth an sixth graders in a high poverty, high English Language Learning school:
Twilight and the subsequent books in Stephanie Myers' vampire series are getting passed around my room like wildfire. Boys and girls are liking it. I never even booktalked it.
Diary of a Wimpy Kid has been a huge hit and has already been finished by at least six of my students.
At least four kids have read and enjoyed: Clementine, Down Girl and Sit, Shug, Life As We Knew It, and The Lightning Thief.
At least one kid has deeply loved: Hugo Cabaret, Here B. Monsters, Sahara Special, Gilda Joyce, Walter Dean Myers' Biography of Malcom X, Flashcards of My Life, and Whales on Stilts.
This data is from mid-October, so I'll have to keep you posted as the year goes on. I love kids. I love books. I love watching kids get involved in great books.
Sunday, October 07, 2007
You know how great picture books are like poetry because each word is selected so carefully? Well, this book displays that same kinda economy of language---each word is amazingly powerful.
Diana is a budding astronomer and writer. She has to move away from her best friend Rose when her dad loses his job and her grandpa needs Diana's family to come live with him. Diana tells the story of her move in a series of lists and short poems.
This would certainly be a great read for kids who are actually experiencing the trauma of leaving a best friend and familiar place, but I think that Diana is so honest and the plot so captivating and true that it will get passed around my room of readers as fast as Clementine and Twilight. There are also many great writing lessons to mine through---including illuminating metaphors, an ending that precisely mirrors the beginning, and sparkly details from life's everyday flotsam.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
To grow strong readers: cultivate an environment where students read voluminously.
To grow strong writers: teach craft, write often, relish the process.
My dream for each student: that they will become curious, passionate, engaged learners. That they will become kind and thoughtful people. For life.
To be clear, some things I don't believe:
That it's possible to "fix" reading or writing problems with six to eight week "interventions".
That high scores on year-end tests are our most central or important goals.
I need to buy that Courage To Teach poetry book. Or better yet, create my own.
Monday, October 01, 2007
We have our first "publishing party" scheduled for October 12th. I'm not sure how to plan a wonderful occasion to honor my young writers---but we still have more than a week to dream and plan.
Friday, September 28, 2007
Speaking about books as a unique artistic medium, Roger Sutton recently pined, "The more involved you are in a work of art, the more deeply it's going to stay inside you."
An observation from the trenches of my 5th/6th grade classroom: In a very Taoist way I've learned to take great advantage of one of my unique gifts. I am an amazing oral reader. I can captivate kids with my read alouds like you wouldn't believe if you've never sat at my feet while enjoying a wonderful story together. (Inheritance from my mama, thank you very much.) So it shouldn't have been so surprising, but I've recently discovered that reading a short selection out loud is one of the most powerful spells I have in my particular arsenal of book talking weapons. And in contrast to librarians, who might come twice a year and want to talk about 15 books in twenty minutes, I also have the great luxury of time. If it takes 10 minutes to talk about two books today, well that's okay. We'll have another ten minutes tomorrow, and on Wednesday, and again on Thursday. In fact we'll have time, if needed, for book talks on each day for the whole rest of the year. Fortunately, book talking can be a bit different for classroom teachers. Each book can be on stage for a longer bit of time and each book talk can include a short reading.
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Remember the way both Nick's parents were overjoyed and all smiles to see and celebrate how much he's been reading and how well he's been doing.
They (all the parents) are your best teammates in the thrilling adventure we call teaching. Treasure the opportunity to huddle with them.
Don't dread conferences. Don't dread conferences.
You end up loving them every time, so stop worrying. They'll not only be fine, they'll be super.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
In addition to the value of conferences I'm also developing my very own understanding of this point Lucy makes about writing being a powerful way for children to author their own lives. This little DeShawn is seeing the real tragedy of this girl who lost her childhood so quickly. It's important to see. It's important to think about what we see. It's important to record the way we see things.
At the end of our one-on-one conference today, with no prompting or idea that I expected it (cuz I absolutely didn't), DeShawn said, "Thank you, Ms. Simbe."
Sunday, September 16, 2007
If I could ask this fabulous teacher a question, here's what it would be: What do you do when a kid loves a book SOOOOO much, that they have trouble with all future books not measuring up? This is starting to happen to several of my boys who loved Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and I'm a little worried about the same phenomena with a few of the girls and the fact that they've already found their "best book I've ever read" favorites. The truth is, I don't know of any other books that are JUST LIKE Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but I am going to see if I can't get them excited about something different, but also funny, with the following booktalks on Monday: Sahara Special, No Talking, Whales on Stilts, Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator, and Diary of a Fairy Godmother. Even if they aren't the same as Diary of a Wimpy Kid, they all have great characters and lots of humor.
I just relized something else interesting about this situation: this is an issue that I have, as a reader, as well. I might spend the whole rest of my life searching for a book that I love as much as The Brothers K. But even if I never find another book that's THAT good, I'm still glad I found it in the first place, and I still find lots and lots of ways to enjoy my life as a reader.
Saturday, September 15, 2007
Yeah, I love these books. Two of my students are already moving through the series. And to be honest, I read and liked the original Anne of Green Gables, but never got into any of the other books. But the psychic investigations that propel the plots of Gilda's books forward are like fast moving trains. So you've basically got this brash, endearing, and hilariously earnest main girl character, AND fascinating, spooky, mysteries. All at the same time. I only wish there were already more.
I also have a goal to get at least two of my boys into this series.
Friday, September 14, 2007
All the sudden about twelve of them saw me and started saying things like, "Hey, Look! It's Ms Simbe." Esteban stood up and said, "Let's hear it for the best teacher in the school." Most of them, even the ones that I don't even know well, stood up and started clapping and cheering. My face suddenly felt hot and red, but not because I was sick. I was so embarrassed by their sudden flattery. A few tiny tears tickled my eyelids (which I hid quite well) Their ovation turned me from feeling very rotten to very wonderful in a very short span of time.
And that, my friends, is my own "seed story" for my personal narrative writing. I've been assigning my class, for the last few nights to be story magnets, to look for stories everywhere. I've been trying to do the same thing and it was quite sweet and perfect to be able to share this particular story with them today.
Monday, September 10, 2007
#1 My own classroom practice will be better the more I reflect, and even this very post is pushed by my commitment to attend these classes.
#2 I am passionately committed to a workshop model of writing instruction and if I can do anything to help other teachers to learn and be successful with the model, I will.
#3 I like learning new things and hearing the stories of other classroom teachers.
I've been asked to talk tomorrow about the work Jen and I did over the summer and where my thinking is right now in regards to the Units books and Writing Workshop, in general. I'm trying to rake all my thoughts into one pile, but it's not easy.
Brainstorm: teachers need to be habitual writers because we need to understand the work we're asking kids to do (Find one of those crystal, explosively inspiring sections from MEM FOX on this). My experience *being* a writer: it was very hard at first to generate seed stories as I was working through the first two books. I had that very insecure feeling, that so many kids have, that I don't have any stories worth telling. Then, one day, I watched the ultrasound of Mama Jean's heart. I realized what amazing stories I'm surrounded by and I suddenly found myself in the habit of noticing them.
And this habit, or way of thinking, is very useful as a writing teacher. For example, today, when I was teaching my students how to generate personal narrative writing by thinking of one person, I was able to list very specific mom memories: I didn't write that we went to NYC together with grandma, but that she found me at Grand Central Station. Most students, in their efforts today, didn't zoom in so well. But I know I gave them a good example and I know where to push them in conferences.
Okay, that's a decent pile of idea leaves. Oh, yeah, a couple more important things: doing it with Jen is essential, and we're going to do the books in the order 1 then 3 then 2 (and why). And also maybe I'll tell the story about going all the way through the third book before I was convinced that is was an effective way to teach essay writing. And that actually doing the silly exercises was what convinced me.
Saturday, September 08, 2007
I'm not only unsure what I felt about the whole weird ride, but I'm also very unsure what my students will think. In some ways it felt like a cheap trick. Like I was being hooked into a fast paced mystery that suddenly turned into a slow paced drama. The drama stuff isn't badly written, it's just not what you expect after the cliff hanging, violent tension in the fist couple chapters. I want it for my classroom library, though, cuz I'm pretty curious what my students will think of it. But I can wait for the paperback edition.
In other news: Robert, my DH, will be home Thursday. He was attending a wedding in Canada and then spent a week with his mom and dad in Fargo, ND. In the last day, or so, I've started missing him a lot.
I really do have a wonderful class. I'm not just saying that because I'm their teacher and of course I think they're wonderful. And the schedule we worked out, where I get to teach math 2 hours a day, to the sixth graders for an hour, and then to the fifth graders for an hour, and then teach reading and writing for the remaining 3 hours, is sooooooo perfect. For me, anyway. I'm working my ideal, dream job. I wouldn't change anything.I even like having a blended class. I think the positives outweigh the challenges.
Sunday, September 02, 2007
1. Real fall weather is on the tip of the Salt Lake valley's tongue. In a few days we will leave behind 90+ degree weather for three whole seasons.
2. Tiny threads of connection continue to form between me and my oldest daughter Clara.
3. I have lots and lots of wonderful students, with whom I am so looking forward to working for the next nine months.
4. The SLC downtown library, which is like a sprawling kingdom of books and people, continues to be a weekly destination my girls all enjoy.
5. Robert, my husband, has arrived safely in Tornoto, where he's attending his cousin's wedding.
6. My abdomen is 100 percent pain free.
7. I got over some bizarre hurdle and will now be able finish The Golden Compass in a few days.
Friday, August 31, 2007
A student for whom many parts of the story will resonate like crazy is reading Shug.
A high boy reader who had to be restricted from just reading manga is getting into All of the Above.
The chili pepper girls are all reading Franny K. Stein.
Two boys are already on their second Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs book.
A girl I don't know much about is reading Flashcards of My Life.
Another girl is more than half way through Flush.
One boy is well into Stormbreaker.
Somebody already FINISHED the first Gilda Joyce, Psychic Investigator book.
And with no booktalking or pointing or anything, one of my highest readers is zipping right through Life As We Knew It.
Here's to sustaining this much book passion for 176 more days! And here's to all the bloggers in the kidlitosphere, who I hope know how valuable their book chatter is to me and my students.
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
But today was a new and much better day. Experiencing the intense, severe, frightening kinda pain I had yesterday, and then feeling pretty normal and ok today, makes normal and ok feel euphoric. I am so fresh off of the nauseating, turbulent sea of sickness, that the solid, normal land of sore feet and tiredness feels SUPER solid and refreshing.
Anywho. I have a very nice class. I have clusters of reading and writing abilities that are on the high end and one cluster on the low end, and not so many kids in the middle. Fortunately reading and writing workshop are instructional models that take into account many starting places and also many variables in learning and in aptitude.
Something surprising: I was all worried about not having enough booktalks ready to go. But I have plenty. I gave 4 today and I thought I'd want to give about 5 a day, for the first few weeks, so that kids would have lots and lots of good book choices right from the start. But most of them already have selected a "just right" book, which they're effectively using to transport themselves to THE READING ZONE. And so I feel fine only doing one or two a day. They don't need to be bombarded with too many choices all at once. And now I'm more motivated than I was towards the end of the summer to read lots of kid lit, cuz I'm starting to really know MY readers and have my eyes peeled wide for books that these particular kids will enjoy.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I'm not quite sure what to say to my students tomorrow. Thanks for being people I was able to trust, after only barely becoming acquainted.....maybe.
I kept putting off doing something about the pain because I thought it was just nerves. First day and all. But it reached such a sharp, explosive, unbearable intensity that I finally broke down and got help. I'd heard these things are painful. Comparable to labor pains. Well if that's the case, forget it. I'm going back on the pill tomorrow. I knew there was a reason I wanted all my kids to come to me via adoptions. And three is plenty.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Someday, by Eileen Spinelli, is a memoir type book told in poems, but it breaks away from traditional memoir a bit, by imagining forward, as well as remembering backward. The narrator imagines things she will do "someday", like dig dinosaur bones, paint landscapes on the beach, and sit for tea with the president, but then follows each future dream with a "Today" poem that connects---today I paint the house with my dad, dig for coins in the sofa cushions, and have lunch with my cousin. I don't think the "rules" of memoir writing would be too horribly violated by giving children the chance to write about their imaginings of the future, as well as their experiences of the present. In fact, I think having a record of how I imagined my future self, from my 12-year-old eyes, combined with how I saw my world around me at the time, would be a very valuable treasure today to read back through today. If only. If only.
Another book that frames memoirs in a very accessible way is When I Was Young in the Mountains, by Cynthia Rylant. The title of the book is a repeated refrain that introduces detailed snapshots of the author's childhood. A student of mine used "When I Was Young in Mexico" and the result, while somewhat undeveloped (my fault), was rich with potential.
I happened across Someday for the first time this week, and I want to remember these two books next spring, when we write memoirs. But we're planning on writing essay pieces in October and I don't have any good models for that unit yet. I am in desperate need of strong mentor essay texts. Suggestions, anyone? Opinion/Essay pieces that ten and eleven-year-old kids can both relate to and mimic?
What I loved about this book: I am not like Emma-Jean, at all. I could relate much easier to Colleen, the other character whose head you get to dwell in. Like Colleen, (but very much unlike Emma-Jean), I care a lot about what people think of me. I hate being bullied, and I HURT when people are cruel. But even though I couldn't relate that well to Emma-Jean, and she kinda seemed like a robot at times, I still adored her. It's a cool thing to realize you can really LIKE someone whose personality is very different than your own. I came to understand and believe in her reality and I wanted very badly for things to turn out well for her.
I wonder what kids will make of this book. If and when I get some data on that question, I'll let you know. And if I ever have a girl baby, I love the name Emma-Jean. A little Mormon history combined with a nod to my Dear Husband's mom. Perfect.
Friday, August 24, 2007
I'm super excited about many of the things we have planned for our students this year. I can't wait to start writing workshop. I have a steadily growing shelf of 5 Star chapter books to talk up. The whole front of my room is full of math charts, graphs, fraction bars and calendars--all colorfully displayed and carefully organized. We've brainstormed some fun team building activities. I printed a short story for the first day by Richard Peck. All the kids that I know, I'm thrilled to have back. And the ones that I don't, I'm excited to meet.
My feet ache, I crashed from 4:30-6:30 today, and right now, Friday evening, I can barely move my exhausted body. I don't remember the first week back, before the kids even come, ever being this physically draining. I hope it's cuz it took them most of the week to fix the cooling system upstairs. That would explain a lot of my fatigue. I always wondered how I was going to do this job when I got "old" but I never thought I'd be "old" this soon. It's also gotta be cuz I'm adjusting to getting up early.
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
That's the process most of my "5 Star" classroom library books pass through. The one blip that I'm not sure how to correct is after I've got a book home, I often can't get into it, and I wish, at that point I could remember who recommended it and what they said about it. There are lots of books that go back to the public library, unread.
This one was quite funny and honest and seemed to capture middle school from a boy's perspective, quite well.
I thought we'd got rid of that little mouse, but he just now scurried along the wall seven feet across the room from me. Damn.
Back to the book. It's an illustrated novel, rather than a graphic novel, because the text *could* stand alone. But the illustrations are great and there's at least one on every page.
Sunday, August 19, 2007
Summer goal update: I didn't write 20 new booktalks. But I wrote 15, and that's, like, a C--which, ever since my freshman year of college, I've been able to call "good enough." The important thing, here, is that I'm gonna actually do lots and lots of booktalking this school year. I've got over 30, including my own original 15, printed and pasted into a notebook. After I finish performing those, I think I'll be able to cut back on the need for a fully developed script. I'm hoping I'll be able to just make them up as I go along. This strategy has never worked in the past, so I'll still need to have a good hook written down, I'll need to have read the book myself recently, and I'll need to choose a specific passage to read out loud. With these three things in place, though, I think I'll get to where I can perform them off the cuff. I'll keep y'all updated on this effort as the school year progresses.
Summer goal update 2: read through Lucy Calkins' units of study and keep a writer's notebook. Check and Check. I did an outstanding job on this goal and feel lots of confidence about entering writing workshop from the stance of "fellow writer". I can't wait to work alongside my students as we all continue to grow as writers.
I can't remember any other big goals this summer. I got all three of my kids to read a lot, all summer. I spent a lot of time with siblings and relatives. I'm not pregnant, yet, but I'm still not worried about that fact. And, as already mentioned, I got to a place where I was able to enjoy my unstructured down time.
Friday, August 17, 2007
To further the story I started over there--the true story of the arrival in America of my adopted daughters, here is one small snapshot from those first few weeks.
Title: Easter's Very Loud Tantrum
"No, Mom! I refuse! I refuse!" Easter screamed pounding her firsts on the water. This outburst was Easter's response to my request that she get out of the small apartment swimming pool, which we were enjoying with her two sisters, less than two weeks after their arrival in the U.S. In the morning Easter had pleaded, passionately, "Please, Mum, never before did I swim in my WHOLE life."
I walked to the edge of the pool, grabbed her skinny black arm, and hoisted her light body onto the poolside cement. I wrapped her in a towel and started buckling on one of her white sandals, ignoring her blood-curdling yelps and flailing arms.
"I'm sorry," I said, "but it's time to go." Suddenly she kicked off her shoe, wriggled out of her towel, and leaped back into the pool. "I refuse, I refuse, I refuse," she screamed as she splashed away from me.
I looked in desperation at Harriet and Clara, who sighed knowingly and climbed in after her. Between the three of us we eventually got her out of the pool and into the car. She didn't stop kicking, punching, and screaming until we were driving away.
Throughout her entire tantrum I kept my cool. Thank you, god, for that student of mine named Alvin, I muttered, who almost caused me to quit teaching, but who prepared me for this moment. As we were driving home, I said, "Easter, when I told you to get out of the pool, you screamed and refused. Because of the choice you made we can't go swimming again for three days. I'm so sorry. You enjoyed yourself so much today, but now we have to stay home tomorrow. I know next time you will make a much better choice---to quickly obey and not misbehave."
So, we didn't swim for three days. But after that we swam almost everyday, all summer. And I know how lucky I am, and that it sounds way too good to be true, but that was Easter's first and only tantrum in the two years since her arrival.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
rainy day surprise
spawned in spongy breeding grounds
vampire prick, itch
Thanks Deo Writer for keeping this one moving along. If you wanna play, take my last line and write a new haiku, either in the comments or on your own blog, or both.
Here's my daughter Clara's summer reading accomplishments:
And we just finished talking about Stormbreaker, which she both liked and understood. I sure hope she'll keep reading like this once school starts.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
However, Mary Lee, one of the teachers who blogs at A Year of Reading, mentioned that she rereads this book each August and I thought, what the hell. Maybe I'll break my rule and see what happens.
Well here's what happened: I appreciated it much more than the first time I read it. Which is saying a lot, cuz I liked it well enough the first time. Five years ago, I remember being bothered by Esme's naivete around race issues. But this sentiment was erased this time because I took into account her age at the time (24), the insanity of her situation (first year teacher in a horrible working environment), and her courageous honesty (people ought to be allowed to name what they see, even if they don't acknowledge bigger social contexts). This time through I particularly adored her wickedly brutal, but precise naming of stupidity, arrogance, and grandstanding. And I also loved how she captured that magical way that "performing" is often at the center of lively, effective classrooms.
1. lightly salted cashews
2. casual conversations about high school and The Lord of the Rings, with my fifteen-year-old daughter.
3. calcium enriched, fresh orange juice
4. another whole day to spend at home, relaxing with my kids (we've only got about 7 more...)
6. the friendly, patient librarians and workers at the Day Riverside branch.
7. Gwen, the best secretary on Earth, who works with me at Washington Elementary.
Monday, August 13, 2007
But Uncle Wolfe isn't the only scientist searching for the dinosaur. His nemesis is a ruthless, trophy-hunting millionaire who doesn't care that Grace and Marty are only 13.
What I liked about this book: I got swept up in the adventure--which includes great chapter cliffhangers, narrow escapes, and surprising plot twists. I also like the character development of both Grace and Marty.
Hey, I only have 5 booktalks left now, to achieve my summer goal of writing 20. And, technically, I have all the way until August 28th. I'm so gonna make it.
Saturday, August 11, 2007
“The human heart … is where we embrace our questions. Can we be equitable? Can we be generous? Can we listen with our whole being, not just our minds? And offer our attention rather then our opinions. And do we have enough resolve in our heart to act courageously, relentlessly without giving up, ever? The heart is the house of empathy. Its door opens when we receive the pain of others. This is where bravery lives and where we find our mettle to give and receive, to love and be loved, to stand in the center of uncertainty with strength not fear. The heart is the path to wisdom because it dares to be vulnerable in the presence of power.”
I, for one, need to meditate on the essence of this message daily, particularly as I gear up for a brand new school year. Much of the art of teaching, while standing inside the 4 walls of a classroom full of children, comes quite naturally to me. I know what I believe, I'm pretty skilled at implementing those beliefs, I know how to be responsive and flexible, and I know how to nurture relationships with kids. But the rest of the job---all the stuff that goes on beyond the walls of my classroom---well, let's just say that empathy, patience, endurance, and generosity are qualities I need to nurture in order to survive. A few interesting math problems to puzzle out during the particularly inane moments in the next few weeks will also help me preserve some sanity.
1-You're a world class expert on being a kid in Salt Lake City in 2007. Nobody else on the whole planet imagines the world and experiences things the same way you do. Write your observations about daily events, capturing them like a camera with a YOU colored lens. I have some kid-writing samples for this and maybe I'll also use the picture book Can't Sit Still.
2-Map your heart and then write about some of those topics that are near and dear to you.
3-Lists: favorite days, favorite video games, favorite books, best field trips, strongest wrestlers, best life experiences, worst life experiences, injuries, etc., etc., etc., We'll keep a list of list ideas on the wall.
4-Place a noun in a circle and then draw a web with adjectives or phrases that describe that noun. Use the web to write a descriptive paragraph.
5-Think of an experience and then list the 5 W's and 5 senses of the event. Who was there? What happened? Where was it? When did it happen? Why was this happening? Write about the tastes, smells, sounds, feelings, and sights.
6-Create your very own metaphors. I'm going to introduce the concept of metaphors with the book A Sock is a Pocket For Your Toes. The pocket metaphor is so versatile. We'll then play with other types of _______________ is like ___________________ pharases. (I know this is, technically, a simile, but I think we'll just use the word metaphor at first.)
After the first two weeks, or so, we'll move into strategies to generate ideas for personal narratives and then continue right on through the first book from Lucy Calkins' Units of Writing: Launching The Writing Workshop. One big difference, that we'll have to calibrate into our workshop, is that our students will draft, revise, edit, and publish using Microsoft Word. But most of our movement down the path toward our first published narrative piece will follow closely in Lucy's steady footsteps.
Friday, August 10, 2007
And in many places in the world today,
My simple life would be recognized as the pure
indulgence and rich luxury that it is.
Late summer, in a house cooled by the quirks of evaporation,
Sitting before an ancient Greek stage of a big screen with surround sound,
Encircled by healthy children,
Enjoying the high and spectacular drama of J.R.R. Tolkien, as imagined by Peter Jackson,
Sipping seasonal, locally brewed raspberry beer.
Looking forward to an evening of friends who relish ideas,
who will sit down together for a meal of sweet and hot Thai,
And who will leave my home with renewed passions and energy.
In most epochs of human history,
And in most places in the world today,
My existence would be recognized as the sweet, luxurious, Epicurean indulgence,
That it is.
Thursday, August 09, 2007
One of the few family traditions that we've established is an annual, summer Lord of the Rings marathon. I was so delighted the first time we watched it together---to observe how quickly they were engrossed. We're just embarking on our third year of this tradition, and I can safely say that we are still LOTR fanatics.
Wednesday, August 08, 2007
Yes, there's the circus-like feeling of turning the bend in my summer road that leads straight to the first day of school, but there's also something quite yummy at this juncture. Thinking forward to the sparkly excitement of students reading, writing, and puzzling out math questions is a heady, bubbly, delicious feeling.
Friday, August 03, 2007
I thought the device of having Laney, the narrator, talk a lot about elements of fiction was pretty witty, but it was sometimes a bit clumsy. I only noticed this awkwardness, though, because it got in the way of the story and the story was so good. It took on tough questions and moral situations that kids really face. I love authors who have the audacity to "go there." For the record: I didn't shed one tear while reading HP7, but this short book brought on the tears, twice. Real cruelty, real forgiveness, real redemption.
Thursday, August 02, 2007
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
What I liked about this book: learning some Australian words, like "rellys" for relatives. Also, Limpy is so earnest and quite funny.
What I think you'll like, my dear fifth and sixth grade readers: there's some fairly gross parts and Limpy is a hero you'll find yourself cheering for.
Tuesday, July 31, 2007
And now a quick story for a mini-lesson on crafting catchy titles:
There was this handyman who was having trouble drumming up business. So he changed the name of his company to "Rent-A-Husband." Nothing about his company changed except what it was called. What do you think happened? Yup, he had more calls than he could handle.
(adapted from Writing Through Childhood, by Shelley Harwayne)
Monday, July 30, 2007
I am a good teacher because...
There's nothing else I'd rather be doing. I love teaching and don't ever fantasize about other professions or regret my decision to become a teacher. My heart is very much in my teaching work.
If I weren't a teacher I'd be a/an...
An anthropologist, a librarian, a scientist, a writer, a web designer, a circus clown, or a mathematician. Oh wait, I already am all these things. See? Teachers get to dabble in many interesting jobs.
My teaching style is...
Responsive, flexible, and creative.
My classroom is...
Exactly 900 square feet.
My lesson plans...
Start taking shape the second I wake-up.
One of my teaching goals is...
To sustain a strong writing workshop throughout the year.
The toughest part of teaching is...
It takes a helluva lot of stamina to keep my physical, emotional, and mental systems fully engaged day after day, week after week, month after month. Keeping enough energy pumped into all three of those critical realms is often quite tough.
The thing I love most about teaching is...
My relationships with so many spectacular children, and teaching math.
A common misconception about teaching is...
That all teachers can be lumped into one, easy-to-criticize, label, and "fix" group.
The most important thing I've learned since I've started teaching is...
That doing the job well is much, much harder than it appears.
And to celebrate this occasion I'm gonna indulge in a tiny fiesta. Fresh salsa and avocados for dinner tonight.
Sunday, July 29, 2007
When I first started Writing Through Childhood, I felt a bit jarred. I didn't want the assumptions of Lucy's writing model, that I haven't even put into practice in my classroom yet, to be called into question. But the more I read, the more I feel that the two authors, both of whom I admire greatly, are simply in the midst of a delightful, important conversation. Like this, maybe:
Lucy: We need to teach kids the tools real writers use.
Shelley: Yup, but we mustn't forget to value and recognize that our students are, in fact, children.
Lucy: A powerful focus of the units is on how writers structure completed pieces of writing.
Shelley: Of course, that's a very important focus. But don't guide kids there at the expense of playful, imaginative, self-directed entries that will convert them to writing for life.
I'm no longer frustrated that the two authors have different stances, or that they zoom in on different ingredients of a strong writing workshop. In fact, exploring the tensions in such a nuanced conversation will give my teaching a thoughtful and rich leavening. A question I scribbled in my own writer's notebook, while reading through Lucy's first three units was: "Where's the poetry!!??" Well, I think Shelley gives a precise and encouraging answer to that question: trust yourself. I know my kids and know they're going to benefit enormously from many of the mini-lessons, read-alouds, and poetry selections that Shelley suggests as ways to warmly welcome students to writing and to help them step out onto the shaky ice where they must trust their own ways of seeing and must learn to believe in their own incredible voices.
Saturday, July 28, 2007
The Book of Qualities was a rec I pulled out of the kidlitosphere a few months back. I can't remember from which blog. At first I simply enjoyed the poetic personifications of various states of being. But they've taken on a whole new meaning with my recent musings about moral reasoning and my efforts to define my own set(s) of important values. Not only is there a long list of many different values and qualities, but each one has a unique, carefully rendered character sketch to help a searcher remember and consider its particular quirks and hues.
Friday, July 27, 2007
But just like the last book, the one I just finished had some gems that made me grateful to the man's brilliant teaching, if not the ways his writings and practices might be misused. "WORK HARD. BE NICE." was our classroom motto last year, straight from his book. And this year I'm gonna add something new, related to the motto. Rafe teaches his students Kohlberg's model of moral development and helps them think about their motives for making choices. I modified the model, to include a feminist and cultural critique, but I'm also going to teach moral reasoning to my students.
Here's my kid-friendly version:
Why We Make the Choices We Make
LEVEL 1: Fear. I'm afraid of being punished or hurt.
LEVEL 2: I want a reward.
LEVEL 3: I want approval. I hope somebody else will like my choices.
LEVEL 4: Rules. I understand rules are good and important and I choose to follow them.
LEVEL 5: Love and Commitment. I care about other people and I am a thoughtful member of a community. This love leads me to develop a personal code of ethics, and I follow it.
It's powerful to have clarity about a personal code of ethics. I believe in being compassionate and forgiving. But until those values get kneaded into the very center of my selfness, it's rather helpful to be consciously committed to them. "This is who I am," I have to remind myself--until I really am. I noticed myself being more patient on the road and more able to connect with other people today, after meditating just a tiny bit on these levels and on my desire to truly live up to my values.
Here is a related study of middle-schoolers who kept "gratitude lists" for two weeks. The act of counting their blessings helped these kids become more grateful (and happy) people. Qualifying the short duration of the journaling project, the writer of the study supposes that "becoming a grateful person takes a prolonged consistent effort." But, he goes on, "the time to start practicing gratitude is when you’re young, and I think schools can play a vital role."
If YOU had to choose 5 values, your top 5, to list in a personal code of ethics, what would they be? My husband would list hospitality in his top 5. Hey, this is a great way to twist that catchy "My Five" phrase. Who's in your five? Patience? Justice? Peace? Loyalty? Honesty? Kindness? Gratitude? Well?
Wednesday, July 25, 2007
Based on my experiences, the portrayals in this book of a contemporary African village are very authentic. The whole story surrounds the celebration and blessing of a newborn baby. Not only are the land, clothing, and traditions very similar to those of the Sudanese people I know and love, but this book also depicts a uniquely African way of esteeming the wisdom of elders, and it also highlights the practice of using oral fables as tools that entertain as well as instruct. What I like most about this book, though, is the way these values and ways of being aren't foregrounded or played up. They're just part of the landscape. Having traditional African beliefs and values is simply a natural and lovely way to be.
I so wish there were more books like this to feed all three of my girls' emerging, fragile identities.
“Keep on going! You are so close!” Uncle Jared said. After going up the boulders, I finally got to the top of
Tuesday, July 24, 2007
Read Chapter 1
Discuss. One result of this POV: humor.
Some of my kids who are bilingual will need this extra explicit support to understand the tongue in cheek humor of this deceptively simple book. But once they finish this book and its sequel, On the Road, they will be well on their way towards understanding the narrative structure of Huck Finn. Do kids still read Huck Finn in high school? I hope so.
BTW: that's my 13th original booktalk. Only seven more to go to reach my summer goal. And I've linked to several, as well. I should have enough ready to go that I won't have any excuse not to do at least two a day until October. And by then my students ought to be able to contribute to the effort as well. A fact I'd rather not admit: this will be my first year that I am planning to earnestly engage in the difficult art of effective booktalking.
The Time I Gave Ducan a Shower
It was a hot summer sunny day. I was giving Ducan a walk. I was saying to myself, Ducan looks so dry and dirty. I should give him a bath.
When I got home, I tied him up and I put on my swim suit. I got the garden hose and started splashing. The most important thing about Ducan is he hates baths. I started spraying him. He started to bark really loud and I yelled at him. “Ducan shut-up,” I said.
I washed him with the dog shampoo and put on some conditioner. After, I dried him with a towel. I styled his fur with hair gel. Hee hee. I thought it was only for humans. Guess not in my world. Just joking.
I gave him another walk and lots of people wanted to pet him. He smelled good and his fur sparkled in the sun. I was proud of myself. I love Ducan he’s like my brother. He always smiles just like me.
Hip-hip-hooray for Lucy Calkins' Units of Study for Teaching Writing Books. I sure love this model for teaching writing. I hope it goes as well with a class of students as it has been going with my three daughters during the summer.
Sunday, July 22, 2007
I found myself nodding adamantly when Hecht took on multi-cultural relativism in regards to Islam. Pointing to the work of the doubter Ibn Warraq she writes, "Diffusing the present global threat should be understood as dragging Islam through the same process that her older sisters have undergone: separation of church and state, an increase in gender equity, recognition of other religions as partaking in the same truths and a willingness to have secular standards of conduct applied within their ranks." Like the free-thinkers she admires and describes, she demonstrates an ability to voice an unpopular truth. Harshly critiquing not just "fundamentalist" Islam, but the religion in general, is, I believe an admirable act of courage.
In one of her departing paragraphs, Hecht sums up the lessons of doubt thus:
From doubt's beginnings, it has advised that if you create your own desires and model them after what you actually experience, you can be happy. Accept that we are animals, but ones with special problems, and that the world is natural, but natural is just an idea that we animals have in our heads. Devote yourself to wisdom, self-knowledge, friends, family, and give some attention to community, politics, money, and pleasure. Know that none of it brings happiness all that consistently. It's best to stay agile, to keep an open mind. Anyway, if you live long enough, you'll find yourself believing something that you'd never believe today. Or disbelieve. In a funny way, the one thing you can really count on is doubt. Expect change. Accept death. Enjoy life. As Marcus Aurelius explained, the brains that got you through the troubles you have had so far, will get you through any troubles yet to come.
Nice, huh? Anyway-books lead to new books and new questions and new interests. The teachings and practices of the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus are a new interest of mine. And I'm also gonna reread The Tao of Pooh.