Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Cover-Up, Mystery at the Super Bowl, by John Feinstein

I mentioned a couple months back that it was going to be nice to be looking for new, fantastic books now that I've gotten to know this particular batch of readers. Zipping through this book was a delightful rush, because every ten sentences I'd stop and think, "So-and-So, (fill in with one of my boy students' names,) will love this book." Even though it's still in hardback I might order two or three copies for my classroom library. Okay, just two.

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

Reading Results

This week my students took the Gates-McGinnity reading test for the second time this year. The first time was back in mid-September. The results, after three solid months of choice-driven reading workshop instruction??? Good. Very good.

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

Seven Things Meme

Seven Things About Me As A Reader

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.