Posted in books

Road Trip

“Great things can happen from little starts.”

Gary and Jim Paulsen’s Road Trip took me mere hours to complete. Not because the book’s lexile is 700, grade level equivalency 4.3, but because the misadventures of Ben, his father, Theo, Gus, Mia, and Atticus the border collie captivated me from the first lines. Gary Paulsen, known for books such as Hatchet, Lawn Boy, and Liar, Liar, has once again spun an adventure perfect for reluctant readers. I found while reading that the content level may be above the lexile, including more mature content such as theft of property, running from cops and prison time, and the threat of violence. The conflicts, however, help unite the mismatched characters, allowing them to team up in the end for a perfectly timed resolution.

This book includes many perfect examples for the ELA classroom including: plot structure and story arc, conflict and conflict types, conflict resolution, and narration and point of view/perspective. The inclusion of Atticus’ point of view allows readers to glimpse into the perspectives of other characters, although Atticus is giving us a 1st person perspective. It is almost as if he is 3rd person omniscient. This perspective would also allow the class to discuss foreshadowing and irony.

All in all, Road Trip was a fun read. This teacher highly recommends it!

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Posted in books

A Wrinkle in Time

‘Maybe I don’t like being different,’ Meg said, ‘but I don’t want to be like everybody else, either.’

finally finished A Wrinkle in Time, just a short hour ago. Yes, this short, YA novel took me nearly two months to read. While I did enjoy the book’s story, I did not find it as enticing as many other new novels hitting the shelves these days, and perhaps this is why Wrinkle took me so long to complete. What I did find most enjoyable were all of the connections that I made to other fantasy novels. While reading, I was reminded of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Phantom Tollbooth. Perhaps these connections were based solely on the adventure, and the main character, Meg, finding her true purpose through her journey, but isn’t that what reading is all about, making connections? Frankly, it was these connections that kept me plodding through the pages. I imagine that had I read this novel as a child I would have been enthralled with the imaginative story; the whimsy of Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, and Mrs Which; and the suspense surrounding Mr Murray and Charles Wallace.

‘Like and equal are two entirely different things.’

I do not plan to read Madeleine L’Engle’s sequels any time soon, but perhaps in the coming months my mind will change. I have a feeling that this is the kind of book that will stick with me, that will be recommended time and time again. I have a feeling that I will mull over Meg’s interaction with IT and just how she was able to overcome. My copious notes on literary devices, symbolism, and important quotations alone have me curious why I did not enjoy the book as intensely as my curiosity has guided me.  Perhaps I will not pick up another of L’Engle’s books, but perhaps I will rekindle the friendship with Meg, Charles Wallace, and Calvin.

Posted in reflection

Goodbye Summer

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gone are the days of finding turtles in the garden, back to the days of quick lunches, verbals, playground duty, and teaching young minds

I may not have met all of my goals for the summer, but my classroom is ready and that calls for a happy dance! I can officially go look at the new building on Monday, and I could not be more ecstatic. I was feeling a bit apprehensive about the start of the new year. This summer was so relaxing – full of yoga, gardening, trashy tv, kitty snuggles, and the idea of books that I should be reading (in all honesty, I read 2 and a half) – and I wasn’t sure I was ready to give that up until I heard the new school was ready. That sealed the deal.

I have spent the summer pondering classroom setups, classroom themes, classroom jobs, read alouds, the works. Early on I settled on a Reading Rainbow theme (80s babies rejoice!) I am still deciding on whether to go with a board that looks more like this with copies of book covers or if I should make the board interactive. I am leaning toward an interactive board that allows students to post on the rainbow when they finish a book.

Another addition to my room this year will be a word wall. My 6th graders last year had an extremely difficult time with parts of speech. The word wall will allow students to post new words into categories and will serve as a visual reminder when needed. We will do this when learning new vocab words and when discussing specific parts of speech. I introduced a word wall last year with adjectives and adverbs, and it was wildly successful.

Lastly, I plan to include classroom jobs this year. The idea that I keep coming back to is to have “at bat” and “on deck” – but I can’t have two themes in one classroom, can I? The jobs that I know I need are:

  • tech support (helps pass out, collect, plug in chromebooks) – 2 students per class
  • librarian (straightens books, checks in/out books) – 2 student per class
  • white board team (updates agenda, erases board) – 2 students per class
  • teacher assistant (collects papers, passes back papers, fills in absentee binder) – 2 students per class
  • supply team (passes out materials and collects materials) – 2 students per class

What are you planning for the new year? Any big changes? Anything you’re super excited for? I can’t believe summer’s almost over, but I’m so excited for the year to start!

 

Posted in books, teaching practice

Authentic Reading – Inauthentic Opinion

“Fake it till you make it.”

I have heard this saying many times, in many contexts, from many people. But I didn’t know the true meaning of this saying until I began teaching. My previous jobs – I say job because do you truly have a career shift in your 20s – provided on the job training, slow progression to larger tasks, individualized work plans, and the opportunity to figure things out before a big event or project. Sure, teaching has its training, classes, support systems, but you don’t really know what you’re doing until you meet your students. You “fake it till you make it.” They may know that you are new; if they have been to the school before, the will know you are new. But they don’t have to know that you are unsure of yourself.

While this is the largest application of faking it till you make it, there are countless others: sharing your love of reading (even if you hate it), sharing your school spirit (even if your basketball team hasn’t won a game in years), sharing your penchant for grammar (even if comma rules give you nightmares). Your students are sponges. They pick up everything you say and everything you do. They focus on your tone and your facial expressions. They can tell if the topic of the day is your favorite or not. But, they can also be easily fooled.

Our school teaches two novels a year in tandem with the text book. The novel for 6th grade will be changing to Wonder (yay!), but we had been teaching Dragonwings. I don’t know if you had ever read Dragonwings, but it was definitely not my cup of tea. It did have adventure and magic realism, but I’m more into realistic fiction, science fiction, and memoirs. Did my students know that I didn’t like this book, though? No! I told them before we started how much I loved the book and how excited I was to discuss it with them. They went home, read ahead, and could not wait to tell me their favorite parts.

I knew in those weeks that I could not steal any learning moments from my students. I could not steal any joy from them. Just because we may be covering something that I did not care for, that does not mean that one of my students may not find it to be the most fascinating piece of literature ever written. By faking your enthusiasm for required content, you allow your students the opportunity to make their own decisions about the content. They may come to the same conclusion you – many of my students did – but let them have that experience.

Posted in teaching practice

When Discussion Gets Tough

As I sit here, I’m not quite sure where to begin writing. Reflecting on the week’s, month’s, year’s events, I am saddened by the state of our world and the society where our young people are expected to find their place. This past year I taught at an urban school. My students came from all backgrounds, races, countries, economic status, and family make up. My students had a variety of obstacles during the year. Many were miles below grade level while many were miles ahead. Many took care of siblings while parents worked while others worked themselves. I had students from single parent homes, students from broken homes, students from two parent homes. I had students who had experienced gang activity and the prison system while others imagined they were far, far away from that world. But no matter the class makeup, we all had educational goals to accomplish. These students were a family. They came to school everyday, despite their many differences, and succeeded.

As I sit here and reflect on the recent deaths – Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and 5 Dallas police officers – I anticipate questions from this group of students. Why did this happen? Why were these men apprehended? Why were the police killed if they were helping the protest? When will this stop? At the beginning of the year, I was nervous to have these conversations with my 6th and 8th graders, believing that I was there to teach reading skills and grammar, and that these conversations should happen in Social Studies or at home. I was terrified to say the wrong thing, and so instead I said nothing.

Saying nothing is worse than saying the wrong thing, especially to a group of middle school students. They are receiving information from social media, their friends, the news, parents, but they do not know how to process it. As educators, we can and should have these tough conversations with our students. We should be willing and able to help our students navigate these situations by finding the facts, by finding the heroes, by finding support, and by finding an individual outlet. Many of my students merely wanted an outlet; with so many feelings, they needed a way to channel their emotion productively. Eventually we began writing about these feelings. My students wrote poetry, songs, stories, all from the heart. They wanted to share their thoughts and opinions. They had an outlet and someone to listen to them.

http://www.tolerance.org has wonderful resources to help teaching about any difference. They published a package of resources in August 2014 in response to the Michael Brown shooting. While several of these resources are specific to Ferguson and Michael Brown, many others are applicable to today’s events as well. Other resources and articles you may find helpful are: