Monday, November 26, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading? 11/26

   Every week I participate in this meme hosted by the lovely ladies over at Teach Mentor Texts.  Jen and Kellee had the brilliant idea to adapt this meme to talk about the great young adult and children's literature that we are reading.  Head over to their blog for more great reads and a plethora of recommendations of great kidlit.

Books I Finished this Week:

I ordered a huge bunch of books from Scholastic a couple weeks ago and the huge box arrived last week.  One of the books I was most excited about was Capture the Flag by Kate Messner.  I enjoyed Teachers Write this summer so much and Kate is so amazing!  This was a fun adventure and mystery that I know my students will love reading.  I can't wait to read the other books in this series when they come out.

Another book I was excited to get in the Scholastic box was Turtle in Paradise by Jenni Holm.  In the last four years or so, I have gone to Key West with my mother for the Key West Literary Seminar every January.  I love being there and every time I'm there I imagine what it might be like to live there.  I love how this book really celebrates the place as well as telling a great story.  The fact that it is historical fiction and depicts the depression era well makes it a must-read book.  I really loved Turtle and commiserated with her plight.  I will definitely recommend this book to all my students.

I can see what all the people that tweet it are talking about.  THE ENDING!!!!  I hope Sarah Rees Brennan hurries up with the sequel to Unspoken because I have to know what happens next.  I really liked the premise of this book.  What would it be like to have another person's thoughts and feelings in your head?  I think the author did an excellent job of really making the reader consider how it would feel to have that happening and how intimate your relationship would feel.  The world in the book is a very interesting world and I am curious to see where the next book leads us.

I absolutely loved How They Croaked: The Awful Ends of the Awfully Famous by Georgia Bragg.  This is an excellent example of how informational text does not have to be boring.  I learned so much from this book about some very famous people.  Each section is a mini-biography of a famous person mixed in with how they died.  The author does an excellent job of explaining the medical procedures in each era.  I will definitely recommend this one to all my students as well.

Having participated in drama productions throughout middle school and high school, I was very appreciative of the story line in Drama by Raina Telgemeier.  I love the graphic novel format and I think the story is a perfect fit for middle school students.  Putting on a play is a complicated process and Raina Telgemeier really captures that as well as the awkwardness of middle school relationships.

I had a student read this book and give it to me to read.  I am so glad that I read Skinny by Donna Cooner. It is an important book and it gives voice to an important subject.  I could relate to Ever throughout the book.  Although I have never been as obese as she is at the start of the novel, I have had weight struggles my whole life.  The existence of Skinny, the voice that talks to Ever in a negative way, really rings true.  We all have that awful voice inside of us that brings down our self-esteem and nags at us.  I love the way Ever evolved in this book and I think it is an important lesson that students could gain.

Books I am Currently Reading:

On the way to and from Madison, my husband and I listened to Infinity Ring by James Dashner.  I am about halfway through the audiobook and am enjoying the story.  It is definitely more of a middle grades story, but it is a fun book to listen to.

I don't know what I will read this week.  I have a few books from the library and a bunch of books from my Scholastic order.  I also have report cards due on Friday and the last week of NaNoWriMo looming over my head.  I guess I will play it by ear this week.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Feeling Thankful

First of all, I can't believe it is already Thanksgiving break.  My, how time flies!  This Thanksgiving, I am feeling especially thankful for my life and my profession.  Here are a few reasons why:

Thankful Reason #1: What doesn't kill you makes you stronger...but I am glad it is over.  

    At this time last year I was feeling down in the dumps.  I had a nearly impossible teaching situation and students who were cruel to me and ruined every opportunity for fun in the classroom.  I felt awful for the other students who had to put up with this situation and I felt awful for myself.  In my K-8 school, we had been devastated by budget cuts and we lost 10 teachers from our building.  When all was said and done, we just couldn't keep the two classes that were coming into 8th grade separate as smaller classes so we had one HUGE 8th grade class.  I was the teacher for this class and I thought I was up to the task of looping with the students to teach them 8th grade.  My class list had 38 students.  We crammed ourselves into a classroom that was built for elementary school grades and we got down to the business of learning...kind of.  I did my best to use engaging strategies and involve my students in their learning, but let's face it, this was a daunting task.  Add on top of this the fact that I was the only teacher at that grade level and the one responsible for teaching ALL subjects (reading, language arts, math, science, social studies, art, spanish, technology and health) and the task became impossible.  I am so thankful that I survived that school year relatively unscathed.  I actually have had multiple students come to visit this year so it seems that not all of them have negative feelings about their experience and I am thankful that they know I care about them.

Thankful Reason #2: These are a few of my favorite things...

     This year is so different from last year.  I have a great group of students who recognize the merits of treating people respectfully.  The school year got off to a great vibe and at this point I am so happy about the way things are going.  Reading workshop is humming along and all of my students have finished multiple books at this point.  All of my students also reported that they have started to like reading (if they didn't already) thankful for that.  The best present of all for me this year is that this is the first year since I moved up to middle school grades that I have heard students talking about enjoying my class.  I am so happy to hear this again.  That is the thing I had missed the most from working with fourth and fifth graders and I am so thankful to have it back.  I am not sure what is different except for the fact that this is the first year that students didn't have me as their teacher already in fourth or fifth grade.  My students that I have for Language Arts say that I am their favorite teacher.  I know it shouldn't matter and that middle school students are fickle, but it is nice to hear that.  I am excited about what we will be able to accomplish with this much positive momentum.

Thankful Reason #3: Connections 

     Whatever impetus made me decide to pay more attention to my Twitter account was a godsend.  Without it, I would not have seen the information about TeachersWrite this summer.  Without that group, I would not have connected with so many passionate educators on Twitter.  I am so thankful for my PLN--they keep me energized and enthusiastic about teaching.  I have spent thirteen years teaching without finding other teachers who have the same passion for reading and spreading the reading love.  When I found the Nerdy Book Club blog, I was so excited.  Finally, I am able to talk to other people who are just as book obsessed as I am (and maybe more so in some cases).  This has truly been an inspirational change in my life and I am truly thankful for the great people I talk to on Twitter and the amazing authors that I have met as a result.

Thankful Reason #4: NaNoWriMo--Are we crazy?

     Although I may not be winning because I am so far behind my goal, many of my students will be meeting their goals for the month of November.  It is amazing to be able to see the whole classroom of students diligently typing away during my ELA classes.  These students are so very creative.  They have excellent plot ideas and I have been impressed by what I have seen so far.  The best thing that came out of this experience was summed up by one student who said that she was figuring out that the more she wrote the easier it became and the faster her ideas flowed.  I know that will not always be the case, but from students who were asking at the beginning of the year how many paragraphs their writing pieces had to be--and gasping if I said they should probably have at least a page--this flow of writing is awesome.

Thankful Reason #5: Sunshine and Snow Write

     I am also thankful for collaboration.  Mrs. Jennifer Fountain and I have started an Edmodo group with our 8th grade students so that they can collaborate.  What is awesome about this is that my classes are in Wisconsin and her classes are in Texas.  It is so fun to bring common lessons to the students and to ask them to interact with each other online in this way.  So far, the students have enjoyed figuring out that they are very similar and have similar tastes.  We will be doing more collaboration throughout the year and I am so thankful that I can provide my students with this cool opportunity.

There are many more reasons for feeling thankful in my life.  I hope to meet more of the people I have talked to on Twitter in the future.  I am looking forward to the Wisconsin State Reading Association conference in February where I hope to be able to connect with a few authors and fellow educators.  I also am thankful for my husband who is so patient with me.  I am so happy that he is studying to become a teacher because I know he will be an excellent one.

Happy Thanksgiving!  What are you thankful for?  Please share in the comments :)

Monday, November 19, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading? 11/19

Every week I participate in this meme hosted by the lovely ladies over at Teach Mentor Texts.  Jen and Kellee had the brilliant idea to adapt this meme to talk about the great young adult and children's literature that we are reading.  Head over to their blog for more great reads and a plethora of recommendations of great kidlit.

This was a pretty good reading week for me.  I went to the library on Saturday and got a book stack of picture books that I have been meaning to read and I stuck to some shorter books this week since I have been reading longer ones lately.

Books I Finished This Week:

I finally finished the audiobook of Blood Red Road by Moira Young.  I loved this one!  I like how Saba really grows up and learns to accept help and be more patient with her sister.  I loved the love story in this book too, although I was quite frustrated by how idiotic Saba acted toward Jack throughout the book.  I am really excited for the sequel.  The narration on this audiobook was really good.  I loved the voice of the narrator.

I acquired Shelter by Harlan Coben at a library sale earlier this fall.  I love his adult books and was sure I would love this one.  I did really like the book.  It was a good mystery and I think that the author did a good job of getting in the head of his teenage protagonist.  The story behind the mystery was an interesting one as well.  I would recommend this one to high school students.

Zitface by Emily Howse was a quick read.  It is one I would recommend for younger middle school readers, but I didn't really enjoy it all that much.  The protagonist is a girl who does commercials and enjoys it, but one day she starts to develop acne and it really gets in her way.  The story is well done, because I could really feel the pain of this young girl as she tries to go about her normal life, but she is young and naive and that annoyed me a little.

I LOVED Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi.  The whole premise of the book is amazing.  A girl who can kill people by touching them?  Wow!  I think the author did an excellent job of really delving into what kind of psychological scars a person would have if they were unable to touch anyone their whole life.  The guilt that Juliette feels over this power is awful.  I absolutely fell in love with Adam in this book.  I love that they both silently admired each other from afar and that he sought her and found her.  This was an adventure from the first page to the last.  The dystopian world they live in is a disaster and there is not much hope for their future under this regime.  I cannot wait to read the rest of the series.  I would highly recommend this one for grades 8 and up.

Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes by Chris Crutcher was another book I loved.  There are so many twists and turns and he deals with so many hot button issues in this book.  I love the character of Ms. Lemry.  There are great teachers out there who care about their students the way she does and it was good to see one in this book.   I can see why this book was controversial, but I loved it and I think my students will too.

Picture books I read this week:

All of the picture books I read were very good.  I love Island because of the nonfiction information that it gave in such a beautiful package.

I can see why so many people are raving about this one.  It is really funny and would be a good book to use for inferences.

The Obstinate Pen was really fun to read.  I can see younger students really laughing about the funny insults the pen writes to the people that try to write with it.

This one was very cute and I can see how younger students would enjoy it.  

I am slowly but surely making my way through the Amulet series.  This was another great installment.  

What I am Currently Reading:

Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan and How They Croaked 

On The Horizon:

I will start to listen to The Infinity Ring this week.  I will also read Skinny for sure because a student wants me to read it.  I got Where She Went and The Sky is Everywhere at the library so I think I will delve into those over next weekend.  Otherwise, I will see where my mood takes me this week.  

Monday, November 12, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading? 11/12

Every week I participate in this meme hosted by the lovely ladies over at Teach Mentor Texts.  Jen and Kellee had the brilliant idea to adapt this meme to talk about the great young adult and children's literature that we are reading.  Head over to their blog for more great reads and a plethora of recommendations of great kidlit.

Books I Finished This Week:

The Diviners by Libba Bray was so much fun to read!  I love mysteries so this one was right up my alley.  I really enjoy all of this author's work and this one is the best yet in my opinion.  There are so many details that are so fascinating about the roaring twenties.  I enjoyed reading about the world of these characters.  I can't wait for the next book in the series to find out more about the diviners and what is coming next.

The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner reminded me of Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events.  The book had the same kind of voice to it with the snarky and hilarious narrator.  It was a quick and fun read and I would definitely recommend it for middle grades students.

Skellig by David Almond was a beautiful story.  Throughout the book, I found myself thinking about the book The Monster Calls by Patrick Ness.  I think Skellig in this story seemed to appear to Michael much the same as the Monster appears to the protagonist in that story when there is a need for him.  I enjoyed reading about Michael and Mina and their care for Skellig.  I would recommend this book for grades 6 and up.

Currently Reading:

I am listening to Blood Red Road and getting frustrated because it is getting so good and I can't go faster.  I will definitely be getting some good workouts in this week because I want to hear the rest of the book!

I started Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi

On the Horizon:

I am not sure what I will read this week.  I will just go with whatever I feel like grabbing.  I think it will probably be a series of shorter books.  I have been reading some longer books lately and I want to take a little break from that.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

What is the problem with Common Core Reading Standards?

     I have been thinking about this topic quite often since this summer.  I spent a lot of the summer studying the standards and spending time getting to know them better.  At the Learning Forward conference this summer, I attended a session with Timothy Shanahan.  His session really helped me to understand the structure in the standards and how this structure really relates to close reading and shows the connection between writing and reading.  I know there are some critics out there of his ideas and I can see why because some of what he said could be controversial.  However, the essence of what he was saying about text complexity really made sense to me.  We need to spend time figuring out what makes text complex so that we can help students learn about those potential roadblocks.  We also need to give our students a chance to tackle short passages that are complex so that they learn how to do this.
     I don't understand what the problem is with the Common Core State Standards.  It seems that there are a lot of people out there that really do not like the standards.  Why? Having standards that demand that we set high expectations for our students is not a bad thing.  These standards define a course of action for teachers and give us a way to make sure that the students read deeply.  I love it that there is a Range of Reading standard that asks us to ensure that students are reading a variety of texts and that there is emphasis on both literary and informational text.
     This summer I discovered the Nerdy Book Club and the many amazing educators that are on Twitter and share my same passion for reading.  Being a reader, I have read many books about literacy education and I wholeheartedly agree that the Reading Workshop is the best way that I have ever taught reading.  I work hard to match readers to books and get every student in my classroom reading and enjoying books.  This is no small feat seeing as how I teach 8th graders and they have decided that reading is "uncool" by this time in their lives.  It takes patience and quite a bit of stubborn tenacity to win over every student, but every year I get them all.  Most become readers and learn to enjoy reading. Some still would choose pretty much anything besides reading to do in their spare time, but they have read at least one book during the time with me that they admit was a good story.  Many of my students come into my classroom unable to answer the question that I pose about what the last good book they read was.  Many have been fake reading for a few years now and think that they will be able to fake their way through our reading conferences.  That is, until they realize that I have read almost all of the books that are in our class library and they aren't going to get away with that.  Being able to have conversations with my readers about what they enjoy and what they don't enjoy while reading helps me to get to know the amazing young people that I am working with.  I love being able to bring a book into school and put it in front of a student because that is who I was thinking about when I found the book.  I love reading workshop and I love teaching kids to love books.
     I say all this as a preface to my next thoughts, because I don't want anyone to get the wrong impression.  I absolutely want to create independent, thoughtful readers who know what they like to read and I think it is incredibly important to match students to books they can read on their own so they don't become frustrated.  However, I do not think there is anything wrong with asking students to stretch and read some things that may be too difficult for them.  It is my job as a teacher to make sure that my students move from where they are to where they need to be.  If I have students who are reading at a fourth grade level, that is absolutely the level of books I will give them to read independently.  But I will also work on texts at the 8th grade level and beyond with them to help them get there.  If I never expose these readers to tough text, they will never get a chance to learn how to tackle it.  I want to be able to scaffold reading so that my struggling readers can approach it.  I want them to be able to feel that sense of accomplishment from reading something that challenges them and getting it.  This maybe happens only during my mini-lessons in reading workshop, but it has to happen. I agree that we need to expose students to differing levels of text complexity so that they can learn the strategies we all use to get through texts that challenge us.  As an adult, I would so much prefer to read books that are easy and enjoyable, but I also sometimes am confronted by challenging text that is outside of my comfort zone.  I can't choose to ignore it and I have developed ways of dealing with that type of text, but I know my students do not have this set of tools in their toolbox.  It is my job as their teacher to provide opportunities to fill up their toolbox with all kinds of tools.  Are they always going to love the things they are asked to read?  Absolutely not, and it is ridiculous to give them that false sense. What we can do for our students is to give them the tools necessary to be able to tackle tough texts without becoming frustrated.  If they never encounter difficult texts, how will we do that?
     Providing my students with a place in which they can learn to love reading is my first and most important goal.  Giving them choices about what they read is important to me as well.  But I must also provide my students with experiences that prepare them for the challenging texts they might encounter in their lives.  Part of my job as an 8th grade teacher is to prepare my students for success in high school.  This means helping them have the tools they need to be able to read complex informational text or to be able to read the required literary text that might not always be their choice.

Monday, November 5, 2012

It's Monday! What are you reading? 11/5

Every week I participate in this meme hosted by the lovely ladies over at Teach Mentor Texts.  Jen and Kellee had the brilliant idea to adapt this meme to talk about the great young adult and children's literature that we are reading.  Head over to their blog for more great reads and a plethora of recommendations of great kidlit.

My poor blog only has had these posts since summertime.  I have so many ideas for writing but so little time.  And this month I am participating in NaNoWriMo so I will have even less time to devote to blog writing.  Oh, well...

This week I had a pretty good reading week.  I was sick on Wednesday and Thursday...I actually stayed home from school which is very uncommon for me.  I felt so awful that I couldn't even really read.  That is saying quite a lot.  Luckily, it didn't last too long and I was able to get in some good reading this weekend.  

Books I Finished This Week:

I needed a fun picture book to use with my seventh grade ELA class to talk about narrative structure.  I am so glad I picked up this picture book The Three Little Wolves and The Big Bad Pig by Eugene Trivizas.  It is a fun twist on the classic and the middle schoolers loved the modern twists.  

I love Babymouse.  These are three more titles that I picked up for my classroom.  I think I have read almost all of the series now.  I highly recommend these fun graphic novels.  

The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan was another great adventure with the demigods.  For some reason I wasn't really feeling this story.  I think it probably had to do with the fact that I was not feeling well for the majority of the time I was reading this one.  I did not like the ending.  Now I have to wait for the next one to see what happens!  So unfair!  Anyway, if you like his other books, you will like this one too.  

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer was a really funny book about a really disturbing set of circumstances.  I love how the author did an homage to rock music throughout the book with the creative chapter titles.  I was singing to myself as I read the book.  I can't imagine what it would be like to find out you are supernatural from a stranger who puts your life in chaos.  The protagonist is thrown into a situation that he is not prepared for in the least and is literally working to save the lives of all of his loved ones.  I felt that the story was a little unbelievable at times, but I was still very entertained by it.  I will definitely look for the next one.  I wonder if that one will have movie references as chapter titles.  

I am so glad that I was still feeling healthy on Tuesday night so I could go see Michelle Hodkin at our local library.  I had so much fun and she is such a fabulous lady!  The highlight was buying both of her books and getting them signed.  I kept this one for the weekend because I knew I would want to be able to lose myself in the story.   This book delivered in a big way!  It is part mystery, part romance, part thriller.  My mind is still reeling from the way the plot twisted and turned.  The ENDING!!! OMG!  If you have not read this series yet, you need to go get it and read it. I would recommend the books for grades 8 and up.  

What I am currently reading:

Still listening to Blood Red Road

What is up next:

I probably will read The Diviners this week.  I am not sure what else I will pick up.  I have been reading a lot of big books lately and might decide to pick up some shorter ones for a change.  I also might take a book or two off my other book shelf with titles that are not YA titles.  We shall see how the week goes.