Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Finish Line (Slice 31 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

We made it!  I did it!  I have crossed the finish line and I feel the euphoria pumping as I do when I am running.  Now, it is time to pig out a little and reflect on my performance.  In running, the training begins again soon after one race stops.  In writing, I will continue to develop the habit of regular writing.

The training involved in this race was quite rigorous.  I did not write every day before we started and I was not sure I would be able to keep it up.  There were some days when the blog post was underwhelming, but I pushed through and made it to the end.  Just as in exercise, sometimes you just have to force yourself to do it and you usually feel better after you finish.

I am proud of the way I made writing a daily habit this month.  I will continue to make writing a more regular part of my schedule because I saw how I started to have more ideas the more I wrote.  It really makes me think about how to structure writing workshop for my students.  I have struggled this year with the need to teach certain things and the culture at my school of assigning prompts.  I want to be able to have students do a true workshop but they have never done this before and they are stopped by their own doubts.  Many of them do not believe they have anything to write about, even though I work hard to help them come up with lists of topics and try to provide examples.  This daily writing really helped me to come up with a lot of topics to write about and also helped me understand that some pieces are worth going back to and some are just first drafts.  It is in regular training that a runner sees improvement and it is in daily writing that a writer will begin to see improvement.

Now that I have crossed this finish line, I can celebrate the accomplishment of writing daily.  I will spend some time celebrating and then get back to the training!  It is through the habit of writing that I will continue to improve.  It is time to keep those fingers tapping the keyboard just as I keep feet pounding on the pavement.  Through the habit of writing daily, I will be able to increase stamina and accomplish my goals.  Now, to start running again (but that's another post).

Congratulations to everyone who completed the Slice of Life Challenge!  Woo-hoo!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Root Beer Memories (Slice 30 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Since I am not feeling so well, and my throat is sore, I have found myself sucking on a lot of cough drops and hard candy.  This led to my thinking about root beer barrels and other root beer related memories.  Perhaps at some point this might become a poem, but for now I think a list is all I can muster.

My Top Five Root-Beer-Related Memories:

1. Root Beer Barrels--Every week when we went grocery shopping we stopped at the Brach's display to scoop up more of this delicious hard candy.  My father was obsessed with these little drops of joy.  After my father passed away, one of the most heartfelt and memorable cards we received came with a package of root beer barrels.  One of the employees that my father managed sent us this memorial because she was so appreciative of the way my father listened to her and always had a root beer barrel in his candy dish for whoever came into his office.  It was the perfect thing to hear at that moment of grief.  She helped me to see how my father's empathy had touched so many lives beyond what he even knew.  I realized that is what I wanted to do in my life also, and root beer barrels still serve as a silent reminder to me of the quiet influence I would like to have on those around me.

2. Even before I could drink actual beer, I loved going to Water Street Brewery, a local brewpub.  They have some amazing root beer on tap!  Another local favorite is Sprecher Brewery.  Their root beer is amazing and sold in supermarkets all around us.  This is a special vanilla treat on a hot summer day.  

3. I will never forget the day when I gave Julia, the German exchange student staying with us, a root beer.  She took one sip and spit it out immediately.  Her face was contorted into the most interesting expression of disgust I have ever seen.  I didn't have a clue that this sweet and flavorful drink could be so ridiculously disgusting to someone who hadn't tasted it before.  I have had the pleasure of laughing hysterically as several more of my European friends throughout the years have tried root beer and experienced the same level of disgust.  I still don't quite understand it, but I guess it's their loss!

4. When we used to go to a campground near Wisconsin Dells with our motorhome, my parents would go into the tiny restaurant/bar and order a "root beer" for grown-ups.  I never got to have one of these...but I got a tiny sip once in a while.  At this place, the proprietors had dreamt up a cocktail of a simple nature.  Root Beer Schnapps with Cola made up this drink.  It is funny that my parents never had this drink anywhere else.  It was reserved for these camping trips at this special place.

5. Root Beer floats are one of the best treats ever.  I love how the soda froths up and becomes ever so creamy and the ice cream provides the perfect compliment to this amazing drink.  Another favorite of mine is the Black Cow (root beer shake).  There is just something about the way root beer mixes with the ice cream and provides the perfect deliciousness.  

Friday, March 29, 2013

Spring Break Cold (Slice 29 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

It never fails.  The first day of vacation from school and I am wrapped up in a blanket, with a box of tissues, and miserably coughing up a lung.  This particular cold was hovering for the last two weeks but did not erupt into explicit symptoms and misery until the last day before Spring Break.

I think that my body and mind conspire against me sometimes.  Although I am glad I do not have to work and can rest at home, I would much rather be completely healthy and enjoying the day.  My body always seems to know when I have time off and that is when I get sick. Not having to miss work is definitely something I am glad about, and my mind must make it a priority.  Is it possible to be that in control of your own body's reactions to germs and contagion?  Who knows?  Science is a mystery, right?

I hope this cold goes quickly and I can feel better for most of my break.  For now, I at least have an excuse for being lazy and reading all day.  I intend to do a Spring Break bookaday and get through a big stack of books.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Review: Hide and Seek (Slice 28 of 31)

Title: Hide and Seek
Author: Kate Messner

Publishing Date: April 1, 2013

Source: NetGalley

My Summary:  When Jose, Henry, and Anna meet again, they are excited to be able to see an exhibit of artifacts from Central and South America.  But when they discover that the Jaguar Cup that is on display is not the real cup, they take off to Costa Rica, along with their parents to investigate.

In Costa Rica, the kids go to stay at a resort in the rain forest with another Silver Jaguar Society member and his daughter while the parents go to San Juan to investigate.  When an earthquake cuts off communication, the kids start to investigate on their own.

My Thoughts:  I loved this one.  It was fast-paced and full of action.  I love how the kids are responsible for solving the mystery and the characters are so lovable.  It would be so much fun to have an adventure in the rainforest!  As she has done in all her books, Kate Messner managed to create a mystery that kept me guessing throughout.  The scenes in the rain forest were more amazing to think about after I saw Kate's talk at the WSRA.  She showed pictures of herself and her family on research trips.  She writes from the first-hand experience of staying at a resort in Costa Rica and trekking through the rain forest.  I couldn't help but picture the author there on that path with the big snake when the scene came up in the book.  I absolutely recommend this book to anyone grade 4 and up.  It is a great sequel to Capture the Flag and I will look forward to the next book about the Silver Jaguar Society.

5 of 5 Stars

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Book friends and a few crushes (Slice 27 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Today I had a little time to dig through my writer's notebook and look at some old posts from the summer for inspiration.  I found a small portion at the end of a longer post about my reading life that inspired an idea.  To see the post from earlier this year about my reading life you can go here.

I am playing with this idea and I keep thinking of other characters and situations I might add.  I tried to keep it to characters from books I read as a child or teen.  You will probably recognize most, but some are somewhat obscure.

When I Was Young

I drank cocoa on a dark and stormy night with Meg and Charles Wallace.
I spent summer afternoons sluething with Nancy and Trixie.
I bugged Beezus with Ramona.

I fell off the rooftop and into the Cuthbert's hearts with Anne.
I created a business with Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey, Kristy and Dawn.
I traveled the Orient Express with Poirot.

I cried until my eyes could cry no more with Scarlett's heartbreak.
I played a game to win an inheritance with Turtle.
I tormented Peter with Fudge.

I explored the big woods and ran through the prairie with Laura.
I fell in love with more heroes than I can count.
I shrank with Treehorn.

I hoped that god was there with Margaret.
I grieved for Beth with Jo.
I made cranes with Sadako.

And I did it all without leaving the couch.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Countdown to Spring Break(Slice 26 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

My slice today will be short and sweet.  I am so excited for Spring Break...two days left.  Tomorrow is a full moon and I have already been able to tell the crazy at school.

I can't wait for break next week!  I have a plan to read a LOT of books and relax.  I also want to rearrange my home office and get it better for my at-home work.  I also will scrub down the kitchen this week and vacuum the whole house.

Okay, I just have to make it two more days...I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.

Monday, March 25, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 3/25 (Slice 25 of 31)

This post is part of a meme in which we write about the books we have read in the last week and the books we are planning to read.  It is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.  Head on over to their blog for a lot of great books to add to your ro-read list.

I am also participating in the Slice of Life challenge hosted by the ladies at Two Writing Teachers in which we write a blog post every day in March.

With parent conferences and the Slice of Life challenge this week, I have not had a lot of time for reading.  Thank goodness I had the day off on Friday so that I could catch up on some reading.  However, I was also participating in a commenting challenge so I spent much of my time reading blog posts and commenting.

Books I Finished This Week:

I absolutely LOVED Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.  I was chuckling along with the story and enjoyed the mystery.  This was a book full of quirky and lovable characters.  I wrote a more extensive review here.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman is a thought-provoking and chilling book.  After the Second Civil War about reproductive rights a new law was established.  Life is untouchable from the time of conception until a child turns thirteen.  But from age thirteen to eighteen, parents can choose to "unwind" their children and have them taken apart to live on through their donated parts.  The premise of this book was already creepy, but the writing is so well done that it really made me think.  I read this book as part of The Dystopia Challenge 2013.  See more of my thoughts in my review here.

Books I am Currently Reading:

I am still listening to The Night Circus. I did not get to workout a lot this week so I didn't make much progress in this audiobook.  I am about halfway through this book and am really enjoying it.  I am also almost all the way through Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.  It is really great and a book I think most adults should read.

Books I am planning to read this week:

I will probably pick up Splendors and Glooms this week.  I don't know what else I will read, but I have a LOT of books to choose from.  I think I will probably also read Opening Minds by Peter Johnston.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Mindsets (Slice 24 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

In the past week, I have been reading the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck.  I wanted to read the book to understand more about her research.

About five years ago, I finished my Master's degree and my thesis.  This thesis included some action research about group work in math class and self-efficacy.  As part of my literature review, I pored over many studies and first learned of Dweck's theories about fixed mindset and growth mindset. Over the summer, I was very excited to be able to hear Carol Dweck give a keynote address at the Learning Forward conference.  So, I picked up this book knowing some of what I would be reading.  But what I didn't know was that she would present so many real life examples of how mindset can affect your life.  If you don't know about this idea, here is a great infographic that can give you a quick idea:

The section in this book about sports and mindset is fascinating.  The famous athletes she chose to highlight are perfect examples of each mindset and serve to make her point in a very powerful way.  I have been trying to figure out exactly how to teach my students about this and I think some of these examples would be great additions to whatever unit I do end up creating.

When I read the section of her book about CEOs I couldn't help but think about the culture of schools and the way the principal of a school can make or break the culture.  When thinking about the way that people sometimes behave and the idea of professional jealousy, it really clicked.  I always found it so puzzling that so many teachers would balk at change and treat new teachers with innovative ideas poorly.  When I think about it in the context of mindset, it makes sense.  If the teachers who have been there have fixed mindsets, any new innovation would be a threat to their greatness, not an opportunity to improve.  I had thought of the idea of mindsets as a golden opportunity within my classroom to help my students be life-long learners working to increase their intelligence.  However, now I am thinking about the power this theory could have if taught to teachers as well.

Perhaps it is well worth the investment to subscribe to Brainology for students.  I know I will absolutely recommend that my principal invest in the teacher professional development resources available at Mindset Works.  Maybe if more schools helped students (and teachers) to see the power of growing their brain we would see less students stressed out about their perfect grades and more students focused on learning.

Review: Unwind (Dystopian Challenge)

Title: Unwind
Author: Neal Shusterman

Publication: June 2009

Publisher's Blurb:
Connor, Risa, and Lev are running for their lives.

The Second Civil War was fought over reproductive rights. The chilling resolution:  Life is inviolable from the moment of conception until age thirteen.  Between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, however, parents can have their child "unwound," whereby all of the child's organs are transplanted into different donors, so life doesn't technically end.  Connor is too difficult for his parents to control.  Risa, a ward of the state, is not talented enough to be kept alive.  And Lev is a tithe, a child conceived and raised to be unwound.  Together, they may have a chance to escape---and to survive.

My thoughts: This was a chilling and disturbing book.  Many questions went through my head as I read: How could a society get to the point that this was acceptable?  How could any parent make this choice?  What was most disturbing for me was the fact that the author used real news storys and quotes from real people at the beginning of every part of the book.  There are some people that are thinking in quite disturbing ways already in this society.  This book is one that will keep me thinking for quite some time.  I really felt for all three protagonists and agree wholeheartedly with the book's premise that this practice is wrong and needs to stop.  But it is really intriguing to think about how a society would get that bent out of shape.  With the intense debate out there about abortion, we are not so far away from the fictional Second Civil War and all of the implications of it.  This book is about the way that people sometimes blindly fight for an idea and lose sight of what they are fighting for.  It is also one that makes you pause a little bit to think about the medical advances and things that are being discovered through science.  How much is too much?  When is it better to stick with the things that we are doing?  This book made me curious to find out more about some of the advances they are making now.

I would absolutely recommend this one to teens and adults alike.  Even if you are not a big science fiction fan, I think this one is worth reading.

I read and reviewed this book as a part of The Dystopia Challenge 2013 on Bookish Ardour

I am trying for the Contagion level of 15 books. You can find out more on my 2013 Challenges page.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Review: Three Times Lucky (Slice 23 of 31)

Title: Three Times Lucky
Author: Sheila Turnage

Publication: May 10, 2012

Source: I bought this one in my last Scholastic order (gotta love the book box)

My Summary: Mo is an orphan who was found as a baby floating down the river on a makeshift raft during a hurricane.  She lives in a very small town in North Carolina with the Colonel and Miss Lana.  They run a small cafe that is the lifeblood of the small town. Mo is worried about the mystery of her origin and she is forever looking for clues and trying to figure out who her mother is and where she came from.  This is the biggest mystery in her life.  Until, one day a detective walks into their cafe.  Then, one of their neighbors is found murdered.  All of a sudden, this small town is in an uproar.  Who could have wanted to kill their neighbor?  Mo and her best friend Dale take it upon themselves to investigate further and clear Dale's name of suspicion.  What comes next are twists and turns and surprises that make this mystery exciting and fun to read.

My Thoughts:  I absolutely LOVED this book.  I completely agree that this book was deserving of the Newbery Honor that it received in January.  The book is full of lovable characters and beautiful voice that kept me turning pages well into the night.  I am a sucker for a good mystery so I loved that this one was so well-constructed.  I really was surprised by the solution to the mystery and found myself suspecting many of the characters throughout the book.  I like that the author also really wrote about the small-town life and I got to know a lot of the characters well.  The style of writing was amazing and stayed very true to the point of view.  Here are just a few gems from the book:

As we get to know Mo and Dale in the beginning of the book, there are many points in which I found myself chuckling, but this one seemed to capture the personality of the narrator so well:
"He swore, his voice soft as a breeze through the reeds.  Dale started swearing last year.  I haven't started yet, but the way things are going, I could at any moment."

Another description that really blew me away came much later in the book:
"Anybody that says he ain't scared in a hurricane is a liar or a fool.  That's what the Colonel says.  A hurricane spins up like you're nothing, and takes your world apart like it's nothing too.  There's no time in it, no sense of the sun moving, no waxing or waning light.  All you can do is breathe, and ignore the world flying to pieces beyond your door."

I absolutely recommend this book to students grade 4 and up and all adults.

5 out of 5 Stars

This post is part of the Slice of Life challenge.  I am writing a blog post every day in the month of March to share for this challenge.  The challenge is hosted by the lovely teachers at the Two Writing Teachers blog.  

Friday, March 22, 2013

Healthy Goals (Slice 22 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog. The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

I had a glorious day off today after the grueling week of parent conferences.  The conferences went well and I was able to have some great conversations with parents and families of the students I work with.  I still want to work to make my communications better, but I am glad to know that most families understand.  

Today I will write a quick post so I can get back to reading.    

I have been very frustrated with myself lately because of the choices I am making about food and exercise.  I feel like today is the day to publicly proclaim that I am going to take control of this.  No more excuses.  I need to cut back on sugars and eat better and I need to make sure that I am regularly exercising.  

This week I will start will another daily challenge to myself.  I will exercise every day for at least 15 minutes...every day.  I need to do this for a little while to get myself back in the habit of making time for exercise.  This blogging challenge has helped me to write every day, now I am challenging myself to move every day.  

I need to move toward healthier eating habits again, but I am not sure yet what the goal will be there.  I may incorporate some small postscript to my slices each day.  I'm still working on this one.  

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Last Words (Slice 21 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog. The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Last night, my husband and I decided to continue watching How I Met Your Mother. We had forgotten about the fact that at the end of the last episode we were watching Marshall's dad died.  This episode was all about the last words people speak before passing on.  The characters made a big deal about last words and Marshall had a hard time because he thought his father did not really give him any gems before passing.  It made me cry thinking about the way I feel so desperate when I leave the people I love, even for the most mundane errands.  After losing loved ones, I am careful about what I say before parting from them "just in case."  But if I think carefully about it, I really don't think it is all that important to have the last words be perfect.

I actually don't know what the last words my father spoke to me were.  I do know we were worried about him all day because he felt like it was something to do with his heart.  Some of our conversation that day was about renewing his Nitro prescription.  And then, after dinner, time sped up and there was a whirlwind of calling 9-1-1 and running to get my neighbor to help my mother and ambulances and fire trucks and police cars and anxious waiting while trying to reassure my little sister but knowing that my dad was not going to survive.  I do understand the reason people think so much about last words, but I do not think that it is that important.  What does matter is the lasting impression of love and caring that you have of your loved one.  My father was never big on words, but what he did say was priceless.  I was comfortable enough with my dad to talk about my insecurities and things that most girls would only talk to their mothers about.  That is what sticks with me...not whatever he might have said on the last day he was here.

On the other hand, I do know what my grandmother's last words to me were.  In this case, my grandmother had a long battle with COPD and slowly deteriorating health.  She knew she was dying and was at peace with it.  I was one of the last people to talk to her while she was conscious and it was simple, "you know you're loved."  It was her way of saying good-bye.  I treasure that special message that was just for me, but if she hadn't said it I would have still known.

I am lucky that I have always had people in my life that love me and accept me and surround me with support.  Although words are important and can have a lasting effect, the relationships that I have in my life are worth far more than words can express.

So, while I will still remember to always say, "I love you" when parting from people I love, I will know that it is my actions that speak louder and that all of my loved ones know that they are loved.  In the sitcom, Marshall realized also that it didn't really matter what his father's last words to him were, because he was loved and that is what matters.  Remembering and honoring our loved ones is what is the most important, not obsessing over their last words.   

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Parent/Teacher Conferences (Slice 20 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Today we have the first of two nights of Spring conferences.  As always on the day of conferences, I am nervous about it.  It usually is fine, but being a perfectionist, it is hard to have people point out the things at which I might not be doing the greatest.

I do believe in family involvement in a child's education and I have a lot of ways that I intend to share with parents what is happening in the classroom. However, I have had a very difficult time keeping up this year with all the things that I have to do and the website and parent communications have fallen by the wayside.  I know that this is not okay, but it comes down to sanity.  Should I have to sacrifice both days on my weekend to get my work done?  I think not.  One day a weekend is enough to give up.  

I usually end up enjoying conference night and having good talks with parents and students, so I shouldn't worry.  But I get very worried that parents will not hear my message correctly or that they will come into the conferences upset that they are not being called when students are missing work.  I know that this is what some parents feel, but I would be spending a lot of my time on the phone if I did this. (I teach middle school)

I really want to do student-led conferences one of these years because I think those have the potential to help both students and parents understand our standards-based grading better.  Many parents still have a hard time understanding that the "grade" their child gets on the standards is based on their level of proficiency, not whether they turned things in on time, etc.  To me, the most important grade on the report card for parents to be aware of is the effort grade in each subject.  This is the grade that tells them if their child is doing the right things at school (i.e. participating in class, handing in work, doing homework).

Today I will also discuss the results of the state testing that the students did in November.  This conversation is scary at 8th grade because the results of the test as well as their progress this year will help determine whether they are "promoted" to 9th grade.  With the state using a new cut score this year, many more of my students are not doing so well.  This could be a difficult conversation with some parents.

Okay, time to take a deep breath and relax.  I can't anticipate what might come up, and worrying about it will just make me more nervous.  I'm off to prepare for a LONG day of teaching and then conversing.

Have a great day!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My dog is awesome! (Slice 19 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

My dog is super awesome.  After hearing all the mauling stories, it was kind of difficult to believe that Pitbulls are not all violent and aggressive.  I never would have thought that I would get out of that mindset.  But now,  I really think that these dogs get a super bad rap.  My doggy is a mix of black lab and pitbull.  She is the sweetest dog ever and smart as a whip.

My dog wants to meet everyone in the room and get a belly rub from each one.  Even though she weighs more than 60 lbs. she tries hard to be a lap dog.  Carmela is amazing and I am so glad we got her two years ago.

She is so cute! Isn't she?

Monday, March 18, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 3/18 (Slice 18 of 31)

I am doubling up on posts again today.  I love the It's Monday meme because I get to really reflect on my week of reading and share my thoughts with you all and I love the Slice of Life challenge because it is really challenging me to find time to write every day.  I have already realized how much more I notice because I am looking for things to write about.  I also have noticed an increase in my creativity with lessons for my language arts classes.

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Every week I participate in the It's Monday meme which is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. It's a chance to take a step back and reflect on what I have been reading this week and to think about my plans for the week to come.

Books I Finished This week:

Fake Mustache by Tom Angleberger was a fun read!  It will definitely appeal to my students who are interested in humor writing like Diary of a Wimpy Kid books.  I enjoyed the story throughout even though it was not very believable but that is part of the humor of it.  Wow! It is amazing what power a good fake mustache can have!  I will recommend this one to readers who need an easier reading level but are interested in a funny story.  I can see how fourth and fifth graders would eat it up!

When I was having a hard time deciding on the next book to read earlier this week, I sent out an SOS on Twitter.  I got a few replies and two of those people recommended that I read this one next.  (Thanks Cynthia and Jen) It was absolutely decided when Matt de la Pena chimed in.  Okay...WOW!  I love that Twitter lets us connect to authors in such a cool way.  I have to say that I really enjoyed Mexican Whiteboy and I know my students will love it too.  Being hispanic urban students, they will absolutely be able to connect with the characters in this book.  I can't wait to booktalk this one.  I know there will be a waitlist!

I read Hard Love as a part of the Nerdprintz challenge.  I will be reviewing it on my blog soon as a part of this challenge as well.  This book is absolutely deserving of the Printz honor it received.  I fell in love with the characters and thought that the message was well done.  I think that teens would absolutely be able to connect with the characters and the themes in this book.  I like that it deals with homosexuality in a way that helps the reader understand it better without glorifying anything.  I also am intrigued by the zines that the characters write.  Does this medium exist?  I am sure it does and now I want to find some examples.  I will recommend this book to my students that are interested in writing.  Really this book could appeal to any teen who is trying to define his or her identity which is pretty much every teen.  I highly recommend that you read it!

Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry by Jeffrey Wilhelm gave me some concrete strategies to start using immediately in my classroom.  After seeing him speak at the WSRA conference, I was happy to find one of his books that really helped me get a glimpse of strategies that he uses in the classroom.  The book reviews the principles of backward design and gives great examples of how to use inquiry to teach the standards.  I definitely will be playing with these ideas during the rest of the school year and will spend some time this summer refining some of my units to include this type of inquiry.  I highly recommend this book to educators.  It is a quick read and will give you some excellent food for thought.

Books I am Currently Reading:

I am about halfway through the book Mindset by Carol Dweck.  I am not too surprised by what she is saying in the book since my Master's thesis included many of her articles in the literature review.  I was curious about this book after hearing Dweck speak at the Learning Forward conference last summer.  I am glad I requested this one from the library because I definitely am enjoying the examples given.  I am again rethinking how I can bring this knowledge to my students ASAP because I can see some of the behaviors of fixed mindsets within my classroom every day.  I also am continuing to listen to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.  As I have said every week so far, I am absolutely loving this audiobook.  I love the interesting and original ideas in the book as much as I love the way it is being read.

Books I Will Read Next:

I will start Unwind by Neal Shusterman tonight.  This will be one of the books I read for the dystopian challenge.  I have had it on my TBR pile for a long time and I am really intrigued by the premise.  I also will probably read Splendors and Glooms or Three Times Lucky or both.  I would also like to get to some nonfiction books this week.  Possibly The Great Fire or The Great and Only Barnum.  I am not sure how many books I will get to because I have parent-teacher conferences this week too.  I guess we'll see how the week goes.

Happy Reading! What is on your list this week?

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Cultural Heritage (Slice 17 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

As multiple revelers are out and about in Irish pubs today, I find myself thinking about cultural heritage and immigration.  What makes people hold on to family lineage that is multiple generations back?  When do we start to recognize ourselves as Americans rather than the list of ethnicities that we might have?  Just like many people who grow up and go to school in the United States, I had at least one project in which I had to go home and interview my parents about the heritage of our family.  I can rattle off the list of nationalities I have in me.  "What are you?" some people might ask.  Well, I am English, Irish, Polish, Czechoslovakian, German, and maybe some Native American (we're not sure about that one but there was a rumor about an affair...) But aren't I just American at this point?  How many generations back do I have to look in order to figure out who came here from where?

On a day like St. Patrick's Day, you may see multiple people bedecked in green, wearing shamrock everything, and proclaiming "Kiss me, I'm Irish!"  But are they really Irish?  My cousin's fiance who was born and raised in Ireland by parents from Ireland would probably say no.  When is it right to hold on to cultural identity and when should we recognize that this is something that defined our ancestors but does not define who we are?  I do have some Irish blood in me, but are there any indications of that in my family traditions?  Perhaps the annual corned beef and cabbage meal that my grandmother had to recognize her mother's heritage is an example of one such tradition, but it has not been something we have continued.

This is a particularly interesting topic for me because I am married to a Spaniard.  I met him while studying abroad and brought him home with me.  The importance of his cultural heritage is important to me because I don't want him to lose his culture just because he lives here.  If and when we have children, I will want them to know about and celebrate the traditions of Spain.  I will want them to have that cultural identity and be proud of their Spanish heritage.  But would I expect that their children would get this same education and have this same identification with the Spanish culture?  I don't know.

As always when thinking about these deeper questions, my mind turns to the students in my classroom. Many of them have either Mexican or Puerto Rican heritage.  Some are first generation immigrants, but most are children or grandchildren of immigrants.  How much of their identity is wrapped up in this cultural heritage?  How much should be?  It is so important to recognize their culture and to help them to read texts and have experiences in the classroom that celebrate who they are and where their ancestors come from.  But at what point is this heritage maybe not so much a part of their identity?  Is there a point at which we should say enough is enough?

I do not have any big answers to these questions.  It is a compelling and very debatable topic.  All I know is that cultural heritage should never be used as an excuse to go out and make a fool of yourself by getting plastered.  I hope that all who choose to embrace and recognize their Irish heritage do so in a dignified manner.  Have some corned beef and cabbage or a rueben sandwich...yum!  Enjoy a Guiness or two but not a bar crawl in which the only purpose is to get fall-down drunk.  Luck of the Irish to everyone!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Acts of Kindness (Slice 16 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Yesterday, we went roller skating.  As part of our PBIS program at school, we have incentives that students can earn.  This field trip was one that they could go on if they had earned a certain number of stamps on their stamp card for being responsible, respectful, and safe at school.

We loaded the three buses and headed off to the roller skating rink.  The students had two hours of time to skate, play laser tag, eat junk food, and basically enjoy time with their friends.  This is always a fun time for everyone including the teachers. They all beg us to get in a pair of skates and get out there with them.  I did this two years ago and left the roller rink with a broken tail bone.  Now, I keep both feet firmly on the ground but enjoy watching them skate.

In the midst of all the action after arriving at the rink, one student stayed in the same spot for twenty minutes.  She is a sixth grader and cognitively disabled.  As teachers, we had noticed that she was sitting there but didn't think anything of it because it seemed that she was choosing to just sit and relax.  Then Kayla went by.  Kayla is an eighth grade student.  She noticed that this other student was not moving because she needed help with the laces on her skates.  Kayla got down on the floor and started lacing the other student's skates.  Once she had the skates tied, Kayla helped this sixth grader get to the skating floor and she skated with her for a little while because the sixth grader had expressed that she was scared to skate.  Kayla did not have any reason to help this girl but the goodness of her own heart.  She gave up some of her time with friends in order to help this other student to have a good time.  When I see things like this, I am not so nervous about our future in the hands of these kids.

We spend so much time in our society focusing on the negative.  While there are plenty of stories about bullies and teens who are mean to each other, there are also these positive acts of kindness happening daily.  I know I will work to notice it more often and to acknowledge it when it happens.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Celebrating National Pi Day (Slice 15 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Last year I finally remembered on 3/14 to celebrate National Pi Day.  My math class did some exploration to discover this ratio so that they would remember what pi represents when working with circles.  Then I gave them a slice of pie.  It was so fun and I vowed to remember every year in the future so that I could highlight this ratio and make it memorable for my students.

This year I almost forgot.  Thank goodness for Facebook!  One of my friends shared this hilarious cartoon earlier this week and I was reminded and started planning the festivities.

My schedule on Thursdays is kind of crazy because my principal wanted all of our middle school level teachers to be able to meet at least once a week.  My students have a morning full of specials and so we end up with a lot shorter math class on this day.  I decided that this would not be the time to celebrate pi day so I came up with another plan.  

I wanted to incorporate this celebration into my afternoon schedule which had the added benefit of reaching more students.  In the afternoon, I have three Language Arts classes.  Looking at the March writing lesson of the month from Corbett Harrison, I discovered his writing notebook activity for Pi day.  So, yesterday my students and I ate pie and wrote pi poems.  Lately, I have tried a few poem formats with my students and have found it to be accessible and fun for all students.  (There were a few groans at first when poetry was mentioned, but they quickly realized that it was something they could do) 

This day of poem writing was another fun day and there is always room for pie!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Book and Bookmark Swap (Slice 14 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

This month I participated in the first book and bookmark swap sponsored by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts.  We signed up to participate and filled out a survey about our favorite books.  Then we were given a name and we bought a book and a bookmark for our partner.

The theme for this first swap: Your favorite book or a book you think everyone should read.  I sent The Book Thief to my partner because I think that is a book that absolutely everyone needs to read.  The style of that book is so unique and it is a story that everyone should hear.

When my package arrived in the mail, I was super excited.  It was so fun to have that surprise and to get to open a box with my new book and bookmark.

Here is what was inside:

I LOVE IT!  Seraphina is one of the books that was at the top of my wish list!  I can't wait to read this book.  And the bookmark is perfect too!  Jane Austen is my favorite author and I love the quote.  A huge thank you to Cindy Minnich for the book and the bookmark.  

I can't wait for the next book and bookmark swap.  I hope everyone received some great books!  

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Cookie Butter (Slice 13 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Today for my writing time I decided to try an ode to a common thing.  I am trying to introduce my students to more poetry forms and came across the lesson on odes in my copy of Lessons that Change Writers by Nancie Atwell.  She uses some of Pablo Nerudas poems to have students try this form and write poems about ordinary things.

My poem is really rough.  I was just trying this out and wanted to play with the ode.  It is by no means finished and will be a work in progress for a while to come.  I am glad I tried this because it is a lot harder than I thought it would be.

Ode to Cookie Butter

You tantalize me with
your gingery excellence.
One swipe of you on my bread
and I am rapturous with delight.
How can I ever have lived
without this amazing spread.
As your flavor sticks
to the roof of my mouth,
I contemplate how best
to use you next.
An apple, perhaps
will be the receptacle
to receive your velvety
sugar taste.
You hail from Trader Joe's
What magnificent creature
first dreamt of you
and worked
to make your sweet perfection?
As I bite into your luscious
goodness my mind starts to wander
and I wonder
how it was possible
that I never bought you before.

Obviously, as I said before, this poem is still very rough.  I think I will bring this in to my classroom and show students my first attempts and then work on revising it in front of them.  I am envisioning a class shared writing experience: Ode to Takis.

We had such fun with false apology poems.  I hope we can play with this form and have fun also.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Positive Vibes (Slice 12 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

Top Ten Reasons I feel awesome today:

1.  My lesson about the short story "The Lady and the Tiger" by Frank Stockton rocked today because of the pre-reading strategies I used yesterday.  The students were totally loving the story and excited about the fact that they got to choose the ending.

2.  Seeing the DVD of The Outsiders sitting on my desk, my students were totally excited about the possibility of watching this movie.  We just finished reading the book and I am planning to watch the movie and have them analyze the way the director and actors interpreted the book.  I can't wait to have them do this to evaluate their integration of knowledge and ideas.

3.  Then we talked about how the pile of Romeo and Juliet was sitting on the table waiting for us.  I had multiple students SUPER EXCITED about reading this play. I LOVE this!  Holy cow, where did these readers come from?  Oh yeah, I have been using the unprogram this year...

4.  This week I started to use the idea of "sacred writing time" from Corbett Harrison on The Writing Fix website.  I bought his bingo cards and handed out the March one and told students they could write about what they wanted to write about or a topic from the card.  Almost all of my students were writing!

5.  We started a unit about symmetry today.  The students feel confident about this concept.  I loved the positive vibes about the math unit.

6.  I started my Technology Study Hall after school today which will include both a book club group and a creative writing group.  We had a lot of fun together!

7.  I got a bunch of literature group sets of books today.  There was a grant last year that the school ordered books with and we had not had this set of books yet.  I am so excited to have this awesome set of books to choose from for literature circles.  

8.  I went to my favorite beer bar tonight and talked to one of my fav bartenders.  He suggested one of the best beers I have had lately.  YUM!!!

9.  I went to my favorite Mexican restaurant tonight.  They all know us there and we have a great time. Such good food for dinner!  

10.  The best is that I saw one of my students at the restaurant and she went out of her way to say hello.  I love that I am a teacher that most students like to say hello to outside of school.  I love that my students know that I am a person and that I don't live at school.  

I had a great day today and I am excited to have another great day tomorrow!  

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's Monday! What are you reading? 3/11 (Slice 11)

I am doubling up on posts today.

Every week I participate in the It's Monday meme which is hosted by Jen and Kellee at Teach Mentor Texts. It's a chance to take a step back and reflect on what I have been reading this week and to think about my plans for the week to come.

I also am participating in the Slice of Life challenge this month hosted by Ruth and Stacey at  Two Writing Teachers.  In this challenge, I am writing a blog post every day in March.

This week was a slow reading week for me because I had report cards due and was trying to catch up with grading.  I also have been doing more writing with the Slice of Life challenge and some of my reading time was spent reading blogs and commenting.

Books I Finished This Week:

I finished Prodigy by Marie Lu earlier this week.  I actually stayed up too late to finish it because I had to find out what would happen to Day and June.  I liked this book better than Legend and after that ending I cannot wait until the third book comes out.  I am so intrigued by the world in this series and it will be interesting to see what happens next.

Finnikin of the Rock is an amazing fantasy adventure book.  I absolutely loved the characters and the original story.  I was surprised that it was definitely a book for high school readers.  I don't know why I expected a more middle grade book, but I was pleasantly surprised.  I would definitely recommend this one to high school students and adults alike.  It is a book about how people can survive and hold on to hope even in the most dire circumstances.

Books I am Currently Reading:

I picked up Teach like Your Hair's on Fire and started reading it this afternoon while waiting for my computer to load.  It seems like it will be a quick read so I will most likely keep reading it this week.  I also started Engaging Readers and Writers with Inquiry by Jeffrey Wilhelm.  I like his ideas and I am excited to read more.  I also am still listening to and loving The Night Circus.

Books I will read this week:

I think I will start Mexican Whiteboy tonight.  Next up on the list will be Hard Love and then Unwind.  I also have a huge pile of books that I just got from Scholastic which includes a number of treasures and award-winning books from this year.  I hope there will be more time for reading this week so that I can continue to whittle down the to-read pile.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Ownership (slice 10 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

This week at school was a strange week.  There wasn't anything concrete that I could point out as being the reason, it just was an odd week at school.

On Friday, we were up to business as usual when one of my students came back to the classroom from an errand and informed me that the hallway display was falling and should he fix it?  So he took a stapler, some tacks, and tape out to the hallway and did his best.

Now, this display is really not the best.  I cobbled it together and did not probably take the time needed to make it look great, but I really wanted to have the students display their reading somehow.  We talked about it and worked out together what they might do and I left it to their creativity to give me some sort of display.  It is one that I am not very proud of, because not everybody participated and we don't have all the books represented.  I do think the students who did add to the display did an excellent job and there are some amazing things there.

I didn't think the kids were all that proud of it either until Friday.  After this boy proceeded to fix the display, it stayed up for the rest of the day without an issue.  The problem is that all I have in the hallway are cork strips so there isn't much support for this big paper.  At the end of the day, as students were lining up to leave, I saw another student stapling the top of the display back to the cork strip.

Now, I was perplexed.  What was it about this display that made students care if it was up or falling?  Aren't they the same students that will walk past posters that fall without a care?  What is the difference?  And then, it dawned on me that these students had ownership of this display.  It is a compilation of the work of multiple students and they helped me decide what it would look like.

What a good reminder for myself about the power of belonging and having some say in the classroom.  I will be thinking about this as I plan for the week.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Books, Books, and More Books (Slice 9 of 31)

This post is a part of the Slice of Life challenge which is hosted on the Two Writing Teachers blog.  The month of March the challenge is to write a blog post a day.

I just got home from Half Price Books where I bought this book stack:

Although all of these books were in the clearance section and I got a fabulous deal, I really had no business buying more books.  I think I might have a problem.  Is there a book-lovers anonymous to help me with this book addiction?

The reason I should not be buying more books is the fact that I already have waaayyyy too many books on my to-read shelves.  Yes, that's right it is plural.  These are my to-read shelves at home:

This one only has books on 2 of the shelves

This one is stacked full of books that I have yet to read.  

This does not include the dozens of books that I want to read in my classroom or the ones I have stored on my Kindle (must stop looking at the daily deals).  I seriously need to stop spending money on books for a while.  This year, with the addition of Twitter into my life, I have become even more of a book nerd than I used to be.  Now I know all the titles on the clearance shelf at Half Price Books, and I want to buy the whole warehouse at Scholastic sales.  The worst of it is that somewhere along the way, I converted my husband into a book nerd too.  (This isn't really a bad thing it just stops us from having the voice of reason when it comes to book buying.  He is on a graphic novel kick right now and our collection is growing steadily)

So I am starting it now.  No more book buying.  Hello, my name is Andrea and I am a book addict.  It has been an hour since I bought my last book.  Where is the twelve step program and the support network for me?