Category Archives: TeacherQ

October 2012 In Review

Books Read:

It is still slow going on this end. School work swallows me whole and by the time I am ready to read, I can’t keep my eyes open! But, I have finished one or two over the last couple of weeks.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller

Perfect by Ellen Hopkins (Review below)

Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher (Review below)

Posts Written:

Reviews:

Perfect

Write Like This

And some random posts (some are from Sept, as I forgot to do a rundown of Sept!):

on the thirteenth

And, sadly, that’s it. School has kept me going and running out of steam and energy. 😦

But the good news is my students are great, my classes are great, and I am enjoying this year. And, I will be participating in NaNoWriMo starting today, in fact I already have 1758 words! Go me!

Happenings:

School work has included having a class read and act out The Crucible! They thoroughly enjoyed it and they are very excited about our next project, based on the book Native Son. I have decided to combine their required research “paper” into a mock trial of the main character.

I am currently working on the Verse Challenge. And have FINISHED reading Perfect by Ellen Hopkins! I adore Ellen and can’t wait for more from her.

My parents came down for a quick visit, but it was great to see them.

Intriguing Search Terms Pointing to My Blog:

“it’s all about me quotes”

Am I really that self-centered? I hope not!

“visual writing prompts”

This one probably disappointed the seeker. I don’t have any prompts, but I do use the visual ones frequently in my classes. I will need to do a post with links to the sites I use, which have great prompts!

“why did John Steinbeck write the novel Of Mice and Men the way he did”

dang it! This is exactly what I try to encourage my students to avoid. Number 1) please have enough dignity and self respect to at least try to do this on your own. There is no magic answer. The teacher wants you to think and analyze and evaluate Steinbeck’s writing. Because, if you can do that, you have a pretty well-oiled mind and can analyze and evaluate almost anything. Number 2) learn some decent search skills. I hope I am teaching my students better search skills, because anyone who goes to google and types in the EXACT question the teacher has asked, will be disappointed, because he/she will find nothing helpful OR find other students’ work, who also lack the same skills he/she does. *SIGH*

“langston hughes bedtime”

Why is someone seeking this? I am intrigued. I feel a writing activity coming on…

“beautiful things happen in your life when you distance yourself from all the negative things”

So true! Glad it brought you to my doorstep.

What I Learned this month:

TQ Review: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Review: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Title: Perfect
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: 2011

Good Reads Synopsis

This is another Ellen Hopkins YA novel. If I see an Ellen Hopkins book, especially one I haven’t read, I grab it and read it immediately. Ever since I first read Crank, I have been hooked. I love Hopkins’ books because:

  • they are written in verse form
  • they are so poignantly real
  • the characters are fully developed, yet elusive enough for us to fill in with our own background knowledge
  • the themes are ones we all struggle with, or know someone who struggles with it
  • they are thought provoking

I have not yet read all of Hopkins’ novels, but she is one I return to time and time again. My oldest daughter has read them all, since beginning with Crank when it was first published. I read Crank, because she recommended it. And the gritty reality of life with addiction and what it does to those surrounded by it made me yearn for more understanding. I picked up Perfect because it was suggested for a lower level reading student (it’s funny how something with such powerful themes and concepts can be deemed “lower level” because of things like sentence length–which is always short in a verse novel–and how many syllables the words have–but that’s a completely different post!). The student in question did not want to read it, which I think was a good choice, because the themes and concepts written in verse form would have proven difficult for this student. Perfect is a follow up to Conner’s story in Impulse (which I have not yet read, but didn’t seem to get in the way of my reading it).

So, I read it instead. It took me the better part of a semester–because I only read it during the Independent Reading time I use in my classroom, so fifteen minutes here and there added up eventually! I finished it and wished there was more.

Four seemingly independent story lines begin to tell the story and struggle each one faces in the search for a perfect version of themselves, which does not exist. Cara, Andre, Sean, and Kendra each have separate lives, but they intertwine through a variety of relationships. These four characters struggle through some very emotional and adult themes and ideas.

The themes and ideas covered include:

  • Perfection
  • Homosexuality
  • Eating Disorders
  • Use of drugs to enhance athletic performance
  • Suicide
  • Identity formation
  • Following one’s dreams when they conflict with others around you
  • Rape (touched on)
  • Drugs and alcohol use as a coping mechanism

What Hopkins does so well is develop the characters and have them tell their stories. These characters quickly take on a persona we can all identify with, or at least can consider identifying with. Her words for these characters flow from poem to poem and instance to instance. Her poems build the story up and interweave to tell, at once, individual and collective stories. I discovered, soon after starting it, that the end of one character’s “chapter” (for lack of a better word) alluded to the beginning of the next character’s “chapter” beginning. After reading the first set of “chapters” for the four characters, I knew I could use Hopkins’ carefully crafted characters as a way to show my students how characters are developed through their actions and interactions with those around them.

Overall, this is another Hopkins winner. She creates perfection driven students and leads them on a journey to self discovery every one of us goes through at some point in our lives.

My Rating

5 stars!

My Recommendations

  • Anyone who loves Ellen Hopkins
  • Anyone who loves novels in verse form
  • Anyone who loves or needs a good book on identity formation
  • Anyone who struggles with the idea of perfection (which doesn’t exist ;)!)

TQ Review: Write Like This

Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts
Kelly Gallagher
Stenhouse Publishers 2011
ISBN 978-1-57110-896-8

“Writing has become foundational to finding meaningful employment across much of the workforce.” pg 3

7 out of 10 students leave school

“…without the necessary skills to actively participate in either civic life or in the global economy” pg 5

Why I Chose to Read this Book

I read Readicide two summers ago, in the midst of a teaching identity crisis and was working to figure out how to get non-readers to read again. When I received an email from Stenhouse Publishers announcing the release of Write Like This, I knew it would be well worth the read, because I have adopted many of Gallagher’s ideas from Readicide into my classroom.

A Brief Summary

In Write Like This, Gallagher argues two basic premises for teaching students to write:

  1. Why students should write (real-world discourse), and
  2. for teachers to step out of their comfort zone and start writing before, in front of, and with their students, as well as find and use mentor texts to help students learn how to write for authentic audiences.

He argues this thesis by providing research based evidence, as well as, anecdotal observations.

He provides explanations of six pairs of authentic discourses, while stating there are many more than he could possibly mention. The six pairs he chose to focus on as part of what should be in any writing teacher’s classroom are:

  1. Express and Reflect
  2. Inform and Explain
  3. Evaluate and Judge
  4. Inquire and Explore
  5. Analyze and Interpret
  6. Take a Stand/Propose a Solution

He also briefly covers editing and revising, explaining how and why the two of these are very different steps in a writer’s process.

My Take Aways

Gallagher offers up so many examples—both of his own writing, mentor texts, and student writing—you can pick up the book and immediately have ideas to use in your own classroom.

I was already a big fan of “I do, we do, you do” in a classroom and Gallagher makes an even better argument in regards to writing instruction. My favorite (already tried—with varying levels of success) activities include:

  • Six Word Memoirs leading to longer Expressive and Reflexive writing
  • A Mistake that Should Last a Lifetime
  • “So What” Paper
  • Congrats Newly Minted _____ (Inform and Explain, great to teach/reinforce satire)
  • Sometimes You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover
  • the many ideas offered up about college and career writing
  • using mentor texts like written book reviews, columns from major publications, and many more
  • how to take this writing with real world applications and use it for literature (as so many of us teach reading and writing together)—I particularly like his use of the rating scale activity he uses for consumer products and transfers to literature like Animal Farm

Persuasive techniques, expository, narrative, and persuasive forms of writing are all covered, but in a way to encourage real world applications of such writing. His method of teaching grammar is also one I am hoping to incorporate into my classroom this year. I am always looking for ways to incorporate grammar into my classes and his method may be more effective than some I have tried.

Overall

I will read anything of Kelly Gallagher’s. He has not disappointed me yet. He includes real life “combat zone” examples and explanations, which are often more meaningful to me than research based data in the form of numbers and letters. He also writes in an easy to read style, with many metaphors and analogies to help make his ideas make sense. For me, this means he acknowledges, as we should as teachers to our students, his readers are as varied in understanding and knowledge and may need things presented in different ways.

Overall, I give this one a 5 star—any writing teacher, language arts teachers, or teacher in general who wants to incorporate MORE writing into their classroom should pick up this book and find some useful strategies.

on the thirteenth…

seems appropriate to not use writing convention rules on the thirteenth, not a Friday the thirteenth, but a thirteenth nonetheless
I am in the midst of the beginning of a new school year.

We are three weeks in (yep, only three weeks!) and the tone has been set.

For my high school classes, the tone is one of learning, discussing, creating, reflecting, and expanding our horizons. My regular kids, as well as my honors kids, are reaching beyond the traditional “is this enough to just get by.” Don’t get me wrong, there are those few who still struggle to just get by, but I know so much more is happening than not, that I sometimes just sit back and marvel in how these kids are quickly becoming adults.

I have always considered the concept of “teenagerhood” a twentieth century concept, even before reading a few studies and books on the idea. And, if I wasn’t feeling rather lazy about doing anything at all tonight, I would go look up some of those references for ya’ll. Anyway, I think too many adults today take for granted the whole – they are teenagers, so there are certain things expected of them – bad decision making, sleeplessness, etc. I do acknowledge the research out there, which points out the teenage brain is still growing and being molded. But, I do believe too many times some adults allow behaviors to slip by unnoticed or unacknowledged because of the simple status as a teenager.

The reason I digress, when I hold my students to appropriate expectations, they rise to meet them. But I know far too many who are willing to lower expectations because of life circumstances being less than perfect for students. Instead of holding them to expectations and giving them the skills to become resilient, persistent, and reflective, I have seen too many adults use excuses, give breaks, and allow students to put forth less effort simply because their circumstances “suck” in teen parlance.

And what I see, on a regular basis, in my own classroom when I get students thinking, learning, and doing are conversations–often unprovoked–about the upcoming election, books they are reading, and conversations about how to complete something I have asked them to complete. They know I expect on task behavior. They know the assignment/project/task requirements. They work. Because I have the expectation they will. And the side conversations are not about parties, drinking, and/or drugs, which is often what classroom conversations can devolve into with a lack of expectations and procedures. We all have those tough classes. And I have out of the ordinary ones this year.

But, when my regular students are “caught” talking about the upcoming election without it being a simple sparring of “Obama’s no good” or “Romney’s no good, because he’s a Mormon.” It’s about who’s ahead in which states, based on recent poll results and suppositions about why one is ahead of the other. It’s a conversation of substance, not simple empty rhetoric, which many teenagers think is adequate “just to get by.”

Did I have a point? I ask, now that I am finished. More stream of conscious, but ideas and thoughts I plan to revisit.

And yes, I am still reading. I have several books almost finished. Look for reviews soon!

August 2012 In Review

Books Read:

Hmm…I have started a handful but finished none in August :(! I blame it on school starting. Really!

Posts Written:

Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer

Readers are Created, Not Born

I am still reading… and I promise I am. But it happens every year around this time. School starts and my attention is pulled in a hundred directions and I always pick up and start books, to be finished later.

The Start — as mentioned before, at this point school has taken over any spare corners of my brain…lol

Sunday Salon

SWUR Goals & Update — my second reading challenge, which I didn’t meet my goals. *sigh*

Happenings:

Attempted to participate in the Summer Wrap Up Reading Challenge–didn’t meet my goal at all! Sad, but work came first.

I am currently working on the Verse Challenge. And have started reading Perfect by Ellen Hopkins :).

School started. I spent a week in my classroom getting it prettified and then sat through the first of the year meetings. Now, we are back in full swing. Students have been in class for over a week and a half now and we are setting into a groove. Here’s to the start of a great year!

Intriguing Search Terms Pointing to My Blog:

“quotes to begin a new school year”

Oh how I wish I had some good advice for this one! Starting my tenth year, you would think I have the words of wisdom, but every year is a new year and I have never started the same way twice!

“who will save your soul quote”

Very interesting. Love the song. And pondering what quote they were looking for–Jewel or possibly a higher power?

“i am just a girl quote”

hmmm…yes I am. And when I first read this search I immediately thought of No Doubt’s song.

“all done”

Are we ever?

“gwendolyn brooks we real cool and a roller skating”

Wow! I am sure I posted about “we real cool” during April (National Poetry Month), but roller skating??? Not sure.

What I Learned this month:

Readers are Created, Not Born

We are all born without knowing how to read. It is a skill we must learn. And how do we learn most skills? We see others doing and we emulate. We make mistakes and we grow. As soon as we can hold a book, we begin imitating those who have read to us. We pretend to know how to read before we can read. We “fake it ’til we make it.”

Very few kindergartners will say they dislike reading. But, at the other end of the educational spectrum, high schoolers are quick to admit a deep dislike for reading and anything associated with reading. How do we go from being ready to try it before we can actually do it, to fearing it to the point of shutting down as soon as a book is placed in front of us?

To emulate, we must see it happen. Sadly, I have known some houses that do not have a single book inside of it. There are children being raised without knowing what a library is, let alone where it might be located. There are children who’s parents can’t read them to sleep, because they struggled with reading to the point of shutting down and calling it a “stupid waste of time.”

I often wonder how many parents end up regretting not being able to read their children to sleep. I think back to when my two girls, both in their teens now, were little and how much I enjoyed our story times. I would drop almost anything to read to my girls. I would cringe when MiniQ would ask me to re-read Cinderella Skeleton AGAIN, for what seemed like the millionth time, but I would never forgo it, because it was a book she loved.

I write this, because I know the power of books and reading. I was reminded of it again today. It is day two of school, the first full day on a regular schedule, and I always start my year off running. I don’t spend days one and two going over an endless list of rules or a syllabus. It’s ineffective, the kids tune out, and frankly, it never ends up doing much in the way of making things work more effectively or efficiently in my room. So, I get the kids busy on day one.

Today, I did a Book Browse. There are cooler names for this activity, but for the life of me I could NOT remember any of them today, so Book Browse it was titled. I had placed 4-5 books on each student table, which seats two students. With no direction except–1 book, 3 minutes, silent reading–I told the kids to pick a book and read it. After three minutes they wrote about their first impressions–did they like it, did they not like it, what sparked their interest, what stood out to them–and always, always, always EXPLAIN why! We did this for three different books.

Today’s class is almost exclusively boys and most are self proclaimed NON-readers.

The outcome:

  1. Every student had read at least ONE book that sparked their interest enough to possibly want to read it.
  2. Every student had read at least ONE book that they had STRONG opinions about.
  3. Every student read, silently, for three minutes each time.
  4. Every student took the time to write reflectively about their reactions to what they read.
  5. Every student eagerly spoke about something they had read to someone else in the class. Normally, when teenagers have a moment to write and not have to listen to the teacher, they begin the off topic chatter. Not this group. They wanted to talk books.

A few comments overheard:

Nope, I can’t do it. I cannot read another sentence of this book.

When I walked over to the young man in question, I asked him to show me the book. It was the second book and I assumed he just didn’t want to read anymore. Never assume! It was The Road to Oz and I told him how The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is one of my all time favorite books. So, I asked what he meant by “Nope, I can’t read another sentence.” His reply,

The narrator knows too much. There’s no figuring out what the characters feel or think, because the narrator is telling us. It’s no fun.

Holy Buckets Batman! This is exactly the kind of thinking and discussing I long for teenagers to do and here this young man goes, doing it BEFORE I even require him to do it. Be still my heart!

And, normally this would be an oddity, but today’s class was FULL of this kind of thinking and discussing. Another young man pointed out how he got lost in the first paragraph of the second sentence. When I asked why he read it to me, it was from a Greg Iles book. The sentence in question used the word car, for an elevator. Because he had no experience of hearing or using the word car to describe an elevator, he was lost. And he knew it! The importance of vocabulary, anyone? He has provided me an authentic entry point to why vocabulary is important and what to do when we are tripped up by it.

So many more conversations took place and the kids are engaged and reading and discussing. I ended a very stressful (for other reasons) day in a moment of joy and happiness, because I have them hooked. Many have already requested one of the books they read today as their first independent reading. We did so much more during this full day and every minute counted!

I plan to do the same thing tomorrow and can’t wait to see the results.

Let me know what you think!

The Start

A new school year begins tomorrow!

I have been back at school for two solid weeks. First, just me, getting my room ready. Last week–the week long endurance test known as “back to school meetings.” Four straight days of meetings and Friday–a day we could FINALLY work in our rooms. That’s why I spent a week there prior to last week. And I will post pics of my amazingly decorated (by MiniQ) room tomorrow!

As this new year begins, I am looking forward to:

  1. Working with a GREAT bunch of educators–both @ the alternative program I work at as well as the regular high school. Our English department is an amazing bunch of ladies who work hard to make reading, writing, speaking, listening, and presenting engaging, relevant, and fun!
  2. Working with a GREAT bunch of students–it’s not every day I can walk into a local grocery store and get a hug from a student (a soon to be SENIOR in high school student :)) who says I can’t wait to see you in two days. These are the moments I know why I do what I do and why I LOVE what I do!
  3. Working with an AWESOME tech set up–every kid has a laptop (juniors and seniors got new MacBook Airs), I have a MacBook, iPad2, and a projector in my room and there is so much potential. I plan on blogging with my kiddos this year, incorporating some backchannel chatter for videos and discussions, as well as so much more.
  4. Teaching the same class a second time–for a 10 year teacher, you think this would not be a big deal. Let’s just say I have only EVER taught the same class once! Each year I have always taught all NEW courses, with the exception of one year, where I taught American Studies for the second time. Once. In 10 years. Oh my, am I looking forward to it! But, in reality, I am probably going to plan ALL NEW things to teach. Because that’s all I know! LOL
  5. Teaching an Honors Level course–I wish I could teach all my kids at the “honors” level. Ah, who am I kidding? I do! I just sneak it to my non-honors level kiddos. They fear the idea of honors, but once I wade them into the processes and higher level skills, they attack with as much vigor as my honors kiddos do.
  6. ONLY teaching English courses at the alternative program–last year I was in charge of business/computer applications & career ed too. Not made for that stuff!
  7. Starting each day new!

I know this is a reading blog and I am debating within myself about whether to continue posting about school here or start ANOTHER blog dedicated solely to school…hmmm…not sure just yet.

Sunday Salon (13)

Weather today…The hundred+ degree streak has been broken! It has been a seasonable mid-nineties summer day.

Summer Happenings: End of summer for me is today :-(!

I’m reading: 

I’m listening to: I don’t listen to audio books, usually. When I do, it’s always a book I have read before. I have to see the words myself to make complete sense of a text the first time. So, instead of audiobooks, I will share my iPod shuffled playlist for the week 🙂 ! I have been listening to Spotify a bit this week and have had the following running through my playlist:

Xx

Bruce Springsteen

Iron & Wine

Books finished this week:

None–I failed the Summer Reading Challenge miserably. I did NOT finish any book in the last two weeks :-(. In fact, I have not picked up a book for several days :-O.

Abandoned book: None this week

Scripture lesson: Today’s guiding verse:

Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Proverbs 31:30

I’m praying for: God to guide me in the new endeavors I am undertaking this year.

Around the house: Organizing for MiniQ’s attempts at online/homeschooling.

From the kitchen: Not much but a mish mash of leftovers and whatever’s in the fridge.

Fun event of the week: Perseid Meteor Shower last night!

A favorite quote this week:

TQ Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Review: I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells

Title: I Am Not a Serial Killer John Cleaver #1
Author: Dan Wells
Publisher: Macmillan
Publication Date: 2010

GoodReads Synopsis

This was one I could have stopped reading and I wouldn’t have cared how the story turned out. I only finished it because it was such a quick read.

I picked it up at the local library because I was intrigued by the title. As I read the synopsis and the first few pages, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was a Dexter-ish take for the young adult group. I don’t know how I missed the supernatural take that comes in this story, which is what really turned me off from the book. As soon as I realized John was up against a supernatural demon, as it is referred to in the book, I kind of stopped caring how the story would turn out. I no longer cared if anyone lived or died. I no longer cared if John had friends or would get with the girl. I no longer cared that he lived in a funeral home. It just all fell apart when the monster turned out to be a supernatural monst

It’s not that I don’t like the supernatural. I bit my reading teeth on Stephen King for crying out loud! But, I was really interested in a real story about a real boy who might understand his sociopathic behavior and works hard to contain it in the real world. My guess is a teenage serial killer who kills only the bad guys, a la Dexter, may not have sold very well to publishers and parents. I think it would have made it a better story.

My Rating

2 stars!

My Recommendations

  • Not sure who I would recommend this one to…

July 2012 In Review

Books Read:

Secret Windows by Stephen King 🙂 *
How to Write a Sentence: and how to read one by Stanley Fish 🙂
On Writing by Stephen King 🙂 *
Unholy Night by Seth Grahame-Smith 🙂
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland Through a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne Valente 😦
Love and Leftovers by Sarah Tregay 😐
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern 😀 *
I Am Not a Serial Killer by Dan Wells 😐

*Reviews coming soon!

Posts Written:

Reviews to some of the books read above, plus:

Sunday Salon July 4th

Sunday Salon

Happenings:

Participated in the Once Upon a Reading Challenge–didn’t meet my goal, but it was a good experience. I think I learned some reading challenges may not be for me, especially the short focused ones.

I am currently working on the Verse Challenge. And read the following novel in verse in July : Love and Leftovers

I am also currently working on the 14 Books, 4 Months, 1 Challenge:

July 1: 20 points, July 31: 60 points

I am a bit worried I may not make this challenge :-(. But, I am not giving up yet!

Intriguing Search Terms Pointing to My Blog:

“push knife in back quote john grisham book”

I must admit, I went and used this search term myself, to see if it would pull anything up. I couldn’t find a quote, but I remember the book and know it probably had something to do with Cowboy…

“batman buckets”

I ❤ using sayings like “Holy Buckets Batman” when I am speaking or writing. I use them in my classroom quite frequently and my students are constantly giving me new ideas.

“summary of chapter 1 in nevermore by william hjortsberg”

Sadly, one of the books I have read I wished I hadn’t. The novels premise was promising–Houdini, Poe, magic, psi abilities, and murder. Unfortunately, it did not deliver a great read for me.

What I Learned this month:

Just keep moving ahead. There is no outline for tomorrow, there is no forged path. Every day is a chance to move forward or backward and I have chosen it’s all forward from here.

As for blogging, the school year seemed to keep me more on track, however, I am reading far more in summer!