Year in Review

Well, time just totally got away from me at the end of the year.  Preparing for Prom took over my life at the end of April and beginning of May and then we were in the home stretch of the end of the school year.  Now I am on the other side and phew!  I am so glad to say I have made it.  I want to reflect on some amazing things that went on this year and my hopes for the next school year.

The 2011-2012 School Year

We went through A LOT of curriculum changes this year.  I don’t think we had any idea exactly how many changes we were making until we were right in the thick of it.  That made first trimester really hard.  First, the research project was rough.  I always knew research should be in all grades but I was kind of hiding in tenth grade saying there was no time for it.  Well CCSS did not allow for that anymore!  The projects and presentations I got that first trimester were a little…less than par.  However, I learned a lot about teaching research and helping students not feel so overwhelmed with it.  I also focused a little more on presentation skills.  The projects second trimester were a little bit better.  I am also pumped to go with a new twist on the project for next year that I will explain later.

The other big change was choice books and literature circles in the classroom.  I was pumped to do this but I had no real idea exactly how hard it was going to be.  You know, they make it seem so easy in those books and in my grad classes.  However, again, first trimester was a learning expereince.  I learned the students do not have to meet in groups every day and reading together every day is not the most productive outcome.  Second trimester went a little smoother, more so in the B section than the A section.  Then I really felt I had much more of a handle on it third trimester in the B section.  I really focused on mini-lessons to build up the discussions groups were having.  This showed better notes from the students and deeper conversations.  I was really excited about the deep conversations groups were having over two paragraphs we read for a mini-lesson on follow up questions.  Two paragraphs!  There is still some improvements I can make but I am still proud of the way things turned out by the end of the year.

Writing has also seen changes in my classroom.  We are not just doing persuasive essays!  Yay!  I loved reading my studnets’ work in the narrative unit and with doing more of the other genres of writing, voice started to show up more in persuasive essays and other formal writing pieces.  And students can write a lot more in a short amount of time.  The writing fluency is getting there and students are being more focused.  I literally saw a number of students mature in their writing between the A class and B class and was able to tell them so.

Reading is also something I am very proud of.  First of all, my classroom library has exploded!  My first Donors Choose project was fufilled last summer which brought in almost 50 YA books for my students.  We were also blessed through grant money $1,000 each to build up our personal libraries.  I filled it in with many titles from a number of genres.  I am continuing to see more and more students reading.  Students who told me they hated to read were reading their first books since elementary school.  One girl who also fought about reading chose to read on her own when she was done with a test.  I saw more students showing habits of life-long readers by carrying books with them everywhere they went.  Some students have friended me on Goodreads and actually use it.  I am thrilled to be building a community of readers.

I also had some pretty amazing opportunities this year.  Jeff Anderson came to our district for a special PD session with our teachers.  I attended MRA in March and learned amazing things as well as hung out with some of the most amazing teachers from around the state and country.  I also finished my Master’s program and am now a K-12 Literacy Specialist.  All in all, a lot to be proud of.

Looking Toward 2012-2013

I am really excited for next year.  I get to teach 10th grade classes again so I can really step up what I started this year.  The research project will give students more choice in that they will choose a historical fiction novel to read and research that time period to analyze how well the novel portrays the period.  I have started a new Donors Choose Project for this project:

http://www.donorschoose.org/project/giving-students-choice-in-reading-rese/810081/

I am also looking forward to seeing how the choice books evolve this next year.  As students have more expereience, and I do as well, it can only get better.  More changes will continue to come but I really believe they are for the good of our students. 

This summer, I plan on a lot of professional reading as well as YA reading.  I will share titles and insights here.  I hope everyone has a great summer!

World Book Night 2012

Today I took part in World Book Night 2012.  I came across it by complete accident a few months ago on Twitter.  Sherman Alexie was promoting it as one of his books was one of the 30 books to choose from to give out.  The premise of WBN is that passionate readers, Book Givers, give out books to light or non-readers to help promote a love of reading and to pass on the passion.  Today is Shakespeare’s birthday, the inspiration for this night.  I signed up, was chosen, and gave out copies of The Absolute True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

I have to admit, I was a little nervous giving the book out to students when I first started.  I mean, what would they say?  The would probably think I am crazy.  But then again, I am the crazy reading teacher so, I would be totally ok with that.  I gave a lot of books to former students.  They were students I remembered not to be crazy about reading and usually groaning about SSR.  I also gave most of my books to male students.  I did not mean to discriminate but I think this book can do a lot to reach male students.  I also gave the book to students in my class and of course, today was a dedicated SSR day.

Some students did not seem to know what to do.  The first two students I gave a book to, two juniors I had last year at sophomores, seemed confused even when I explained it to them.  I fear they may have just stuffed them in their lockers.  One student flat out refused to take a book from me.  That hurt a little bit but I pushed on.  Unfortunately, one book was found abandoned in the hallway.  I was very sad about that.  However, I quickly found a new owner for that book.

Most students were pleased though.  A former student working on his senior project came to borrow books from the author he is focusing on.  I gave him a copy of the book and he genuinely thanked me for it.  He said he would give it a try.  Some students that I caught in the hall thanked me and told me it was nice.  They promised to read it for SSR.  (One teacher sent a student back to get more information about where the book had come from.)  One student, part of a due I refer to as ‘Double Trouble,’ wanted to make sure he was getting a book since his sidekick received one.  (These two spent the majority of SSR last year reading Captain Underpants.  I explained this would probably appeal to them.)  Another student started reading it right away during SSR in our class and said he wanted to read it every day since I had given it to him.  I conferred with him today and he said he was liking the book and wanted to give it a try.  (The number one compliment on the book was that it had pictures.)  I hope to see the books around more in the possession of my students.

I am glad I got to take part in this event and hope to do so again next year.  It sends a strong message to people and I am all for anything that promotes reading.  I am a proud book giver and will continue to strive to get books in the hands of light and non-readers for years to come.  I hope many of us are inspired to pass on the love of reading through strong books throughout the years.

For more information on World Book Night America, visit: http://www.us.worldbooknight.org/

#Bookaday in Review

Spring break has now come to an end.  This year, I challenged myself to participate in #BookaDay.  The plan was to read a book per day over break.  I was well prepared with a bag full of books that I brought home from school.  Things went pretty well, despite a small snag in the plans.  Here are the books I read over break.

1. The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

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This book was actually recommended to me by a student.  He described it to me as a cross between Harry Potter and Hunger Games.  He let me borrow his copy.  I had started to read it before break started and finished it up on Saturday.  Overall, I can say I enjoyed the book.  I was not crazy about it, but I felt fairly entertained throughout.  I can definitely see the appeal for younger audiences.  

2. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

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This book…this book…wrecked me.  However, it wrecked me in a good way.  I was commenting not to long ago how it has been awhile since I really cried in a book.  I have had emotional attachments to books and have been a little teary eyed, but lately nothing has really brought the sobs out.  All that changed when I read A Monster Calls. This story is just beautiful.  There is no way to fully put into the words how this book made me feel.  Everyone should read this book. 

3. Paper Towns by John Green

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I will start this by saying I have loved John Green’s work before.  The Fault in Our Stars and Looking for Alaska are two of my favorite books I have ever read.  I was really pulled into Paper Towns at the beginning but as the story went on, I found my attention and interest falling a bit.  I just wanted Q to find Margo and figure it all out.  I felt a bit lost with the ending.  I feel as though I have missed something here.  I enjoyed the book but I was not as crazy over it as I have been with Green’s other work.

4. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate

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I must borrow the words of Colby Sharp to describe this masterpiece: “This book fills my heart.”  I loved Applegate’s work in Home of the Brave when I read in my Diversity in Lit class.  She is an amazing writer, even when using only a few words.  The story of Ivan is heartfelt and moving.  I hope students will give this book a try to just enjoy this beautiful piece of literature.

Now at this point in my break, something very uncommon happened.  I traveled out of town.  The first bag a packed was a bag of books.  I planned on doing a lot of reading.  Well, I arrived at my destination to find I left said bag at home in my kitchen.  So, that changed things.  Thank goodness for the Nook app on my I-Phone I was able to still do some reading, though not what I had anticipated.

5. Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

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This book has been sitting on my Nook since last summer.  It was recommended by a friend but I just never got to it.  I am quite sorry I waited so long to get back to it.  This is a touching story about the friendship and bond between Henry, who is Chinese, and Keiko, who is Japanese, during World War II.  I am very interested in stories that center around the Japanese Internment Camps of the 1940s.  (For a great novel on this for younger readers, check out Thin Wood Walls by David Patneaude.)  I know a great complaint about this book are the anachronisms associated with the part of the story taking place in the 1980s, but if you can look beyond that, it is a lovely story.

During said road trip, I did have the foresight to check out audio books from the library before I left.  I finished on of them on the trip.

6. Shattering Glass by Gail Giles

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I have been wanting to read this book for awhile.  It was suggested by Sarah Anderson to me when I planned my first Donors Choose project.  I was blown away by this story.  It was absolutely nothing like I anticipated.  It was a little confusing at first with the audio to have the statements from witnesses after the fact but I soon caught on.  I loved that Young was far from perfect, yet believable.  I also loved the characters of Ronna and Coop.  I wanted the CD to read faster at times so I can see how everything came to the end that was teased from the beginning and how other characters were involved from what was learned in the flash forwards.  I can see why so many of my students go to this book.   

7. Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

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Put this book on the top of your to-read list and get your hands on it as soon as possible.  Easily this book now holds a place on my favorite books ever list.  Lucky is just an amazing character you can’t help but cheer for.  Parts had me laughing out loud while other parts, especially page 205, just ripped my heart out.  And I truly believe that everybody does see the ants.  At least, I know I do.  Perfect book to wrap up #bookaday with!

 

Why I Teach

As the state of education is quite depressing in Michigan and there seems to be more negative ideas about teaching than ever before, I think it is important to remind ourselves why we teach and what we are doing it for.  As we enter the last leg of the school year when we return from spring break, here are my reasons why I do what I do.

I first thought about teaching in tenth grade.  There were two main English teachers for tenth grade.  One was the “easy one” and one was “the hard one.”  Mrs. Hard One of course had a rough reputation among students and everyone hoped to be in Mrs. Easy One’s class.  I had Mrs. Easy One for the first semester and well, I greatly disliked her class.  I did not like what she chose to read (curriculum seemed to be rather free flowing when I was in school) and she was not a fan of my writing style (I am very protective over that).  I was further infuriated with her class when I wrote an essay on the novel A Separate Peace after reading only four chapters and watching about 10 minutes of the movie and I received an A.  Yes, this bothered me.  I was not challenged.  I learned how to play the game in her class but I was not proud of the work I had done.  (Till this day I still have not read A Separate Peace tough one for my good friends swears I should.  One day I will.)

The next semester I was in Mrs. Hard One’s class.  And guess what…I loved it!  She challenged us in ways I had not really been challenged before.  I appreciated the assessments she had for Julius Caesar and I knew she could pick out a load of BS in writing from 10 paces.  I did my work and I think I can safely say I read everything in the class.  It was one of the first times I liked poetry.  It was at this time it started to hit me why so many of my classmates did not like English: There were less teachers like Mrs. Hard One and more like Mrs. Easy One that seemed to ruin English for students.  I thought I might want to be a teacher so that I could make English a little better for students.

Teaching became my focus after a year and a half with another English teacher in my school.  The beauty of Mrs. Spear’s craft was that she was no taller than 5 feet, yet she struck a respectable fear in students’ hearts.  She knew not every student would leave her class in love with English, but she made sure we had a respect for it.  In Advanced Composition and AP English, she stretched me to my limits because she knew that is where I could go.  She knew she could call me out when I did not give it my all (Odeipus paper I am looking at you) but she could also appreciate and point out where I grew and matured as a student.  I knew I wanted to be a teacher so I could be like her.

In college, I discovered the type of student I wanted to be a teacher for.  I met Sammy the summer before I left for college.  He was a year younger than I was and part of the “Bad Boy” group I hung out with.  I knew Sammy had dropped out of school before graduation but not much else about his academic career.  We were talking one night through AIM (dating myself, I know) and I told him I would probably get going soon to read and go to bed.  He asked what I was reading and I told him 1984 by George Orwell, assuming he would have no idea what I was talking about.  Sammy replied, “I really like that book.”  I admitted to him that I was surprised he had read it and we we got into quite the literary discussion about the book.  Near the end of our conversation, Sammy told me the reason why he had dropped out of school: teachers always told him he wouldn’t amount to anything so he figured why should he bother.  That comment still stays with me today and I refuse to let a student believe he or she cannot do anything or that he or she will just fail.  I want to be a teacher for the Sammy’s of the world.

Each year I teach, I come across more reasons as to why I teach.  A few years ago, our building was put on the “Persistently Failing Schools” list.  I called my mom and cried because I refused to believe that was true.  It hurt to be told that.  I had been hearing all kinds of comments about my school and students since I got hired, many assumptions I will not publish here from people who have never set foot in my school.  Those assumptions and definitions are not what I see in my classroom each day. When everyone started wondering if people would leave during these times and where there were other jobs, that never crossed my mind.  If I did not stay and teach and fight for my students, who would?  I am happy to say we are “off” the list though still monitored.  I hope we continue to strive to achieve and accomplish more for and with our students.

My passion for reading is another reason I teach.  I love sharing books with students.  While not every single student becomes a huge book nerd like me after leaving my classroom, I know I have reached a number of students over the last few years.  Students have told me they read more than every before after being in my class.  One senior told me he was reading the first book he had read since fifth grade.  Just this past week, a number of students checked out books to bring home over break, asking if they can have more than one. (Why yes, of course, I always reply.)  I am blown away by the number of books I have checked out this year.  I am even more excited when a student asks me to check out a book a classmate or friend was talking about.  I teach to foster life long readers.

I am inspired and surprised by my students each day.  Some days are much harder than others, but when I remember why I started this and why I am here, I know there is nothing else in the world I would rather do.  I choose to focus on the positive and I am so happy when I get to talk with and meet other teachers who feel the same. 

Read Aloud

Well, I did it.  I faced my fear.  I started reading aloud to my tenth graders.  And…it’s amazing!  Now I have read aloud to my students before.  For example, I read parts of the anchor text we are working on or when I model my think aloud for informational text.  However, I have never just read something out loud to students just to do it.  I have heard the advantages of this, but for some reason, reading just to read to high schoolers terrified me.  What if they hated it?  They would protest!  All it would do is waste time and no one will listen…my fears went on and on.

After MRA12 and spending time with the wonderful members of the Nerdy Book Club, I started to think that maybe I really should do this, even if I do have scary teenagers.  I mentioned it in passing to my co-teacher.  Jacqueline was completely supportive of the idea and thought the kids would love it.  Then last week, my good friend Sarah over at YA Love posted her top 10 read alouds to use with her students, which prompted an engaging Twitter conversation.  I knew what book I wanted to use – Wonder by RJ Palacio.  I just had to do it.

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Last Wednesday, I finally took the lead in my fourth and fifth hour classes.  It seemed to go alright.  Some students laughed at the farting nurse.  It was quite and students said we could read some more.  I now start every class with a read aloud.  First and second hour are a half step behind since I did not start till Thursday.  The students seem to like it.  This is just how we start class.  I noticed when I am reading and some students start to trickle in late, they are silent when they do.  There is no big entrance or production about it, limited disruptions in class.  Most students seem to be listening and it just seems like a great way to ease into the day.  One student even told another one of her teachers that I am reading aloud to them and she thinks my colleague should as well.  I passed off Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach.  I hope her students like yet.

I had to work at our ISD yesterday, so I was not in.  I took Wonder home with me so I could finish reading it myself.  Jacqueline told me today that students were bummed to see I was not there and begged her to read.  She said that of course she would.  But then she realized I had the book and it was not in the classroom.  The students were not happy about that.  Today, a few student lectured me and told me I was not allowed to take it anymore and they could not wait to hear more.  

I am very happy I get to share this book with so many students.  It is just amazing.  It is funny, heart-wrenching, and all in all just beautiful.  I am not ashamed to admit I had some free-falling tears at a specific spot, even though I could tell it was coming.  (Won’t spoil it for anyone that has not read it!)  I hope I continue to find success with reading to my students in this way.

Trimester Reflections

So another trimester has come to an end.  Seriously, where is this year going?!  Before I know it, Prom will be here and then graduation and then the wedding…but I am getting WAY ahead of myself.  The end of the trimester and all that I have been learning this year leads me to reflect on what I have done and what I want to do.

Things I am proud of


I am proud of a number of things I have accomplished in the last 12 weeks.  First of all, I loved the narrative writing unit in 10 B.  I have written about this before.  It really pushed students in a good way to start thinking of other types of writing besides persuasive (THANK GOODNESS!) and I think the long-term effects are more voice is coming out in my students’ writing.  Plus, it was a great way to get to know my students more.

I am also happy with how the research project in 10A improved this trimester.  While there is still room for improvement (and more ideas to come) I think it was much more successful this trimester than first trimester.  Teaching research is HARD, there is no other way to describe it.  But with anything, the more practice I have at it, the stronger the unit will become.  I also know that my students need these skills.  That makes it worth it, no matter what happens.  At least I know they have learned something.

I have also incorporated more informational texts in the curriculum and am becoming more comfortable teaching them.  I have been modeling for students how I approach these texts more and more and incorporated the Close and Critical Reading Questions to help students get to that higher level of thinking.  Again, it will take more practice – for me and my students – but I have been pleasantly surprised with how insightful the responses have been and where some students have been taking the synthesis of text and comparing across texts.

Finally, I had much more success in the choice book unit in 10B this trimester than I did in 10A first trimester.  Students for the most part really got into the books, especially The Pull of Gravity by Gae Polsnier.  I became more comfortable in my mini-lessons and conferencing with the students.  I observed deeper conversations in the groups as well.  I am hoping for more success in this as well.

Focus for Third Trimester

This trimester, I am single prepped with 10B and I have a lot of ideas for what I want to do.  My major goal is to conference with students more, especially reading conferences.  I have been doing some writing conferencing but have avoided reading conferences, at least in a more formal way than just chatting with students before or after class.  I think there are two main reasons why.  First, I felt it would interrupt the students too much during SSR.  Second, I was kind of selfish (*looks down ashamedly*).  I wanted to read during SSR time and didn’t want to give that up.  However, I am much more aware of how important that time can be in a conference.  And I also can’t wait to see the new information I will gather from my students this way.

Second, I want to balance out my units more.  I think there can be a healthy balance of reading and writing every day and not keeping them in such isolation.   For example, just because we are working on the narratives does not mean that is the ONLY thing I can focus on.  There can still be time for writing workshop as well as dedicating time to reading.  This will give more time for the choice book units and independent work for students.

Finally, I want my students interacting more.  Jim Burke stressed the importance of talk in the classroom at MRA.  I think that the more the students talk, the richer choice book discussions will be and the more independence students will have in the class.

I am looking forward to see what this trimester brings and what else I will learn this year.

MRA 2012

This past weekend has been one of the best weekends in my professional life!  The Michigan Reading Association Conference seemed to be exactly what I have needed lately.  It was refreshing and energizing to be around other educators that share my passion for promoting reading.

I started at the session with Jim Burke about using talk to deepen students’ understanding.  It was inspiring!  I really loved his demonstration of putting a picture up and having us explain how that picture representing a piece of literature.  After writing, we discussed our ideas with others.  I appreciated how he explained that talk can happen in many forms – even writing.  And that even a quick one minute talk can be powerful for students.  I am looking forward to reading more of his work (I have been using him for awhile now) and deepening the talk among my students in the classroom.

On Saturday, I also attended a session on classroom libraries presented by Erica Beaton and Lindsey Tilley.  Again, I loved hearing from other teachers who so deeply believe in the power of reading in the classroom.  I also appreciated the success stories they shared and the different ways they have incorporated student choice in their curriculum.  The student interviews proved how effective choice and access to choices can be.  I was particularly inspired by Lindsey’s research idea of students reading a piece of historical fiction and researching the time period to evaluate the book.  I even contacted her today to get more information about the project and I plan on developing it to use in the 10 A class next year for our integrated research project.  At the end of the presentation, I introduced myself to Erica as I had recently started to follow her on Twitter. It was an amazing experience to meet someone in person whom I was learning from through the internet.  It made me excited for meeting up with the Nerdy Book Club that night.

One of the most exciting things of the weekend happened by complete accident.  I was in the exhibit area with the middle school teachers from my district who also attended.  I was enjoying the book distributor displays and spent some time debating which I would buy from.  Apparently, I made an excellent choice!  After purchasing The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater and The Name of the Star by Maureen Johnson, an ARC was slipped into my bag.  I nearly died of shock and was too afraid to say anything about which ARC the cashier had given me.  I received an ARC of Insurgent by Veronica Roth!  Not only was this my first ARC experience, but how much better does it get than that?!

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That night was one of the best parts of the weekend.  I met up with members of the Nerdy Book Club.  I was introduced to this amazing group of people through clicking around on Twitter through following my friend Sarah and Donalyn Miller, whose book The Book Whisperer blew me away when I read it this summer.  It was amazing to be around so many passionate readers and educators that night.  Everyone had great ideas and titles to share.  It was an honor to meet everyone and person and hear what they had to say.  We talked about everything expected as well as some of the unexpected.  I was quite ecstatic to learn about Hunger Games inspired nail polish.  We had a brief discussion about which paranormal boyfriend is best – Donalyn’s students decided on Sam from Mercy Falls.  I have added a great number of books to me to-read list (five of which were ordered last night!).  I felt completely accepted among my peers.  I have to laugh when I think about what Shawn told me as I explained all of this to him: “You were completely in your element, weren’t you?”  I really was.

The next morning was Donalyn’s key note.  I am inspired by this idea of “Readers in the Wild.”  I have had the issue where I see students reading in my class, but when I talk to them after they finish the course, they are not reading.  The question Donalyn posed hit very close to home: “I’m I creating independent or dependent readers?”  I think my students have become dependent on me to provide reading opportunities, but they need to learn the habits of becoming avid life-long readers.  I am already seeing ways I can encourage and foster these habits for my students.  I think one of my main focuses will be that students are recommending books to each other.  Donalyn made the point that for every 1 book I share, 3 students should be sharing their books with the class.  That is a huge focus for next trimester (which already starts next week!).  I also had the lucky chance of running into Donalyn before I left and I had the opportunity to tell her how much I enjoyed her talk.  We even discussed how these habits should be explicitly discussed and brought out in the classroom.  I loved the analogy she made about how these habits can be taught and learned otherwise every gym and fitness class in the country would not be successful.  I am really looking forward to learning more about helping my students develop life-long reading habits when her new book comes out.

I loved that I attended sessions that showed me that all teachers have their ups and downs, and that is ok.  Just don’t give up!  Hearing Jim Burke talk about his teaching failures was not something I ever expected to hear, but it reminded me that we are all human.  At the same time, it was also inspiring to hear of the success teachers are having in the classroom promoting the same beliefs and philosophies I truly believe in and feel a passion for.  I hope to be able to attend this conference next year, as well as other conferences like NCTE in the future.