Bringing Things to a Close

Image result for stack of books

Photo CC-Booklane

This semester is drawing to an end, and I have to admit I feel like I have gotten more out of this semester than many of the semesters preceding this one. I’ll attribute part of this to many of the authors I have been introduced to this semester by my different professors, and of course to the amazing professors that I’ve had. I’ve read books on reading and writing by Don Murray, Peter Elbow, Nancy Atwell, and of course Penny Kittle. As the semester draws to a close I am grateful that Book Love is one of the books that I had the foresight to buy this semester because I have a feeling I will be wanting it over and over again in the future.

These final two chapters helped fill in a lot of the missing pieces that I had been looking for in the book. How do we as teachers make a way to fill societies need for grades? How can students expand their learning from the books that they are reading? I’ve these questions over and over as a I read, and I feel like I have a better grasp now on some possible answers to these, and several other, questions.

First off, I love the idea of the Big Idea Books. I feel like they work to help students develop a deeper understanding of the books that they read. I had a conversation with one of my professors a while back, and we were discussing how often we just read for surface content, and we don’t look for anything deeper in our books. Having the Big Idea Books helps students to think about themes, ideas, and arguments that are being made by an author. Even acknowledging the theme of a book can be a huge step for a student. I honestly didn’t really learn how to look at this until I was a sophomore in college. No one had really pointed out to me that there is more to books than just a story. Books have meaning, and I think it’s important that students at least look for those meanings. Also, having the book timelines really seems like it would lead to some interesting results.

I think that the quarter students assessments are really great. It is huge to be able to set goals and reflect on them. Having students reflect on their own reading lives gives them time to see how they have improved, and allows you to see what areas they think they are improving. I think it is really important to look at students’ own self-assessment because it allows you to see into their heads a little bit.

Over the years I’ve heard a million arguments against standardized testing, and even pitched a few of my own, but I think Kittle makes one of the best arguments about it that I have heard. She also presented a few thoughts on standardized testing than I had thought about before. Her suggestions on reading assessment actually make a lot of sense.

I’ve gotten so many amazing ideas for my classroom from this book. I’ve learned a lot about student readers, and ways to hopefully create more student readers. I’m glad that I will have this book around for quite awhile because I’m sure that I’ll be looking back at it several times in the future. Another great book to add to one’s teaching bookshelf.

Let’s Get Pumped for Summer!

4794305480_6143140b75_z

Photo CC- Frank Schmidt

Summer has always been my least favorite season. I prefer the crisp days of Fall, or even the hopeful days of Spring, to those hot summer days spent trying to avoid the humidity that Eastern Nebraska likes to bring (thank you corn). The one nice thing about summer is that instead of taking classes my days are filled with my job at the local gas station and lots and lots of books. I’m especially excited for this summer because I have an idea of what I want to read, and how I want to keep my experiences from this class going.

I took a look at the #readeveryday challenge, and I have to say it looks like it might be more than I can chew, but I do think I want to set a reading goal this summer. I really Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. It continues to push adversity, but also gives you a manageable amount of books to read even though it is actually set up to be accomplished over the course of the year. I also looked at some other Reading Bingo’s that seemed interesting and brought a variety of books to the table. I’d like to at least read 30 books by the end of the summer. Although I feel like if I can read that many books during this semester then I can probably do way more.

Summer Reading Bingo Challenge for Kids.  Get Your Kid Reading this Summer with these Free Printable Bingo Boards!:

Photo Credit- The Chirping Moms

I also found a Bingo card that focused on who you read to and where you read that looked interesting and creative, and I definitely want to try it even if it might be for little kids (Pinterest really is amazing). I have this grand images of curling up on the couch and spending my afternoons in good books. In reality my reading will probably be mixed in wherever I can get it. I’ve gotten into a really good habit of reading before bed, and I want to keep that going. My family is very active during the summers, so I can foresee a lot of outdoor reading and reading in the car.

I plan to continue using Goodreads and other YA blogs to find books to read over the summer. I have a lot of YA series that I want to read that I didn’t get to read this semester. I’m hoping to read Red Queen, finish the Maze Runner series, and finally reread The Mortal Instruments books by Cassandra Clare. Along with these there are still a few random TBR books that I want to check out. Thankfully I’ve looked and our local library carries most of them, yay! Our library is actually located in another town about 10 minutes away. While this may not be much of a drive gas really makes it hard to make a trip there everyday. My sisters and I have developed a tradition of going over to the library at least twice a week to stock up on books. We’ve learned to get more books than we think we need because often the stack we picked up the day before is gone in at least a day. I’m know this tradition will continue to help me continue to stock up on books to read, and with two sisters in middle school, and a sister who is a Junior I’m sure I’ll be able to get plenty of book suggestions.

I’m really excited for the summer of freedom and reading that I have ahead of me. It’s going to be great, and hey it will keep me out of trouble.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 4.17.17

This week was filled with many books that either caught my attention or served to keep me occupied during my late night moments of insomnia. Even with Easter weekend I still managed to find some time to curl up and binge read three books this week. When I say binge read I mean that I sat down and read each of these in the span of two hours, so yay for six hours of reading this week.

Girls Like Us by Gail Giles

Keeping on the track of reading about different disabilities this book deals with two Image result for girls like us gail gilesSpecial Education students as they learn to function after graduation. Biddy was born with a birth defect, and is unable to read or write. She also isn’t always able to keep track of (or understand) what’s going on. Then there’s the outspoken Quincy, who may not be able to write, but she will sure speak her mind. The two couldn’t be more different, but they also couldn’t be a more perfect match.

Pros: Wow a very eye opening book. The story deals in detail with what it means to be considered stupid just because your brain doesn’t work the same as everyone else. It really focuses on those with mental disabilities and what they go to try and fit into a world where everyone else tells them they are different. Biddy and Quincy are so different, but they have to learn to work together, share chores, and ultimately trust each other. This book has so much to do with friendship, respect, and what it means to be human. A sort of spoiler the book does touch on the subject of sexual assault, and to be honest it pissed me off the ideas that were put into these girls’ heads since they were different, and yet, it opened my eyes to how often the events in the book can actually happen.

Cons: The first half of this book was so slow. It took me forever to get into it, and I almost invoked my reader’s rights and gave up. Even though I’m glad I stuck with it, I really only loved the second half of the book (if that’s possible). The bad guy was your stereotypical creepy guy, and the plot was slightly predictable at times. I think this is why I hated the first half so much.

The Vanishing Game by Kate Kae Meyers (Book Club friends there are spoilers ahead)

Image result for the vanishing game kate kae myers

Let’s see. I’m not even sure how to describe this book. It honestly messed with my head in so many different ways. There is mystery, a little fantasy, and thriller all mixed into one, and my word it’s done beautifully. The book follows Jocelyn who receives a letter from her brother, Jack, who is supposed to be dead. Jocelyn teams up with a childhood friend, Noah, and revists her childhood in order to solve the clues and find Jack before it’s too late.

Pros: This book keeps you on your toes. If you like books that take you on several twists and turns, and you never know what’s coming next then this is the book for you. I didn’t even see the ending coming (and yes I’m still trying to figure it all out). Jocelyn spends a lot of time in her past mostly describing what it was like to be in and out of foster homes, and what it means to live with abusive parents. This book deals heavily with psychology, and it really makes you think. I’m not really sure what else to say, but that I really loved it.

Cons: As much as I loved the ending I felt like they tried to resolve everything too fast. Every twist is thrown at you in one chapter, and honestly I needed more time to digest it all. I wish all the information had been a little bit more spread out. Other than that I loved this book, and if it fits your interests I would highly suggest reading it.

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

The third book I gulped down this week was actually my least favorite of the three. Sure it hooked me in, but there were definitely a few things missing. It’s Friday night and Rashad just wants to grab a pack of gum and some chips. Next thing he knows he’s being accused of stealing and a police officer is pummeling him. Quincy, sees the event happen, but the officer is his best friends older brother. What do you do when you are caught in the middle of it all? In an age where police brutality and racism are heavily discussed this books comes in as a way to help navigate it all.

Pros: Rashad is African-American and while he follows every rule he is still treated badly. Rashad is forced to look at the facts and decide whether or not he wants to do Image result for all american boyssomething or just stay quiet. He also has to work through how is race somehow impacted the police officer’s decisions. Quincy also has a lot to work through. He has to decide whether to do the right thing, especially when doing it could cost him everything. The two journeys help the reader think about what it means to act up and not just sit back and watch.

Cons: While there was plot to this novel there also wasn’t a plot. The book drug, and I felt like nothing was really resolved by the time it finished. Of course the boys have made their decisions, but I wanted something more to come of it. I think this was just me being optimistic and hoping that a book would somehow do something that we haven’t been able to do in real life. I guess that’s what makes this book so great is that it points out we have a long way to go, but each of us has a choice to do the right thing.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 4.10.17

During the past semester I’ve picked up a lot of books that I had never heard of before. Maybe it’s the fact that my school library didn’t have a lot of them, or simply that I just hadn’t kept up with what was popular. Whatever the reason was I feel like I’ve made a lot of steps toward fixing this lack of knowledge about what’s popular for teens. This week’s popular reading was 13 Reason’s Why by Jay Asher. I will admit that this reading was partially spurred on by the Netflix show, and partially because the book deals with several topics that I’ve been interested in.

Synopsis: For those who haven’t heard about the book (or the show), it centers around Image result for 13 reasons why book coverthe suicide of Hannah Baker. Before Hannah dies she leaves thirteen different tapes that explain why she ended up killing herself. On each tape is a person that in some way contributed to her death. The story is told in first person by Clay Jenson, who has just received the tapes. We follow Clay as he tries to figure out which tape has his name on it, and what he did to cause his crush to kill herself.

Pros: This book deals with some very heavy details. There is obviously Hannah’s suicide, but underneath her suicide are occurrences of sexual assault and bullying. I won’t reveal all the reasons Hannah kills herself, but they do get readers thinking about the power of words and actions. There is a lot in the book about suicide awareness, and how to know the signs of a person considering suicide. The signs are obviously spread throughout the novel, but are missed by every single character. It gets the reader thinking about their actions, and how they can have a positive impact on another person’s life. I think the book does a good job of painting a picture of what can happen when you take things too far.

Cons: Be careful who reads this book. As someone who has suffered from depression this book was actually very triggering. There are a lot of scenes in the book that are graphic, and can have a negative effect on students who may already deal with some of these issues. This is really something to be aware of. Also, at times it is hard to tell when it is Hannah talking on the tapes and Clay is thinking. These two events are often hard to keep separate.

I read this book in a couple of sittings, and while it took me awhile to get out of my funk it did bring a lot of issues to light that I would rather not be hidden. I think Asher did a beautiful job of dealing with some very hard issues here. I highly, highly recommend checking out this book. It’s very informational and enjoyable (while sometimes very frustrating).

A Little Coffee for the Reading Classroom

28628313543_7203383c8e_z

Photo CC-Crash Symbols

How do we motivate our students to become better readers? Maybe a better question is: How do we motivate ourselves to help our students to become better readers. Reading is important. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that. In fact, the statistics are there, yet teachers everyday continue to be satisfied with the result rather than the process. What do I mean by this? I think too often teachers become so caught up in teaching that ONE book students just have to read, and so they put students’ reading lives to the side so that they can teach THAT book. Now I was a nerd in high school I read pretty much every book ever assigned, but I would bet half of my class survived off of Spark Notes, and the class discussion (which normally consisted of myself and two others because we were the only one’s that read).

Don’t get me wrong I think the classics have their place, but they don’t have the right to destroy the beauty of reading. I think Jim Bailey was right, most of our high school and middle school English classrooms have succumbed to the GERM. We’ve become so bogged down by standardized testing that we have forgotten what teaching is about in the first place. I do want to point out that when I see we it’s more of a generalization. Obviously not everyone has done this or we wouldn’t be talking about a solution to the problem. So how do we cure ourselves from this germ, and motivate our students to become the readers that we know they can be?

Step 1: Get rid of the preconceived notion that if you don’t introduce students to it they won’t read it. You might be surprised by what they are willing to read when you aren’t shoving material down their throats. In “Aim Higher: A Case for Choice Reading and a Whole Lot More in AP English,” Amy Rasmussen quotes a friend who says, ““I was never allowed to choose for myself in AP or Honors English, but had I been allowed to…I would have read all of those books [classics], and arrived at a deeper level of love and reverence for literature, much earlier in my reading life.” Gives you something to think about.

Step 2: Bring free choice into your classroom. Pretty self-explanatory, but let students have some say in what books they are reading. We’ve talked about this one before so lets move on.

Step 3: Motivate! You may be asking, “How do I motivate my students to read.” Don’t worry I have some ideas.

Step 3a: Lead by example. It’s hard to encourage students to read if you aren’t reading yourself. If they don’t see you reading, and enjoying yourself reading, they won’t see the importance.

Step 3b: Build relationships with your students. Ask them about the books they are reading, and what they think about them. This works in two ways: you can see if they are really reading the book they have chosen, and they will know that you have an actual interest in their reading life and you want to see them improve.

Step 3c: Give students options. Do book talks that briefly highlight different books in the classroom. Don’t just leave students hanging.

Step 3d: Give your students goals that they can achieve. Maybe it is helping them figure out how many books they can read in a semester, or it could be helping them to learn a certain number of new words from their reading (reading journals are great for recording these). Whatever it is help them build reading goals for themselves, and then celebrate when they reach these goals.

Step 4: Remember that the research backs this up. You aren’t on your own in implementing this. Others have tried this, and they have the statistics to prove that it can work. You don’t have to fight the battle for your students unarmed. In fact, you can prove that reading improves vocabulary, helps students perform better on high stakes testing, and so much more.

Yes, The Scarlet Letter is great, but is it really worth sacrificing your students’ reading lives over?

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 4.3.17

If there’s one thing I discovered this week it’s that long plane rides can be great for getting reading done, unless your like me and get motion sick when you down for too long. Despite this minor setback I managed to get a lot of reading done this past week, while having a great time. On a completely unrelated note, if you are interested in Sigma Tau Delta and attending their international conference next year I suggest that you go for it. It’s an absolutely amazing experience. Anyway on to the books

Kissing Doorknobs by Terry Spencer Hesser

Image result for kissing doorknobs

Do you ever get compulsive thoughts stuck in your head all the time? Does the saying ‘step on a crack break your mother’s back’ echo so many times in your head that you begin counting cracks anytime you step out your front door? If any of these apply to you then you might be struggling with something similar to our main character Tara, a girl who has relatively no control over her life. Tara suffers from an undiagnosed form of OCD in a time where the disease was fairly new. The book shows her struggles and the different ways OCD can show itself.

Pros: This book taught me so much about OCD. I honestly didn’t really understand a lot about the disease and how it manifests itself before picking it up. The book itself is a short read that isn’t afraid to get very real about issues. The book details the many compulsions that Tara finds herself suffering from, and the effect these compulsions have on her social and family life. Tara has some great characters who come alongside her, but for the most part she fights her battles, and she does it well. Kind of a spoiler, but in the end when she finally gets treated she is the one that steps and becomes a pretty awesome female lead. I think this book has a lot to say about how tough you have to be to fight OCD, which isn’t a mental illness but something caused by a chemical imbalance (who knew?).

Cons: The book gets a little intense at times. Tara’s mother hits her multiple times to try and get her to stop her compulsion and those scenes get a little messy. I struggled with these scenes because it felt almost abusive, but at the same time it shows just how little people understand about OCD and what it is. At the end when Tara is finally diagnosed her mom is pretty dang remorseful. There are some editing errors within the book, and often the narrative gets a little jumbled, but those didn’t really get in the way of the book’s message.

I think overall this is a great book, and it’s eye opening. Tara is taken to multiple specialists and diagnosed with several different issues. This demonstrates a lack of knowledge even among the professionals. It’s a nice quick read, and you will learn a lot from it.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Meet Junior, a Spokane Indian living on a reservation. He is smart, but he was born with what he calls water on the brain. This condition leaves him looking, and behaving, slightly different than the rest of the kids on the rez. Junior decides to attend school at nearby Rearden where no Spokane has ever stepped foot before. Now Junior has to learn to navigate two different worlds, and somehow come out on top.

Pros: This book is rough. It is honest. It is informational. You might cry, but that’s okay I did too. Alexie doesn’t shy away from displaying the realities of life on the rez for Junior. Image result for the absolutely true diary of part-time indianHe doesn’t use anything to soften the blow he just lays it all out there, and I love that because I think it makes this story hit home. Junior has some great support in his life, and he has to go through a lot of crap half of us can only imagine. Yet somehow in all of this he manages to make something great come out of it. I really can say anymore than this because honestly I feel like it would ruin the book and it’s one I feel everyone needs to read at least once in their life.

Cons: None. GO GET THIS BOOK NOW