The Saturday Boy, The Night Circus, and All’s Faire in Middle School

While thinking about my midterm grade I realized that I hadn’t really been dedicating enough time to really doing a lot of reading, so I decided to fix that and managed to finish three different books this week. I thought they were all so good that I just had to share them with you.

The first one I finished was “All’s Faire in Middle School” by Victoria Jamieson. Jamieson is also the author of “Roller Girl,” which I haven’t read, but is definitely on my list after finishing this book. The book is about Imogene who has been home schooled much of Image result for alls faire in middle schoolher life, but has decided to go to public school. The kicker is she decided to start in middle school (which to me seems like a poor idea, but whatever). Also, Imogene’s family works at a Renaissance Fair, and this is Imogene’s first year working as well. She starts out as a squire, and she absolutely loves it. However, through a strange set of events she ends up being a sort of bully at her new school. This opens up several doors for learning lessons and self-discovery. I loved this book because I could relate to it on so many levels. I was taken back to my own middle school days, and I discovered that this story still hit me as a senior in college. The message is just as strong now as it would have been then. This is definitely a book that I want to include in my classroom, and I highly recommend that you do too.

The second one was “The Night Circus” by Erin Morgenstern. I’ve been reading this book for awhile now, and it took me forever to get into it. I finally forced myself to sit down and let myself get drawn in, I then finished it in two hours. While the book has a slow start by the end of it you are wishing that it would just keep going. It is told from multiple The Night Circusperspectives as well as from different time periods, so you really have to stay on your toes. It isn’t so bad, however, that it detracts from the story. I’d try to describe the plot line to you, but it’s one of those books that you really just have to discover it for yourself. Seriously, you need to read this book.

Finally, we have “The Saturday Boy” by David Flemming. This book is definitely a lower level reading book, but that in no way detracts from the story. The book follows Derek, a fifth grader whose father is deployed and flies Apache helicopters. Derek is still navigating the idea of growing up, what it means to be almost a middle schooler, and most importantly having an absentee father. The book also deals with issues of bullying. When I picked up this book I wasn’t sure what I was going to get, but I will tell you that I laughed and cried while reading it. I think this book Image result for the saturday boywas an interesting read, but there were also some plot holes that I wasn’t really sure about. Overall though I enjoyed reading it, and if any of you would like to borrow it let me know.

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Week 9: Hitting the Wall

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I’m not going to lie the last few weeks have been draining. I feel like I’m being bounced in twenty directions, and somehow I’m supposed to be able to keep up. While fall break was a great relief from the demands I have been facing this semester, it wasn’t quite enough. The break was great. I got to read some really great books, like Thornhill (so creepy!), and I worked on my professional development book (not as exciting). I got to spend some awesome time with my family, and overall it was a great four days.

I thought I was fully recovered until Wednesday afternoon when I just hit a wall. Our Reading and Writing teacher gave us this completely ridiculous assignment on readability. It was one of those assignments that was pretty much a filler because she had to go teach a class. I learned nothing from it, and it was definitely busy work. I went to print out the stupid assignment, and the printer was jammed. In that moment I had this realization that I have never had in college before, “I don’t care anymore.” Hitting that wall helped me to realize a lot of things about myself, and my chosen profession, that I hadn’t thought about before.

This semester I have felt like I was being pulled between two different sets of ideals. I have constantly been bombarded with conflicting ideas, and I’ve been left in the middle to sort out all of the information. I’ve jumped through so many hoops for my BLOCK teachers that I have seriously questioned whether I even wanted to teach anymore. I have wanted to teach since I was five years old, and worshiped my aunt who was an elementary school teacher. I thought she was the greatest person ever, and I wanted to be just like her. That passion just seemed to grow and grow through the rest of my life, and I’ve been so sure of it that, up until now, I never considered changing my major or doing something else with my life. My passion has always been kids, and I think it’s sad that I have people teaching me who make me question whether it’s even worth it.

Even though I question it, I still know that this is what I have been called to do. I am starting to realize that this job will never be easy. Children will leave their homes, and it will be my job to make sure that they are ready for whatever happens in their future. It will be my job to provide them with an environment in which they will be able to learn, and that I will have to fight for them every day for as long as I teach. I realize that I will hit walls, and that sometimes it’s okay to take a step back and take care of yourself. You are no good to your students if you, yourself , are not mentally healthy. Teaching is one of the most rewarding jobs that you can ever have, but in order for it to be rewarding you have to be capable of making a difference in your students lives.

I wonder if the reason we see so many teachers that just don’t care anymore is because somewhere along the way they just hit that wall. Maybe they just got tired of jumping through hoops, sorting through all the competing information, and having people questioning methods that work for their students. Maybe it’s because teachers are told by people who have no educational training, how they should teach. Maybe it’s because they are so under appreciated in our society. While, I’m not saying it’s okay to hit this wall and not try to rally yourself again, I am saying that it’s sad that we live in a society where I, as a student, am questioning whether I even want to teach before I have graduated from college.

Professional Development Book Review 1

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Last year in Adolescent Literature I was introduced to the work of Penny Kittle. Up until reading her book, Book Love, I didn’t know anything about her and her ideas. For those of you who don’t know Kittle is a high school teacher in New England. She often writes about different techniques that she has implemented within her classrooms. One of the main ideas she presents is setting up an English classroom in the form of reading and writing workshops. Now some of you will remember last year while I was reading Book Love, and how hard it was for me to wrap my head around some of the ideas that were presented in the book. Well, this semester I bought Kittle’s book Write Beside Them for a class and then it turned out that I didn’t exactly need it. However, since I enjoyed her book from last year, and since I was required to read a few professional development books over this semester, I decided why not read it. Boy, am I glad I did.

As many of you know we have been studying unit planning in my Special Methods course, and I’ve been struggling to figure out how to design my units based on genre. This book really helped me to get my head around that a little bit more. Kittle demonstrates the ways that she starts out her unit planning, and then presents an explanation for why she does it. While, I’m not sure I would see myself organizing my units the same way, I got a better understanding of what it means to develop units that build off of each other. When building your units (for any grade level) they should be connected in a way that helps students see how they are building on prior knowledge. This helps with the feeling of accomplishment, and allows them to see how they are getting better at writing.

Another idea that gets tossed around a lot is this idea of proper grammar. I was raised in a house that was so strict about grammar. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it often makes me intolerant of people who don’t use correct grammar. Which, in a way, is hilarious because my grasp on commas leaves a lot to be desired (I’m more than a little comma happy). Either way, I was really struggling with this idea of not teaching grammar in the classroom, and the idea that “the more students write, the better they will get at grammar and punctuation.” Now I know in a way that this is correct, but I felt like more needed to be done, and thankfully Kittle knew just how to address it. She has several ideas for teaching grammar in the English classroom that are far different than traditional methods, yet are still effective. The idea of mini lessons on grammar is huge, and the organization of these mini lessons helped me to put my thoughts in perspective.

While reading this book I also got another chance to examine different viewpoints on grading, and helping struggling students to succeed. What I love about Kittle’s writing is that she shows the bad alongside the class. She is honest in her writing. She points out that not every technique will work in the classroom, and that she has tried things that most definitely failed. She shares about her most difficult students, and talks about the fact that you won’t always have success. This openness helps me to accept her ideas, and to think through them more. Honestly, I enjoyed this book, and if you are looking for some things to apply in your own classroom I’d highly recommend you pick it up.

Week 7: Writing Workshop

I’ll be totally honest, I hate workshops. They make me nervous, scared, even sometimes terrified. Even throughout my college career I always dreaded workshops, even in classes where I knew that I was in a safe environment. I’m not sure where is irrational dread came from, but I knew I wasn’t looking forward to going through a workshop in class this week. Why? I can think of about a hundred reasons why I’m terrified. There are much better writers in my class, my writing really isn’t that good, most of my pieces are personal and I’m scared of judgement, and so on. I’m sure I could come up with more if I tried. It’s funny because even though I hate workshops I also absolutely love them. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush of it all, or the fact that they are never quite as bad as I think they are going to be. I think this is mostly because I’m sharing it with family.

Now that might seem weird to you, but I would say that every class I’ve done a writing workshop in has felt like family. You get to see all the pieces of the other people in the room, you get to praise their writing, you get to help them make it better, you learn about their lives, and ultimately I really feel like it does draw you together into a little writing family. Even though I hate sharing my work I know that it will never be torn down, that I will be treated with respect, and that my work will be treated with respect. I know that everyone in the room is there to help me, and that I’m there to help them.

My goal for the future is to create a writing classroom where my students are able to share their writing with family. I think back to my high school days, and I remember the fear of sharing with my peers. I think if back then I had had a safe environment that today I would be even more comfortable sharing my writing. There are so many positives to writing workshops, and I don’t want my students to miss out on the development that they can have because of them.

In order to do this, however, I need to start getting over my own anxiety. I’m still that person who hates reading their piece out loud or even sharing it with other people, and I honestly need to get over it. I’m learning that being a writing teacher is less about you and more about your students. It’s you leading by example and showing them that they don’t have to be scared to share their writing. It’s you reading that awful piece that you hate just to show that all writing isn’t good the first time (or even the 20th time). It’s showing your kids that first drafts are messy, and that’s okay. I was trying to think of guidelines for the writing workshops that I want to implement in my class, and the more I thought about it the more I realized that I need to have guidelines for myself. I started to write my own guidelines, but by the time I was done I realized that these are things that I want all my students to apply to their lives and their time in my class. Now honestly I’m sure I could combine some of these or add something to them , but for now I’m satisfied.

  1. Don’t be scared to share.
  2. Be open to everyone’s writing. There’s always something encouraging to say.
  3. Read aloud. Take time to practice if you need it.
  4. Not everything is about you.
  5. Lead by example.
  6. Drafts aren’t pretty.
  7. Not all writing is awesome.
  8. You don’t have to have it all together. You just have to act like it.
  9. The people around you won’t gain anything if you refuse to share your voice.
  10. This classroom is a community or writers.
  11. You are a writer.

 

Week 6: Coloring Outside the Lines

Guys I’ve actually started getting back into reading again, and of course it just happened to be in the form of graphic novels. This week I managed to finish two graphic novels. The first Stitches by David Small. This grotesque novel deals with a slightly crazy family and different medical things that happened to David as a child. The book itself is an autobiography, and it’s a little creepy. It will make you think about some things in a different light. Also, if you read any of David Small’s children’s books I think you can kind of see his childhood experiences bleeding through. The second book that I read was Relish by Lucy Knicely. This book is all about food, and how Lucy makes memories through her connections with food. I loved this book because a. I love food and b. the story is amazing. I’d highly recommend either of these books.

These books were both autobiographies, which got me thinking about all the different ways that we can express ourselves. Especially, about the different ways that our students can express themselves. If an autobiography can be a graphic novel then it can be written in any shape or form. Of course, this isn’t a new idea for me, but it does help me see how we seem to develop these ideas about what good writing is, or what a certain piece of writing has to look like. The thing is why can’t an autobiography be written in a poem? This has really got me thinking about the fact that too often we put our students in a box. We tell them that there is a certain way to do things, and we punish them for stepping outside of those lines. The problem is that too often some of the most effective literature breaks the rules and steps outside of the box.

My goal for my classroom more and more is to push my students to challenge the “lines” that have been drawn for them. I want them to ask questions, and if that means they question me that’s what I will encourage them to do. I want them to know that they are safe in my class, and that they don’t have to worry about me lording my power over them. I want them to know that a topic isn’t just made for one genre. I want them to know that I trust them and I care about them as people, and as artists. Most of all I want them to know that they are capable of being great writers and readers and I wholeheartedly believe in them.

I know this blog has kind of been all over the place, but this has just really been hitting me this week. I would hate to see what would have happened if someone had told David Small or Lucy Knisely that they couldn’t write an autobiography in the form of a graphic novel. I’d hate to see them told that they couldn’t write graphic novels. I look at all these authors that I enjoy and I wonder what would have happened if they were told over and over that they had to color inside the lines, and I want to create a classroom that doesn’t do that.

Week 5: Endless Possibilities

Panic. That’s all I felt when on Tuesday I was given the instruction to plan out all of my units for a year. Now you might be thinking, “What’s wrong with that? Planning your units is something you should be able to do.” While this is very true, I don’t think most people are given a six minute time limit. Yes you read that right, six minutes. So heart pounding I set to work trying to list off every unit I could possibly think of that we could cover in the course of a year. While I got a few ideas out on paper I seemed to keep hitting a mental road block. I don’t know if it was because of the time limit imposed on us, or something else, but no matter what I couldn’t come up with anything else to write down. It wasn’t until we started talking about our ideas as a class that my brain started working again.

As I sat down to work on my unit plan I started to feel so many pieces come together. I started to see things as a sort of whole picture. Ideas continued to flood my brain, and soon an unspoken question that had been hiding in the back of my brain was answered. How do I make writing and reading workshop as a teacher in a school that requires me to teach grades 9-12 or even 7-12? You see I’ve been worried about this being too repetitive from year to year, or not challenging them to learn more information. Then it sort of hit me that I can vary my units.

Not every class has to have the exact same units. I started to look at units outside of the normal. I got excited about drawing up a unit on newspaper writing, or even on how to read the news and find reliable news sources. I got caught up in the idea of doing a study on folktales and fairy tales. Why not get outside of the realm of essays, speeches, short stories, and poems? Why can’t we explore all sorts of genres in our classrooms? I think my problem before was that I was too focused on a narrow band of ideas. I had allowed myself to be limited by the things that I had done units on when I was in high school, but I don’t have to do that.

You do not have to limit yourself to just the basic units. You do not have to limit yourself based on what is normally taught in school. The options surrounding reading and writing are endless! There are so many things we can do with writing, and we shouldn’t limit our students. We want them to become lovers of reading and writing, and how can we do that when we aren’t giving them all the options. If we limit our students  we are limiting the scope of their talent and their imagination we are limiting them to what we think they should do, not what they can do. Thinking about units has really opened my eyes to all the possibilities, and honestly I’m even more excited about teaching now that I’m starting to see the possibilities are endless!

Week 4: Building Relationships

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Since the beginning of the semester I’ve heard conflicting things from both my Special Methods class and my Education class. Okay, this has occurred during the entirety of my college career where I have been getting two different things from two different departments. So, imagine my surprise when I started to see something lining up between the two. On Tuesday we talked in class about the importance of building relationships with our students and letting them know that we are interested in what they say.

Relationships are key to helping your students to succeed in the classroom. No, this doesn’t mean that every student has to be your favorite student, but it does mean that you can make every student in your classroom feel like you actually what to hear from them. Why should students want to learn or do work for someone who doesn’t actually care about their success? I know last week’s blog was about the watermelon rinds in our classrooms, and I think this plays into relationships as well.

Not only do student relationships provide you with the opportunity to build your students up, but they also give you the opportunity to learn about their lives and the struggles they have. The more you know a student and the more they trust you the more they are willing to open up to you. Our special education professor in BLOCK talked to us about the importance of knowing what your students are going through. You need to know what is happening in their lives, so that you can help them to the best of your ability. Because no matter what anyone else says the things that happen outside of school can have a very adverse affect on your students’ learning lives.

All that being said I’m not sure I fully know how to do this. Sure, I know how to listen and to be supportive, and maybe it’s not the building part of the relationship that I am worried about. In fact, it’s that part that comes after that I stresses me more. One of my good friends Ali talked in her blog this week about empathy, and how important that is in the classroom. My problem is that I often have too much empathy. I’m the person that will take in every last stray and try and fix all their problems, and while I want to help my students I don’t want that to get in the way of being able to teach them. How do I find a balance? What do I do when I find out something about one of my students that absolutely makes my heart break? Sure, I can keep extra food in my desk for the one’s who need it and I can make allowances for those that don’t own computers, but this seems to me to be so little. I want to build these relationships with my students, but I’m not sure I know what to do with them once they trust me. Trust is such a fragile thing. How do I find that good balance?

Science vs Education: TED Talks Blog

I was one of those students in high school who procrastinated everything. I knew how to do the work,  I knew I could get a good grade, and honestly that’s all that mattered to me. I was good at what I was doing, and honestly I wasn’t feeling challenged. So, in order to challenge myself I’d see if I could still get an A if I wrote a paper 2 hours before it was due. The answer was normally yes, but honestly looking back I didn’t enjoy it. The only reason I even wrote the paper in the first place is because I was told I had to to get an A. The intrinsic motivation wasn’t there. My education was driven by a grade system, and looking back today I wonder how much that hindered me as a student, especially after watching these two TED Talks.

I would definitely say that the TED Talks by Sugata Mitra and Daniel Pink go hand in hand. They both in their own ways tackle this idea of extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. Mitra shows us that if students want to learn, they will learn. If they are interested and intrigued by something they will put the time and effort into learning about that subject. I love his idea of “The Granny Method.” Most of the time kids just need that little grandma figure telling them how great they are doing, asking them questions, and most of all encouraging them to get better. They shouldn’t need someone standing over them forcing them to do the work, they need someone who is interested in what they are doing.

Pink takes this a step further with his exploration of motivation, and the fact that science and business don’t really agree on it. In fact, the way we have modeled business (I would also argue schools) is against everything that scientific research tells us. Science says that external motivations like rewards/punishments (grades) actually hinder creativity and production. It keeps people from becoming interested in what they are doing, and forces them to almost over focus on an idea not allowing them to see all the options.

Pink says we need three things to motivate us intrinsically: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. In a class room these things should be what we are encouraging students to conquer. Let students write papers about things they want to learn about. They will be way more interested in that then some topic you assign them from a list. Let them develop a purpose. Encourage them to be purposeful. They see no purpose in writing a six page paper, double spaced, in 12 pt font, but they do see purpose in writing a paper telling you about how excited they are that their favorite football team is winning this year. Students can learn without us forcing a grade scale on them, in fact they can even perform better without it. Science says if kids want to learn they will learn. Science says kids will perform better when we foster intrinsic motivation. Science says that students will learn in environments that are open for learners. So why doesn’t the education system listen?

Week 3: Watermelon

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Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid lover of all fruits. I love strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and most of all watermelon. Watermelon has been my favorite fruit since I was little. I live for warm summer afternoons when I get to come back from the pool and have a slice of watermelon, or pretty much any other time watermelon can be served. Let’s be real I’m even eating some while I right this. Now you might be asking what in the world does my love for watermelon have to do with education? Well you see I’m a very weird person, I love to eat the watermelon rind.

I know. I know. It’s probably the weirdest thing you’ve ever heard, and that might have grossed you out a little, I’m sorry if it did. The only reason I bring this up is I will defend my love for watermelon and the rind until the end of time, my death, or some other traumatic event that takes watermelon away from me. Anyway I got to thinking about how the rind is usually that undesirable part of the food. It’s that piece that we cast away because it isn’t as good as the rest of it.

Now some of you may already see where I am going with this, but I’m going to keep going anyway. We were asked last week to identify a percentage of students we want to achieve a certain goal, and honestly I (and all my other English Ed friends) really struggled with that concept because I want all my students to succeed. I see no reason why I can’t expect my students to have some level of understanding. If they don’t understand what I am teaching them then it is me that is broken, not them. Except, we have developed this mentality that there will be some kids who are hopeless, or just aren’t as good as the rest. These kids we have a tendency to give up on, and I think that is complete crap.

This week we looked at the writings of two students, and let me tell you my English teachers from high school would have cringed if they got a paper from these students. The grammar and punctuation were all over the place, but if you stopped to look past that you started to see some positives. These kids knew how to use their voice in writing, the brought to life the story they were telling, they were honest about themselves, and most of all they had put effort into that writing. Now, obviously we wouldn’t traditionally rank these kids at the top of the class. In fact, I can see them being passed over for another kid who does what they are told and is considered a “good student,” but why? I think it’s because we have gotten too caught up in believing that if a student doesn’t get it right away they will never get it.

These kids have potential, and I bet you they can write a story that could have you at the edge of your seat. That to me says they are just as good as any other student in my classroom, and it’s my job to make sure that EVERY student that walks in my classroom door becomes the best version of themselves. It’s my job to help my students become the best readers and writers they can be, and that means NO ONE gets left behind. I refuse to put a percentage on success because I refuse to discard my students like a watermelon rind that no one wants, and just like I believe the rind of a watermelon is awesome, I believe my students are just as awesome. I will fight for my students to all be recognized.

So, maybe it’s wrong for me to compare students to food, but stop for a second and think of that one food you love that everyone else hates. Each of your students is that food, and you should defend each and everyone of them just as much as you would defend that food because your students need teachers that will fight for them, not throw them in the trash. My challenge is this: in a world of teachers that toss out watermelon rinds, be the one that recognizes just how awesome your students can be.

Week 2: Learning From My Own Life

What makes me a reader and writer? Why do I identify as each of these? This week we were challenged to create a list of at least 50 facts or ideas about what our identities are as readers and writers. I found it infinitely more difficult to create a list about my identity as a writer than my identity as a reader.  It made me realize that as I make my journey into the English classroom that I need to work on developing my identity as a writer. The nice thing about this list was that it gave me a lot of things to work on in my writing life. By sitting down and writing the list I was able to identify areas in my writing life where I didn’t feel comfortable, like sharing my writing out loud, or areas that I simply wasn’t sure about, like my ability to write from different perspectives. These are just a couple of examples, but now that I have identified them I have started to work on them more.

In fact, I’ve found myself turning to my writing journal for my than just my assignments. It’s started to become my place to turn to when I need to get thoughts out, write down an idea, or even keep a list of books I want to read. It’s amazing how having a special journal for writing has helped me to improve my writing life. I realize that this is only the second week of classes, and I’m excited to see how my writing journal continues to play a part in my writing life.

You see it is important that we realize who we are as avid readers and writers because it also makes it easier for us to design our classrooms. If we look at our reading lives and don’t see something reflected there why would we force students to do it? If we can become active readers and writers without all the extra  things we throw in, shouldn’t our students also be able to? Obviously somethings won’t be the same for you and your students. I, for example, am a lover of mystery novels, but not every student in my classroom will love mystery novels. By identifying that, I can then stock my classroom library  with a variety of books. It had never occurred to me before to examine my own life as a reader and writer in order to help my students become better readers and writers.

The discussion in class this week opened my eyes to new possibilities in the classroom. It also helped me to positively examine my identity as a reader and writer, which is something that I have never really done before. It was very informative for me, and I can see how it will also be beneficial to my students. We also talked this week about how teacher’s feel like they need to have control in the classroom, and how we have a tendency not to trust our students. As someone who has constantly been indoctrinated to believe that you have to constantly be in control this is a hard thing for me to see and apply to my classroom. I am hoping that throughout this week we have discussions that help me with the release of control I’ve been taught to have.