Thursday, July 22, 2010

Poetry Friday: Round Up

So, I've been away, but I have the round-up for this week.  Please add your links...I am on the West Coast, and I will be updating in the early please check back to see the list!

Little Willow has posted a great (and well-known) monologue from Hamlet at Bildungsroman.

Laura at all things poetry continues her series of religious poems with a lovely poem by Vittoria Colonna

At Wistful Wanderings, Allison has posted a poem about the rush of the roller coaster, and she wants to remind us all to take a look at the side bar on her blog to find out about and participate in the current Creativity Challenge.

Tabatha Yeats has a historical piece about an Acadian Girl titled, Evangline: A Tale of Acadie at Tabatha Yeats: The Opposite of Indifference.

At Author Amok, Laura continues her 50 state tour of the Poet Laureates.  She is in Washington this week, where the position of poet laureate is 'temporarily suspended.  She shares a poem by Sam Green about the act of writing poetry.

Laura Salas has two poems for us today.  She has a poem written by her daughter Rebecca Kai Dotlich here, and Poems in 15 words or less here.

Ruth at There is no such thing as a God-forsaken town has a beautiful translation of Izumi Shikibu's Although the Wind...

Live. Love. Explore with Irene Latham has One Art for us...which happens to be about 'The art of losing things," an art I know I have perfected...

Jama at Alphabet Soup has Word Tasting for us today here.

What do we need?  Mary Lee has a poem for us about just that at A Year of Reading.

The Poem Farm has the 9th poem in a series of poems about poems.  How very appropriate is it that this weeks post is simply titled: Poem.

Linda at Write Time has another object poem titled 'Miss Myrtle's Table for us this week here.

The Stenhouse Blog has a powerful poem - Cincinnati by Mitsuye Yamada here.

Sally of Paper Tigers blog has a book review of Canadian Poems for Canadian Kids here.  Being that I am a Canadian Teacher, I am particularly intrigued by this book...Sometimes good Canadian content is hard to find!

The Goose has two poem postings this week - one about RAIN for kids at the FATHER GOOSE blog and one about TIME for grownups at the BALD EGO blog.  Take a moment to take a look at both of them!

Wild Rose Reader has an original poem for us this week. (I always admire bloggers who post their original poems... I am still much to self-conscious to put my poems out on the Internet).  Check out Elaine's Things to Do if You Are a Mountain.

Ben has an intriguing E.E. Cummings poem for us today: [as freedom is a breakfast food].  This one is great, but be sure to give it the time it deserves...

Heidi M of My Juicy Little Universe has a gut-wrenching piece called "Prayer for the Man Who Mugged My Father, 72," here.

Janet S. offers us a review of Absolutely Wild written by Dennis Webster and illustrated by his daughter, Kim Webster Cunningham - it is a collection of 16 poems celebrating a variety of wild animals complemented by hand-colored linoleum prints.  The link is here.

Liz in Ink has a poem by Carrie Fountain from her National Poetry Prize winning book here.

Gregory K. has some Fib news for us and is Fibbing on a Poetry Friday.

Did I skip you?  Did I copy the link wrong?  Please let me know!  Have a Great Weekend!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gone Gardening...

I should not be allowed in another plant nursery this year.  Seriously.  My gardens are full - but I keep finding plants that I to have.  I have seriously blown past my gardening budget.  But, I am getting close to having everything planted, and hopefully I will soon be eating some of my hard work.  My vegetable garden is looking delicious.

That is where I have been lately.  Spending my spare after school and weekend times gardening like crazy.  Oh, and I am training for a 10 km road race on June 6th.  So I have been running a lot too.  I will try to post a bit more regularly this month, and then my next courses start July 6th, so I should have lots to think and write about then.


Thursday, May 13, 2010

Shaking with Anticipation...

The Last Olympian (Percy Jackson & the Olympians, Book 5)My most recent scholastic orders came in today - a whole week earlier than expected.  In it was the copy of The Last Olympian I had purchased for my classroom.  Well...when my students saw the box, they knew exactly what it was and all of a sudden I had 6 kids at my desk, practically shaking, waiting for me to pull the books out of the box.  I got a bonus pack of three graphic novels and those were snagged out of my hands faster than I could get them out of the box.  More and more I am starting to see my class as a community of readers, ready and willing to share and discuss books with one another.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Mother's Day Messages

Thanks to Mary Lee at A Year of Reading, I came up with a last minute Mother's Day idea.  She posted a "Wordle" of her class constitution.  I had never seen a Wordle word cloud before, but I played around with it last night after seeing one on her site, and decided they would make great Mother's Day cards.  I can actually think of a ton of ways I could use Wordle with class projects...but maybe more on that another time.

I had my students type a paragraph about their moms straight into the wordle text box.  I emphasized (against my better judgement) for them to use repetitive, bad writing in the text box, as the words used the most frequently show up the largest and most prominent in the word cloud. A lot of them figured it out pretty fast and wrote "I love you mom, I love you mom," over and over.  Anyways, we printed the resulting word clouds and made them into cards.  Take a look at how they turned out:

Not bad for a last minute idea... This afternoon I took my class outside and we took pictures for our Mother's Day gifts.  Each student had to write a message in black marker on white paper and pose holding their message.  I had the photos printed in black and white - which was a good thing, since I dropped my camera and it now is taking pictures that are very pink.  I think it may be broken for good.  The messages were very honest, and I am hoping the moms will appreciate the sincerity.  (I'm not a mom - so sometimes I miss the boat on things that are important to parents.)  And, the project only cost about $10.00 - total - much less than what a lot of the other classes at school have spent.

Any other simple Mother's Day ideas out there?  I am not known for elaborate holiday celebrations in my classroom.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Top 100 Children's Books...

Thanks to The Reading Zone and Teacherninja for this fun tidbit.  How often does one of these have to do with literacy?  I have read 54 of the top 100.  It looks like I have some work to do.  But I must admit, I have three of them sitting on my coffee table right now - they were already next on the list, and I have about 10 more unread books from this list on the bookshelf in my classroom.


Which of Betsy Bird’s Top 100 Children’s Novels have you read? Bold the titles of any books you have read.  Post your number in the comments and/or add a link to your own post.

100. The Egypt Game – Snyder (1967)
99. The Indian in the Cupboard - Banks (1980)
98. Children of Green Knowe – Boston (1954)
97. The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – DiCamillo (2006)
96. The Witches - Dahl (1983)
95. Pippi Longstocking - Lindgren (1950)
94. Swallows and Amazons – Ransome (1930)
93. Caddie Woodlawn – Brink (1935)
92. Ella Enchanted – Levine (1997)
91. Sideways Stories from Wayside School – Sachar (1978)
90. Sarah, Plain and Tall – MacLachlan (1985)

89. Ramona and Her Father - Cleary (1977)
88. The High King – Alexander (1968)
87. The View from Saturday – Konigsburg (1996)
86. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets - Rowling (1999)
85. On the Banks of Plum Creek - Wilder (1937)
84. The Little White Horse – Goudge (1946)
83. The Thief – Turner (1997)
82. The Book of Three – Alexander (1964)
81. Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – Lin (2009)
80. The Graveyard Book – Gaiman (2008)

79. All-of-a-Kind-Family – Taylor (1951)
78. Johnny Tremain – Forbes (1943)

77. The City of Ember - DuPrau (2003)
76. Out of the Dust – Hesse (1997)
75. Love That Dog - Creech (2001)
74. The Borrowers - Norton (1953)
73. My Side of the Mountain - George (1959)
72. My Father’s Dragon – Gannett (1948)
71. The Bad Beginning – Snicket (1999)
70. Betsy-Tacy – Lovelae (1940)
69. The Mysterious Benedict Society – Stewart ( 2007) 
68. Walk Two Moons - Creech (1994)
67. Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher – Coville (1991)
66. Henry Huggins – Cleary (1950)
65. Ballet Shoes – Stratfeild (1936)
64. A Long Way from Chicago – Peck (1998)
63. Gone-Away Lake – Enright (1957)
62. The Secret of the Old Clock – Keene (1959)
61. Stargirl – Spinelli (2000)
60. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle – Avi (1990)
59. Inkheart – Funke (2003)
58. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase – Aiken (1962)
57. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 – Cleary (1981)
56. Number the Stars – Lowry (1989)
55. The Great Gilly Hopkins – Paterson (1978)
54. The BFG - Dahl (1982)
53. Wind in the Willows – Grahame (1908)
52. The Invention of Hugo Cabret (2007)
51. The Saturdays – Enright (1941)
50. Island of the Blue Dolphins – O’Dell (1960)
49. Frindle – Clements (1996)
48. The Penderwicks – Birdsall (2005)
47. Bud, Not Buddy – Curtis (1999)
46. Where the Red Fern Grows – Rawls (1961)
45. The Golden Compass – Pullman (1995)
44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing – Blume (1972)
43. Ramona the Pest – Cleary (1968)
42. Little House on the Prairie – Wilder (1935)
41. The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Speare (1958)
40. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz – Baum (1900)
39. When You Reach Me – Stead (2009)
38. HP and the Order of the Phoenix – Rowling (2003)
37. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry – Taylor (1976)
36. Are You there, God? It’s Me, Margaret – Blume (1970)
35. HP and the Goblet of Fire – Rowling (2000)
34. The Watson’s Go to Birmingham – Curtis (1995)
33. James and the Giant Peach – Dahl (1961)
32. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH – O’Brian (1971)

31. Half Magic – Eager (1954)
30. Winnie-the-Pooh – Milne (1926)
29. The Dark Is Rising – Cooper (1973)
28. A Little Princess – Burnett (1905)
27. Alice I and II – Carroll (1865/72)
26. Hatchet – Paulsen (1989)
25. Little Women – Alcott (1868/9)
24. HP and the Deathly Hallows – Rowling (2007)
23. Little House in the Big Woods – Wilder (1932)
22. The Tale of Despereaux – DiCamillo (2003)
21. The Lightening Thief – Riordan (2005)
20. Tuck Everlasting – Babbitt (1975)
19. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Dahl (1964)
18. Matilda – Dahl (1988)
17. Maniac Magee – Spinelli (1990)

16. Harriet the Spy – Fitzhugh (1964)
15. Because of Winn-Dixie – DiCamillo (2000)
14. HP and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Rowling (1999)

13. Bridge to Terabithia – Paterson (1977)
12. The Hobbit – Tolkien (1938)
11. The Westing Game - Raskin (1978)
10. The Phantom Tollbooth – Juster (1961)
9. Anne of Green Gables – Montgomery (1908)
8. The Secret Garden – Burnett (1911)
7. The Giver -Lowry (1993)
6. Holes – Sachar (1998)
5. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler – Koningsburg (1967)
4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – Lewis (1950)
3. Harry Potter #1 – Rowling (1997)
2. A Wrinkle in Time – L’Engle (1962)
1. Charlotte’s Web – White (1952)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday: Fiction vs. Non-fiction

A quick idea for getting kids to recognize the difference between fiction and non-fiction books.  My older students will be helping their Kindergarten buddies with this task on Thursday.

Students receive a copy of a Scholastic book order pamphet.  With a partner (or their little buddy), students discuss each book, and decide whether it is fiction or non-fiction and how they know.  Students then cut out the book picture and glue it onto a chart - one side being labeled fiction, the other non-fiction.  My students will be a big help in the cutting and gluing department, and I hope they will be able to coach their little buddy in deciding which category each book belongs in.

This idea would fit into the lessons for teaching the Reading Power strategy 'Zoom In.'

This week's round-up is hosted by Shelf-Employed.  Check out this week's posts here.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Poetry Friday: If I Were In Charge of the World

So, I know this is a popular poem, but it's one of my favourites, and it seems to always be one of the class favourites every year.  It is a fun one to copy and have students keep the format but change the ideas.  I've always thought that it would make a good beginning of the year bulletin board.

If I were in charge of the world...all work weeks would be four days long and McDonald's cheeseburgers would be a health food.

If I Were In Charge of the World
If I were in charge of the world
I'd cancel oatmeal,
Monday mornings,
Allergy shots, and also Sara Steinberg.

If I were in charge of the world
There'd be brighter nights lights,
Healthier hamsters, and
Basketball baskets forty eight inches lower.

If I were in charge of the world
You wouldn't have lonely.
You wouldn't have clean.
You wouldn't have bedtimes.
Or "Don't punch your sister."
You wouldn't even have sisters.

If I were in charge of the world
A chocolate sundae with whipped cream and nuts would be a vegetable
All 007 movies would be G,
And a person who sometimes forgot to brush,
And sometimes forgot to flush,
Would still be allowed to be
In charge of the world.

by Judith Viorst 

This week's round up is hosted by Marjorie at Paper Tigers.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Power to Zoom In.

On Wednesday morning I teach comprehension strategies to my students and I have recently began teaching non-fiction text features to my students.  My hope is that they will be able to use their new knowledge of text features to complete a social studies research report on Ancient Cultures.  Except I am not interested in the typical research report format...(You know the one...paragraph one: introduction, paragraph two: daily life, paragraph three: government, paragraph four: social structures...etc.)  I haven't finalized my plan yet, but I want to them to research the typical categories and then present their knowledge in each category using a different text feature. (timelines, diagrams, labels, glossaries, etc.)

If you aren't familiar with Adrienne Gear, she has published several books on teaching reading comprehension strategies that are very teacher friendly.  You could pick up the book tonight and teach a lesson out of it tomorrow.  She calls the strategies 'Reading Powers,' and the Power to Zoom In equates to teaching students to identify text features of non-fiction books.  I have been following her ideas and lessons in my quest to teach the concept of text features before I let them loose on the research component.

Tomorrow my students will take on the non-fiction feature search - finding examples of different text features in a variety of non-fiction books that I pulled at random from the library.  Next week they will be creating their own samples of the different text features from texts that don't have any.  More to come on that.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Non-Fiction Monday

Kidlitosphere is a great resource for what's going on in the world of blogs to do with books and literacy.  It is a society of bloggers that blog mainly about children and young adult literature.  Non-fiction Monday works much the same as poetry Friday, but keeps us updated on the world of non-fiction books.
Check out the full explanation for Non-Fiction Monday at Anastasia's Picture Book of the Day blog.

Check out the round-up for this week at Lerner's Book Blog.  There are a lot of interesting things going on in the world of non-fiction.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Letters to the Editor

I love authentic purposes for writing.  When my students are enthusiastic and motivated about a writing topic, they produce higher quality writing.

This week, I read an article on a local new site that announced our local mall was introducing new policies as of April 1st.  Children 12 and under must now be supervised by a parent at all times while in the mall and that during school hours students 17 and under are only allowed in the mall during lunch hour unless accompanied by an adult.  There are many reasons for these new policies, and I can see both sides of the issue - but I teach 10-12 year old, and I knew they would not be happy about this new loss of freedom.

We had a great debate and discussion about the issues surrounding the new policies and my students immediately wanted to do something - what they actually wanted to do was pass a piece of loose leaf paper around my class and call it a petition - thereby disrupting my lessons all day...but I directed them to go the letter writing route.  So, we are writing letters to the editor, and to the mall manager and we will wait and see what kind of response we receive.  I would be thrilled if one of my students (or more) got 'published' in the newspaper.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Literature Circles Day 2.

Well, I was equally impressed with my class today as I was yesterday.  Today I met with my first 3 literature circle groups.  Basically, while I am meeting with a group the rest of the class is at their desk reading, writing response journals, preparing for their discussion group or working on other literature response activities I have set out for them.  Half of my students did not actually meet with their group today, yet they worked for close to an hour straight on the activities for their novel.  And, it sounds like they are really liking the books they have selected... I just hope this enthusiasm lasts. I plan to keep going with literature circles for about 4-5 weeks - maybe longer if they are still enjoying it.  I already have a couple students who are finished/near finished their books and will be ready to select a new one by the end of the week.

I really enjoyed my discussion with the Among the Hidden (Shadow Children #1) group today.  They have some really interesting thoughts on what it must be like to be Luke - the third child hidden by his family in a society that only allows 2 children per family.  They were quite concerned with how scared the family was of the government and what would happen if Luke were found.  I really get excited when my students dig in deep to the core issues in a book and don't just fixate on the surface issues.  If you haven't read Among the Hidden, it's a quick, but engaging read that fits into my favourite genre - dystopian fiction, and at it's core deals with the rights and freedoms an individual is entitled to in society.

Monday, March 22, 2010

I Love Literature Circles

I was shocked by my students this morning.  They read/worked on lit circle assignments for 45 minutes.  (after I had talked about them for 20).  I left the room, walked down to the photocopier and back (twice), and no one had moved.  I let them pick their books on Friday, and for most of the morning before recess, they just read... which warms my heart.  My goal for the year is to get them excited about books and reading.  And right now, I have several students with 2-3 books on the go because they have their literature circle books and other books they have self-selected to read.

I spend a lot of time reading in order to decide what books I want to use for literature circles.  This year, for the first round, I have chosen:

Shabash! by Ann Walsh
Hoot by Carl Hiaasen
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen
Among the Hidden by Margaret Petersen Haddix
Found (The Missing, Book 1) by Margaret Petersen Haddix
My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George

Some of them are new, and others are really really old, but I think they are all worth reading, will encourage interesting discussion and I had particular students in mind when I selected each one because I thought there was something in the story that would resonate with certain students.  My Side of the Mountain is not my favourite out of the bunch, but I have had students love to read about Sam's experience living in the mountains by himself.  It comes highly recommended by my husband, who emphatically declared that "that kid is frikin' Macguyver...he made a fishing hook out of sticks and he lives in a hole in a tree..." How can I not include it with that kind of backing?

Any favourite books for literature circles?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Poetry Friday - Discussing Poetry - The Whip Around

One thing I find difficult about conducting in-class discussions is ensuring that all my students are participating.  It is easy for the students who do not like sharing their ideas out loud to sit back and listen to their more outgoing peers share their ideas.  And sometimes, the students who like to talk the most, don't necessarily have the most insightful ideas.  One technique that I have been using this week to make sure that every student in the room contributes is called the 'Whip-Around,' or 'Say Something.'

I first came across this strategy courtesy of Faye Brownlie, but I think it is a fairly common teaching strategy.  I am getting ready to launch my literature circles next week, so the Whip Around is a good way to get students used to participating in discussions -especially those that usually sit back and daydream (I mean listen...) in more informal discussions.

Basically, after students have read the Poem of the Day once on their own and together as a class, everyone in the class has the opportunity to say one thing that they are thinking as a result of the reading.  It can be anything (as long as it's on topic).  I would start with a student at the front of the room, and 'whip around,' snaking up and down my rows, giving everyone a chance to contribute.  Students can see when their turn is coming up, and they can say what someone else said as long as they add on one little bit of their own thinking.  It is fairly informal, but everyone must contribute as oral language is a huge part of our new curriculum, but it is not as scary as a more formal discussion.

I have used this strategy three times this week and by the third time I had everyone but one student say something about the poem, and not "I don't know."

I like to get to hear the ideas of my quiet students...they are often worth sharing...

Stacy has the roundup today at Some Novel Ideas.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Things that make my day...

There are little moments in teaching that really help me remember why I love what I do.  And one of them happens to be when my kids get excited about books.  Like really excited - jumping up and down, squealing and arguing over who gets to read it first excited about a book...

I am always on the hunt for books my students will like, and there are certain books that make me think of certain students.  Mostly, I am always on the hunt for books my boys will read and be excited about, because it is just so easy to find books for my girls...perhaps it is because they like what I like...

I was at Costco on Tuesday night and I came across the new Twilight Graphic Novel.  And, I picked it up right away.  There are some serious vampire obsessed readers in my classroom and I knew it would be a hit.  When I showed them the book, they were jumping up and down, squealing and calling other girls in from outside to come and see it.  And now, we have a sign up list for who gets the book next - the first book that has needed a wait list.

There wasn't much I could do but simply be happy that my buying a book had brought them so much excitement.  And that type of enthusiasm for reading in grade 6/7 girls just makes my day.  Maybe even my week.  It's too bad I only bought one copy...

Saturday, March 6, 2010

My First Experience with Manga...

I went to a workshop last week on using graphic novels in the classroom.  There was a lot of information about the different ways we can study graphic novels - the art, the literary qualities, and the comic features, but for me one of the most interesting parts was when the presenter provided us with a copy of a short story from a manga serial and asked us to spend 5 minutes reading it.

Now, as much as I think that graphic novels are a great addition to my classroom and they have helped tremendously with my reluctant and weak readers, I have yet to read one from cover to cover.  I just can't get through one.  I do not like being slowed down by the pictures when I am reading and I find them much more difficult to read and comprehend than traditional text based novels.

So, when we were handed the copy and then instructed that we had to read right to left I thought I was going to be out to lunch for sure.  Well, I was shocked at how easy it was to get into the rhythm of reading 'backwards' and I found myself engaged in the story quite quickly.  Altogether it was a very interesting experience which would not have been as positive had I not been 'guided' through the reading.  Funny how the strategies we use with students work with adults just as well...

I would like to get more comfortable with reading and interpreting graphic novels so that I can teach them in my classroom and I would like to get my hands on a copy of Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud to get a better handle on the techniques used in these books.

By the way, the comic we read in the workshop was from the Manga Series: Black Jack - quite an interesting series about a brilliant doctor who operates without the proper certification and often outside of expected ethical and legal bounds.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Poetry Friday: Poetry Circles

Have you ever thought about using poetry circles in your classroom instead of literature circles.  I came across this idea at a Faye Brownlie workshop I attended.  Faye's book, Grand Conversations, Thoughtful Responses: A Unique Approach to Literature Circles is a fantastic approach to literature circles in the classroom that focuses on getting students involved in authentic conversations about literature.  Poetry circles is an adaptation of the same idea.

Basically, you provide 6 copies of 4-5 different poems.  Students select which poem they want to read. Students read the poems individually three times.  The first time they draw a picture of any images they see while reading.  The second time they circle, mark any keywords that jump of the page. After the third time through, they free write a response on the page about what the poem makes them think about.  Altogether, a fairly simply process to get them to have some understanding of the key ideas in the poem.  After each student has had a chance to work with their poem, they meet in groups to discuss their images, words and responses.  In the next lesson students would select a different poem and end up in a different group.

Poetry circles could help introduce/teach a poem in 30-40 minutes, and covers oral language and reading learning outcomes.

It could be a variation to A Poem A Day...

Jone has the Poetry Friday roundup today at Check it Out.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Poetry Friday - A Tongue Twister of a Language...

I haven't used this poem in a couple years, but it is one of my favourites for teaching the importance of spelling and grammar and ensuring that your writing uses the correct words.  It's fun to get students to try and read it out loud as it takes some focused effort not to trip up on the words.  There are also a few words and spellings even I had to look up before I read it with my class the first time..

I don't know the author's name - but if anyone does I will edit the post to give them credit.

Hints on Pronunciation

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough?
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps?
Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead: it's said like bed, not bead -
For goodness' sake don't call it 'deed'!
Watch out for meat and great and threat
(They rhyme with suite and straight and debt).
A moth is not a moth in mother
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
Just look them up - and goose & choose,
And cork & work and card & ward,
And font & front and word & sword,
And do & go and thwart & cart -
Come, come, I've hardly made a start!
A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five.

Maybe I will dig it out this week to use with my class... 

Irene has the roundup at Live. Love. Learn!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Books We Love - Anything But Typical

Before I picked up this book I had read several reviews by bloggers who were reading or thinking about reading this book aloud to their class.  It was on my list to read, but I kept putting it off because it just didn't sound like a book I wanted to read.  Well, I was wrong.  I read this book cover to cover in two sittings.  I was moved by the main character's voice and several moments were truly heartbreaking.

The main character is Jason Blake, a 12 year-old autistic boy who doesn't fit in at school and is judged by his teachers, classmates, strangers and some members of his family.  He finds a storyboard forum online where he submits stories he has written for comments by other young writers.  This forum allows him to express his ideas without being judged and it is here he is treated as an equal.  He meets PhoenixBird online, another story writer who becomes a friend.  Things get complicated when Jason's parents surprise him with a trip to the Storyboard convention where he will have to meet PhoenixBird in person, which runs the risk of ruining everything...

I am now planning to use this as my next read aloud with my class.

Nora Raleigh Baskin is the winner of the middle-school 2010 Schneider Family Book Award for “Anything But Typical.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Poetry Friday: A Poem a Day

I was first introduced to the work and writing of Nancie Atwell this summer when I started my Master's Program.  After reading several of her books and applying her ideas to my classroom, I can't believe that I taught for four years without ever coming across her ideas.  I have completely changed my language arts program based on her books and I am thrilled with the results.  My students this year developing into fluent, passionate readers and are as excited about books as I am.

Which in a round about way brings me to this week's poetry Friday topic: 'A poem a day.'

My students all have a poetry duotang and most mornings when my students arrive I have a copy of a poem waiting for them on their desk.  While I am taking attendance in the morning they read over the poem and mark up what they notice, what they like, what they think it means, etc. on their copy.  Often we read it together and sometimes I read it with expression and have them listen and sometimes I let them read.  I have been astounded with the deep discussions that have arisen and they have constantly surprise me with their ability to understand the big ideas in the poems.

A lot of the poems I use come from Nancie Atwell's book Naming the World: A Year of Poems and Lessons.  Each poem has an explanation and discussion ideas, and they are poems that she has used with her middle school students.  We have laughed at some, and discussed global issues with others.  Teaching a poem a day takes about 15 minutes each morning, but I believe it builds reading comprehension, oral language and written response skills all at the same time.

My favourite poem so far has been Autobiography in Five Short Chapters by Portia Nelson.  I thought it would be too obsure for my students, but everyone of them could talk about how it personally applied to their own lives.  Here it is - a quick google search finds many many links, so maybe it is just new to me...

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters
by Portia Nelson
I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost ... I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in the same place
but, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in ... it's a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.
I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.
I walk down another street.

On February 12th, the Poetry Friday roundup takes place at the blog I'm Here. I'm Queer. What the Hell Do I Read?

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Books We Love - The Diamond of Darkhold

I finished reading the Fourth Book of Ember, The Diamond of Darkhold last night.  I started it on Thursday night, so my inability to read books a couple chapters at a time seems to remain stong.  I thought this was a good book to wrap up the series, but it wasn't my favourite of the four.  There were moments that the plot seemed manipulated a bit to fit the situation, and I HATE when children's book authors feel the need to write a final chapter giving the happily ever after of the characters and what happens to them as adults.  I think that is better left to the reader's imagination, even if it does drive my students crazy.  They couldn't believe that the first book ended when it did.  But the fourth book continues the themes of the first 3: survival, hope, community, and persistence, and Lina and Doon continue to be unsatisfied with the hard times faced by their community and have the drive to do something about it.  All in all, I have been impressed with the entire series.

I have read the City of Ember to several of my classes and am now reading The People of Sparks to my class this year.  They have enjoyed both, but I am not sure I want to read them out loud again - it may be time to move on, and put They City of Ember into my literature circle collections.  The City of Ember allows for students to practice inferring as their are lots of moments where things are left partially explained and the reader needs to fill in the rest.

I am currently on the hunt for some good read-alouds that will get my students thinking and discussing big issues.  I am also making a list of 'dystopian' novels for young adults and would like to do a novel study on that theme.  I would need a long list, with many titles at different levels for it to work out...

Graphic Novels in the Middle Years Classroom

This year I have been spending quite a bit of time trying to get to know a bit about the world of graphic novels and their use in my classroom.  I have a unique group of readers in my 6/7 split: one group of very strong readers who read all the time and can read pretty much anything they choose, and another group of reluctant readers who still struggle with fluency and novels and who definitely are uninterested in practicing reading outside of class time.  So my solution was to do a bit of research on high-interest books, and I came across a lot of research that suggested that graphic novels were an excellent approach for reluctant readers.

So far, my anecdotal experience has shown that it works - or at least it gets those particular students more interested in reading - (we are doing another round of CBM's this week to see if fluency has improved since September, and my fingers are crossed for improved results for some of my lower readers.)  I had no idea that the world of graphic novels was so large and complex, and I feel I have only delved into the edges of it.  I am still reluctant about supplying students with manga or anime novels, and I think I am a little biased against some of the more commercial series (Batman, Spiderman, etc.).  But I have found many that my students loved and can't wait to read the next in the series.  I also find myself constantly looking at bookstores/libraries to see what's out there and buying/borrowing graphic novels with particular students in mind.

There are several series that were originally published in traditional novel format (Artemis Fowl, Alex Rider, The Hobbit) and the series have now been re-written into graphic format.  (I even found Twilight the graphic novel this week).  My hope is that my students will start with the graphic novel and then move into the traditional novel as their skills improve.  But, even if they don't - I have introduced a format of reading that they love.  They ask to borrow the books and take them home and return the next day with the book finished.  I would like to include a graphic novel into my literature circles choices this spring, so hopefully the sets my school has ordered get here in time.  I am still on the lookout for books that others have used to get their students reading.

Check out The Graphic Classroom - this blog has helped me to choose books to bring into my classroom and provides extensive reviews and reccomendations of graphic novels for all grade levels.

Scholastic has a good article on using graphic novels in the classroom and particularly discusses the Bone series.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Introducing a New Blog...

Well, I have been thinking of starting a blog with an educational focus for awhile now.  My last attempt with blogging started out alright, but sort of fizzled when I started working full-time.  It was fantastic when I was a TOC, but lately I can't even get dinner on the table and show up to work in clean clothes, so I am not sure how blogging will work out.  (My last blog was a gardening blog - and I haven't given it up forever...)

I am hoping this will be a place where I discuss successes and failures from my classroom with regards to eaching literacy skills, and a love of literature to my middle-school aged students.  I am also currently working on my MEd in Middle Years Language and Literacy, so I hope to write a few posts on exciting things I learn and come across as I take part in this program.  I hope "Books We Love" will be a regular posting topic that my students will help contribute to in order to share books that grab the attention of middle years students.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Books We Love - The Hunger Games

Two of the best young adult books I have read this year has been Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games and its sequel, Catching Fire.  I just did a quick search for the cover picture of this book, and Scholastic has announced the release date of the third and final book in the trilogy as August 24, 2010.  That is somewhat sooner than I expected, as in the past I have waited several years for an entire series to be published.  Most of the students in my grade 6/7 class seemed very interested in the storyline of these books, but the reading level of the books makes them accessible only for my top readers.  I may consider using them as a read-aloud in the future, or a literature circle choice, but I may just leave it as a choice in my classroom library.  So far the books have been passed from one student to another in my class and there always seems to be somebody waiting to be the next person to read it.

Check out the Scholastic web page for a summary and a peak at the first chapter of each book.