Thursday, December 19, 2013

Lexie or love reading levels?

I love to read!  It is my escape, my refuge, my adventure.  I have wonderful friends in the series books I read and favorite places I visit in stories I love.  So why is it I am avoiding 3 books I must finish?  Because these are books not chosen by me; these are books I am required to read.  No really, I am working with a class and need to read what the students are reading so I can write the comprehension quizzes (here's where collaboration starts, folks!)  I have been doing everything I can possibly think of NOT to read these books.  Why?  Because they are not books of my choosing.  When I found myself cleaning my bathrooms before I got started reading, it made me think, "Is this how students feel when they are told they must read a certain book, one in their lexile range or in a required genre?"  The light bulb came on and I realized how those students feel, the one's who are at risk so teachers  select books for them?  Books that will be just right?  I am not looking to start a debate about the merits of self-selection versus correct reading level, but I am concerned about student engagement.  I did read my three books, I finshed them, even.  But I don't look back and think about the characters I met, I don't wonder about will happen to them next.  They were an assignment, pure and simple, and that is sad.
So here's the discussion starter: what do you do when students come to you with a lexile range and say I have to get  a book at this level?

Just sayin', have you read "The Book Whisperer" by Donalyn Miller or "Book Love" by Penny Kittle?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Testing, or Tested, that is the question

Education is not to reform students or amuse them or to make them expert technicians. It is to unsettle their minds, widen their horizons, inflame their intellects, teach them to think straight, if possible.
—Robert M. Hutchins

     I don't know about where you are, but here assessment, which should be spelling with a capital A, is taking over education.  Teachers as well as students are undergoing rigorous (yes, an other educational buzz word!) evaluation and another layer of assessment (also known as testing) has been heaped on students.  It all has me running like a hamster in its wheel, never actually getting anywhere.  We are in a time where there is so much to learn and so many exciting ways to teach it and it just seems a shame that we have this giant A hanging over our heads.  I am trying to continue with enthusiasm and encouragement for all.
      While I am fussing  over this state of education I decided to share a few books that deal with testing. I just finished reading "The Testing" by Joelle Charbonneau,  another dystopian novel in which w have almost destroyed the world with our wars and the authorities are looking for the brightest and best to help lead the world to recovery and further advancement. Students are chosen each year from their small communities, and if they can make it through the Testing they are admitted to the University. There is romance, treachery, survival and betrayal through the ordeal and in the end, your memory is wiped so you don't remember what you went through; or do you?
     In "Shadow and Bone" by Leigh Bardugo, all children are tested as small children to find out if they have a gift.  If so, they are sent to a special school to become a Greisha, a member of the magical guard that protects the country.Alina purposely fails the test as a young child so she can stay with her best friend, Mal. Eventually her powerful gift is discovered and Alina is tested on many levels, both with her gift and with the way of life.
One final thought about testing, what are you doing to improve the testing environment where you work? 

Monday, September 23, 2013

The psyche behind book selection!

I have been working hard, as I do every year, to encourage my students to challenge themselves as they choose books to read. "Try something different," and "Haven't you read that already?" are comments I hear myself say frequently as my kiddos browse.
Over the weekend I found myself trapped at the hospital waiting for a family member to respond to treatment.  I was stressed out!  I pulled out my handy ipad and made a quick purchase from Amazon, not one of those many professional books on my list, not one of those front runners for &YA awards, not even a thoughtful (read as challenging) adult novel, but a trashy pulp fiction novel with no redeeming qualities besides the fact that it was pure entertainment and escape.
Now I am reflecting on this choice, and wondering if I do a disservice to my students when I do not encourage truly "free choice".  Shouldn't they be able to make the choice to read what they want for whatever reason they have to read?  Which is my higher calling, raising those reading test scores, or raising individuals who will read for the rest of their lives?
Does anyone else wrestle with this issue?

Sunday, September 08, 2013

What books are "hot trends" at my school this year!

The school year is underway, and I am ready for the wild ride!  It is so great when a student pops their head in to say, "Can I check out a book?"  Yes, folks, a book!  Just to read because they want to, and usually its a print format too!  After a few class book talks, books are flying off the shelf.  Here are a few of the books I have shared:
Sylo -  an island community is shocked by the death of a high school football player, followed by rumors of other deaths.  Suddenly government officials appear on the island to isolate the "epidemic", but nothing is what it seems.  A suspense thriller that provides quite a ride, you don't know what is happening until the last two pages.  This is the first in a series.
Period. 8 - another great book from Chris Crutcher!  During the 8th period study hall type class students under the guidance of a seasoned teacher in his last year before retirement meet to talk about whatever is on their mind.  One of their classmates disappears and suddenly you realize that you don't really know that person you sat next to in class for all of those years.  Plenty of thrill and angst, loved it!
A Thousand Words - a timely story about a picture, a thoughtless moment, and the ramifications of an action.  Realistic characters deal with the consequences of sexting, a good story that shares what happens without preaching.

After such a great beginning, I can't wait to see what the rest of the school year will bring.

Monday, August 19, 2013

New books to share with students this fall!

Ready or not, the students are coming back to school tomorrow!  Full of excitement and promise, it is bound to be a great year.  My goal is for it to be a wonderful year inside the media center as well.  How to do this?  Have trending book titles, cutting edge technology, and a welcoming space where students feel at home.
I am in the middle of reading "Boy Nobody", a thriller about a teenage assassin, its full of mystery and intrigue, with the required teen angst and romance thrown in for good measure.  Another mysterious book is "The Brides of Rollrock Island" a story of selkies and witches, told as a cautionary tale full of melancholy and regret, told in lyrical language and with a setting of times gone by. 
These are just two of the new books I plan to share with my students; how about you?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Back to school, are you ready? I am and here's why

It's that time of year, back to school!  How many of us are ready?  We've read professionally, learned new web 2.0 or technology skills to share, and took advantage of the myriad of PD available, live and online.  If you did, good job; now is the time to figure out how to most effectively share this with your teachers.  Will you have a 10 for tech, a ten minute overview of a new tool you have learned?  Or maybe an enticing email teaser, if you plan with me you will find out about .....?  Maybe you are like me and you are a blitz bomber; just bound in to a planning meeting with "Ooohh, look what I have to share with you!  And, I brought candy!"  Whatever your style, remember it is not really professional development unless you use what you've learned.
Here's one great tool I use: Scoop It (  You set up the topics you want searched, and this program culls the Internet for possibilities, puts them together in a magazine-like forum, and delivers it to your email box for you.  You then get to decide what articles/links work for you and you add them to your page.  People can follow you, I think this would be great to collect information for a particular course project.  In the past I have used it for "women in the military" when a student was doing a research project, I have a technology in education page, inquiry in library, and others.  I love that new material is collected and sorted for me; and it also provides a place to save this info so I can find it again!
Any great tools you have discovered this summer? Please share!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

10 on the 10th Picture books for High School use!

I love picture books!  I don't care what grade level I am teaching, it can always be improved with a good picture book.  Here are ten I plan to have in my collection.

10 the 10th  Picture books

While not the newest, it is still a powerful choice with which to begin the school year.  There is certainly power in a book. I love to use the video! Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert

This book shows us several things; the English side of World War II, and the softer side of Winston Churchill.  Every illustrated page includes Churchill’s beloved little poodle.  A great humanizing factor is demonstrated here. Mark by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Tom Lichtenheld

Love this one!  Great on so many levels.  One, how should you use that exclamation point? I love to overuse it, myself.  Could have students writing “books” for other punctuation marks, but I really like the underlying idea of finding your place – should spark great class discussion.

With the three parts to each page like a flip book, Chuck provides an interactive approach to sharing his art, and his disability.  Engaging and inspiring telling of the life challenges Close has had to make, but through it he continues to create art. Monsieur Marceau:  Actor Without Words by Leda Schubert

Did you know he worked in the French Underground during World War II?  He helped to move children to safety; using wordless gestures to show direction.  A very interesting biography, good for looking deeper at what we think we already know. Dark by Lemony Snicket

This is a powerful narrative about something we can all recognize, a fear of the dark.  A great mentor text if you have teachers who ask students to create picture books for a class project.  Of course, I could also love it because it is illustrated by Jon Klassen! A Story from the Underground Railroad by Henry Cole

Done is gray, with black pencil lines, this wordless picture book clearly demonstrates the power of humanity, one person helping others. by I. C. Springman

A fable for our time, this tale told sparsely with words and more with illustration, sends the message “too much stuff”. Sure to spark classroom conversation. Me, I Meant to Do It: False Apology Poems

William Carlos Williams’s famous poem ”This Is Just to Say,”,  models  fun, thought ful poetry  students can create.,TopRight,1,0_SH20_.jpgThe Fox in the Library by Lorenz Pauli

OK, I admit it; this book is here because it takes place in a library!  The fox did not come to read, but that may change.