Tuesday, January 06, 2015

What happens on a snow day, really

A snow day, yay!  How did we get it?  I bargained with Mother Nature, of course.  I promised that I would do certain things if we got to stay home, boring, mundane things that were overdue -- but necessary.  How did I really spend the day, why I did them, of course.  I don't want to jinx snow days for everyone else. So I worked on everything I promised, and I cooked as I always do on a snow way.  I mean, what if the power goes out and I don't have a big pot of spaghetti sauce done?  And I sat in my comfy chair with my warm blanket in front of my fireplace and I read.  Actually, I had to read the boring, mundane things I had been putting off.  But that was okay, I was in my  pj's in front of the fireplace, drinking hot chocolate.  And for a while, I just stared out the window, enjoying the show put on by Mother Nature.  So that's my snow day, what is yours?

Saturday, January 03, 2015

I read, you read, what about your students?


What makes a reader?  Many books and articles have been written on the subject, studies have been done and yet it seems to get more difficult all the time for students to actually check out library books.  Is it time, everyone is so busy all the time -- is reading the thing that gets dropped?  Is it technology?  Do we want pictures instead of words?  Are there no good books left?
I like to think that a lot of it is based on enthusiasm. The best thing is if the reader has a passion and zeal for reading -- these individuals will make the time to read, and demand that books are made available to them.  If this is not the case, then the "book seller" AKA teacher or librarian must be the one with enthusiasm, and be persuasive enough to entice one into at least trying out a new title.
Once in a while passion and "selling" are combined in a friend who will not rest until they share a great read with someone else.
I have a few choice books I offer to various reluctant readers:
  • "I Hunt Killers", a mystery about a teen age boy whose father is a serial killer (behind bars) and whose town has a series of murders, which he is convinced is a serial killer.  Has his father taught someone knew, is it the boy himself, or is it something else?  The plot moves fast with great characters, and enough plot twists to keep you engaged throughout.
  • 13 Reasons Why", a realistic fiction story of a suicide. A boy receives a box of cassette tapes (13 sides) which the girl who committed suicide sent to share the 13 things done by others she felt led to her suicide.  While it sounds like a real downer, it is well done and can lead to many great discussions.
  • "Cinder" a sci fi fairy tale retelling of Cinderella.  This is one of the most unique variations I have seen, with lots of action, fast paced, and not too girly.  Because it is the first book of a series, it is great for that reader who doesn't want to go through the effort of learning new characters and settings with each book.
Do you have any "go to" books you pull out when you are trying to reach a student?

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?