Tuesday, May 24, 2016

My To Read Books

Today marked my last day of teaching Language Arts to my fifth graders. We have school tomorrow, sure, but it is centered around things like inflatables and games. Today was my last day to teach fifth grade. 

It wasn't a normal day, for certain. Circling the perimeter of the room were boxes upon boxes. 2/3 of our classroom library was crated up, boxes were waiting for former students to come in the afternoon and move them to the middle school. As I looked out upon the faces of my fifth graders, it was a bit bittersweet. 

We talked about moving on. I read the book I Wish You More. I had them give me feedback on the importance of classroom libraries and the importance of audience on a Padlet - both are topics of presentations I have this summer. And finally, we settled in to discuss "to read" lists. 

By this point of the year they know that readers make plans, and they've been making them all year long. I shared with them that I read a book-a-day in the summer, following along with Donalyn Miller's hashtag on Twitter. (You can find more info on Donalyn's blog HERE.) And then, I showed them my to read stacks around my house. 

They laughed, for the most part. Reminding me of the books I still haven't gotten to this year that I had wanted to read. I told them I'll never be caught up, but that I loved the simple act of being able to finish one book, stroll over to my shelf, and grab another. We talked about how cool it is that the middle school library is open for them this summer if they want to check out a book from it. It was a great morning.

So what's on your to read list for this summer? Any great seventh grade recommendations for me? While I'm not quite ready to say goodbye to my students, I cannot wait for days that stretch out endlessly and some fabulous books. 

And tomorrow I have to show my students this photo. Coming home today I found four more books had arrived, thanks to a generous publisher. My to read list has grown again. 

Monday, May 16, 2016

What I'll Miss

My fabulous homeroom
I've been doing a pretty good job looking forward, listing everything I cannot wait for regarding my move to middle school. At the top of the list, behind teaching the new age group, would be the air conditioning and lack of 35+ stairs to climb each day. But, if I'm being honest, the one thing I will miss is my homeroom. See, I'll still have a homeroom there, but I don't think it's the same. In my building I'm with my homeroom just a bit more than all my other classes. I take them to specials, have an extra 30-60 minutes per day with them, depending on the schedule. And by this point of the year we know each other well. Too well at times. It's a bit like being snowed in with your family for a week. We need time apart, but we know each other better than anyone else.

My homeroom kids know me, they get me. Three girls immediately gasped when they saw that my current read (for myself) is Blood of Olympus. They know I've put off reading it for two years because I'm terrified I won't like the ending. They've told me - my former student Hayden has told me - that I just need to read it already. But still, I've waited. Today I decided it was time to dive in. The girls patted me on the back. One said she was proud of me for facing my fears (I had to laugh at that comment). 

The end of the day found us with 30 minutes of extra time, so we read. The kids were in various prone positions around the room, absorbed in their books. I fell into mine, the room melting away. As I read, I grew nervous. One of the main characters, Jason, was in a rough fight. And then, it happened. He was stabbed, dying. I closed the book and looked up. Payton looked at me from across the room, considered my expression, and said, "Just read." 

"But, Jason... his guts have just been stabbed. I can't..." I tried to explain.

Payton grinned, "Read it. It will all be ok." Lydia, Zoe, and Estella looked up and me and laughed. They tried reassurance, but I was having none of it.

I told them if my favorite characters are killed off in this one I'm never forgiving them. I told them I thought I should just stop. Some boys looked up from their books and gave me some looks that indicated I might have gone from their quirky teacher to downright nuts. Many of them smiled and whispered, "Read it." So I plopped back down at my table and began again. 

We're at the finish line, nine days left of school. The kids are squirrelly, they're fighting, making bad choices. I think I used the word "crap" at one point today. I really wanted to use the term "asshats", but I refrained. And yet, there is no where I'd rather be, no one I'd rather spend time with. Tomorrow I'm heading back and will share where I've reached in the book tonight. They know me, I know them. While I anticipate loving middle school and middle schoolers, the experience with a homeroom in elementary school is unique. This is what I'll miss. 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5/16/16

I love joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each week to share my reading life. 

Let's begin with my confusion over the date when I went to type it above. How on earth can we be halfway through May already? That phrase the years are long but the days are short has really proven true for me of late.

My reading quantity is nothing to write home about. I've read four books - two novels, two picture books - in the past two weeks. I've also written 40 pages for two finals and gotten my class grades back for the two classes - 99% and 100% respectively. We can talk about the ridiculousness of needing to take those classes later... Finally, I have begun the work of packing my classroom before the end of the school year. 

So my reading life, not great. Then a friend texted me that she had just finished the final book in the Raven Cycle and needed to discuss it. She had an extra and would be mailing me that one. That led me to think, had I read book 2 and 3? I rushed up to the "to read" shelves in my bedroom. Searching, I found both books. I flipped to the back and read. Nope, hadn't read either. Young Adult books often get pushed to the back burner for me. To keep up with middle grade books for my students is an undertaking. Trying to find time to read YA, if it isn't a book my book club picks, is tough. But reading the back of those books transported me back to book 1, which I loved. Stiefvater is flipping BRILLIANT. So, I began book 2. I had to reflect a bit, remembering back to book 1 that I read at the end of 2012, beginning of 2013. It didn't take long and I was completely immersed again in that world. I flew through book 2 and 3, devouring the words, wishing the books were longer so I wouldn't finish so quickly. 

If you haven't read this series, remedy immediately. I love the world Stiefvater has created. I cannot wait to get book 4 and find out what she has planned for these characters. I'm nervous because she pulls no punches, and I am very attached to the four main characters - Gansey, Adam, Ronan, and Blue. I'm terrified they won't all make it, but I have to find out. 

Up next? Finishing off another series I should have already by reading Riordan's Blood of Olympus. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

It's A Great Day to Be a Sage!

Our school mascot is the Sage. The "Sage" is known as a wise owl. I love the uniqueness of our mascot. I love that our mascot is tied to wisdom. And most of all, I love that our superintendent constantly says, "It's a great day to be a Sage." This is at the end of every speech I've ever heard him give, every automated call that goes out, everything. And, as always, he's right.

Today I had so many opportunities to live this saying of his. I spent the morning with my new seventh grade colleague for next year. We planned, got to know each other, and laughed. I talked to the principal of the middle school I'm moving to and felt blessed once again. I saw some former students while I was visiting and had some whispered conversations about books. 

Returning to my fifth grade classroom after lunch the students wanted to know how my visit had gone. I realized how blessed I am that I get to work with these cool kids each day, that they care enough to see how I'm doing. That they know me well enough by now to know the move is stressing me (the packing part) and are consistently looking for ways to help. They were just as excited as I was about a letter I received telling me I got a grant I applied for that will impact my seventh grade classroom. Such amazing kids. 

After school I watched with a happy heart as my oldest son worked at track practice. His coaches worked with the team to prepare for sectionals tomorrow. When we came home I mentioned that he had mail. To our surprise the letter was from a high school coach mentioning they had noticed his hard work and were cheering him on for sectionals. Wow.

Sitting down and reflecting on my day I realized just how glad I am to live, and teach, in this community. My superintendent is right, it is indeed a great day to be a Sage. 
I used to have a super cool pin with the saying. It fell off my backpack,
but I love my Sages bracelet. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 5/2

I love joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each week to share my reading life. 

This week was PARCC testing in my classroom. I pledged to read a book a day during testing and finished the first three books this week as a result. 

This week I'll focus on the middle grade books. Counting Thyme is an amazing middle grade novel that follows the story of Thyme. She and her family have just journeyed across country so that her little brother, Val, can be a part of a special treatment for cancer. Thyme isn't thrilled about leaving California or her best friend behind, but wants the best for her brother. 

Wish Girl was a book on my "to read" stack for an entire year. I'm not sure why it took me so long to get to it, but I'm thrilled I did. Peter and his family have just moved to the middle of nowhere, Texas. His family has one volume, loud, but in the midst of all that noise, they fail to really see Peter for what he is. He escapes the noise of their house and finds a magical space outdoors where he meets a girl named Annie, a "wish" girl. Their friendship is beautiful, as is this story. 

The Girl in the Well is Me follows the story of Kammie. New to town, she has been trying to fit in with the popular girls. Unfortunately, she now finds herself trapped in a well and she cannot get out. The book is told from the moment she falls in and you experience her frustration and panic as she realizes that getting out is not going to be easy. As Kammie begins to lose oxygen, she starts to hallucinate, imagining her dad, coyotes, and more are down in the well keeping her company.

The final book I wanted to talk about today was Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies. This is not necessarily a book I would gravitate towards, but it was an important one for me to read. One of my students read it and LOVED it. She gave it to me, begging me to read it. Sometimes it isn't important if a book is my kind of book. I need to read what my students recommend simply to teach them that I value their recommendations. In this case, I found a fun novel about a girl, Celeste, trying to deal with the pitfalls of middle school when you are overweight and your friend has abandoned you. I can't wait to tell Payton in my class that I finished this one this weekend. What a great reading week! 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Power of Story

Today was a day I just wanted to soak in a bit. To sit back and watch my students, but not rush. Yet, it was the last day of PARCC testing. My students needed to come in from the playground, do lunch count, attendance, and be ready to head down to begin the tests within five minutes. But man alive, those first five minutes were glorious.

I've never required my students to be quiet when they come in at the start of the day. It feels unnatural. They come in from the recess and move about the room, getting ready to begin. We have lunch count at the Promethean board, kids running to the restroom, dropping off lunch money, etc. Often I will have kids come up and talk to me about what they read the night before and have a quick conference about what they read that day. Today that was still true, but it was also more.

I gave two of my boys new books I thought they'd enjoy before they left school on Wednesday. One came up to me this morning to tell me why he thought it packed an emotional punch. He had read more overnight in that book than any other night of the year so far. He's a tough customer, so I was thrilled.

The other boy I had given the first book in the Maximum Ride series. He was concerned that it was a "girl book", which I assured him was not the case, that books don't have gender. To further make my case, I listed four boys in football and basketball that I knew he knew. They were big fans of the series in previous years. This morning he not only came in to tell me he loved it, but a few minutes later I saw him in a deep conversation with three classmates about the series as they asked him what part he was at and what he thought so far. 

As I sat back and watched the morning rush unfold, I saw little conversations happening all over the room. Every single conversation was about reading. No exaggeration...Every. Single. One. It actually took my breath away. 

An hour later I sat in the room giving them their last PARCC test. As kids finished, they would quickly grab their book to read. Several curled around it, getting as comfortable as possible at the tables. I watched pages flip, graphic novel panels studied. I looked at Rose, a ticking time bomb as she approached the end of One for the Murphys. I looked over at my two boys from the day before, devouring their new books, one looking at me and giving me a thumbs up. With nineteen days left in the school year, there are certainly items I haven't gotten to, things that will be left untaught. Watching my kids today, though, I know we got this part right. Our classroom is alive with the power of story. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 4/25/16

I love joining Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each week to share my reading life. 

I missed a week sharing my reading, and the books I've read are too good to skip, so here's what I've read over the past two weeks:

Let me begin with A Fire Truck Named Red. This one came in the mail from a publisher. When I first saw it I figured I'd read it and then give it to my niece, Vivian. Moving to seventh grade next year is making me analyze every book as I contemplate bringing each to a new classroom. Upon reading it, however, I changed my mind. In talking to his grandpa and hearing stories about when he was little, a boy grows closer to him and sees the gift of the fire truck in a new light. I decided that this must come with me to my new classroom. The seventh graders have to interview someone in their family over a certain age every year and write up a paper describing that relative. I think this picture book will be a great example of how this assignment can be beneficial to my new students. 

Moving on to another great ARC, Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet. I know Sweet for her amazing work in picture books, but here she branches out. This biography is much longer, around 180 pages if I remember correctly. Sweet has done amazing research here to share what a remarkable man White was. I cannot wait to have students read this and discover the author for themselves. And of course, since Sweet is the author here, the illustrations that go along with the text are amazing. I cannot wait to buy a hardcopy of this one. 

The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary by Shovan I purchased after Donalyn Miller reviewed it on Nerdy Book Club. (HERE) I have to say, I teared up a bit thinking about how this was my last year in fifth grade too. At first I was worried I wouldn't be able to keep track of each character. (There are 18 students and each poem is from the point of view of a different one. Then they repeat.) They poems do a great job clearly sharing the voice of each child. 

Tim Federle could write up detailing the weather each day for a month and I'd buy it. His Nate books were brilliant. So when I heard that he wrote a YA book, I was rather impatient to read it, as you can see from my Facebook status below. Federle did not disappoint. Brilliant. 

And finally, The Serpent King. Sigh. It's now been three hours since I finished this book and I'm still in mourning. I don't want to be done. I want to begin rereading it immediately, but I have too many books I need to get to. A friend said it's on sale this week through Kindle, I highly recommend you get it now. Amazing, amazing, amazing. I think it would be great for 8th on up. Not sure if I'll hand it off to 7th graders or not. This book was so good I had to blog about it immediately, and cried as I wrote the blog. (HERE). The book is that powerful. Read it. That's all I can say. Read it. 

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