Thursday, October 13, 2016

My Inspiration

Inspiration can come in many forms. I'm inspired on a daily basis by my husband, parents, colleagues, students, and - importantly - my sons. 

Today I shared with my three classes of seventh graders one of my favorite picture books, Last Stop on Market Street. I love this world that Matt de la Peña lets us into. I love the illustrations Christian Robinson creates. We read it as part of our personal narrative unit. I want my students to see that stories are all around us. After each mentor text, we're doing a quick write. Kids can write about what the story was about, something it inspired, a poem they create after hearing it, anything. I put the timer on for three minutes and write with them, projecting my notebook under the document camera as my pen flies across the page. I never plan out what I'm going to write, and it's a different entry with each class, but it's always whatever is on my heart. 

After reading CJ and Nana's story today I was reminded of why I bought the book, what spoke to me about it. Beyond being just a beautiful book, I loved Nana. I loved that she looked for the good in everything. That she found beauty where others did not. This sentence especially spoke to me: 

He wondered how his nana always found beautiful where he never even thought to look.

After reading the book to the kids, we opened our notebooks to begin our quick writes. Here is mine from my first period today...

CJ's nana looks for the good in everything, and I admire that quality in others. One of the people I see this in, that I look up to myself, is my son, Liam.

Liam found out yesterday that he didn't make the basketball team he tried out for. He had worked hard after being cut last year, put in many hours, but it just didn't work out.

I admire Liam greatly for the simple fact that he continues to persevere. That he pushes himself to try again in the face of failure. That upon being told that he didn't make it he immediately asked if he could join the YMCA's team again and quickly said that he hoped his friends had made the team. 

On a daily basis, Liam looks for the positive in life, just like CJ's nana. He finds good in what could be seen as bad. Each and every day I try to just be a little more like him. 

My students were quiet when I shared my story, Liam's story. I asked them not to flood him with comments about how they wished he made the team, or that they were sorry he hadn't, because I knew he wouldn't want that. He had been sad last night, but he was over that today and wanted to move on. What I wanted was for them was to see how we can use books to connect, to teach us who we can become, to remind us of the good in others. My boys often inspire me, and I love to show that to my students. All too often kids think we don't notice them, but I see the good in others through their daily actions. I hope they can see that in me too.

Liam after school today, back at it. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Day Two of IRC's Annual Conference

Hmm, a bit behind. I attended IRC's annual conference on September 29th and 30th  September 30th I posted reflections from day one and now it's...October 9th. Oops. I had good intentions for day two's reflection, but the past week has gotten in the way.

We began on the 30th with an early morning (6am) drive to Peoria so we could start our day with Jason Reynolds. I've read several of Jason's books with Ghosts being the most recent one. My students loved it, even if Lizzie wasn't thrilled with the ending. 

I wanted to hear Jason, meet him if I had a chance, so that I could bring that back to my students. I unfortunately didn't get a chance to meet him, but was spellbound by his quiet stories for sixty minutes. Listening to Jason talk about the influence of poetry on his life, of Langston Hughes and Queen Latifah, of the poetry of hip hop music, of the beauty of allowing yourself to be you, I was swept away. 

You don't have to look for the magic, it's already in them. Inside is where the magic lies. - Reynolds

Jason is not someone I'm going to forget anytime soon. I want to surround myself with every book he has written, soak in the words, and grow from there. 

Then we headed over to see my wonderful friend, John Schumacher, give a presentation on being reading ambassadors. I love John's enthusiasm for children's literature. I am always struck by the positive message that exudes from every bit of him. I smiled as he shared favorite titles and scribbled down any I didn't know. What a fabulous way to spend an hour.

Our last two sessions were with Kelly Gallagher. He had a session before lunch about reading and one after lunch about writing. I loved how he has his students examine articles for bias. He asks them what the passage says and what it doesn't say. He went into this over and over. I think it is of critical importance. My students tend to believe anything they read, they don't pause to think about bias or persuasion. Heck, judging from my Facebook news feed, adults don't really think about this either. It infuriates me. Critical thinking seems to have gone the way of the dodo. I want to bring it back. These two questions, What does it say? What it doesn't say?, are going to be ones I incorporate into the Article of the Week.
Our seat to hear Kelly the first time, the floor. 
In writing, Kelly talked about the four things students need to be better writers: volume, choice, modeling, and conferring. Writing is an area I need to grow this year, so this was good for me to hear. I did quick writes all the time in fifth grade, but I've gotten lazy about them in 7th, only doing two a week. Heading back to daily ones next week. I loved how Kelly graded those - he collects notebooks after a certain amount of quick writes. There's a list on the board of the ones they've done since the last collection. You get points for each being present in your notebook, but then you put a post-it on the one you want him to read. Love it.

Beyond that, I cannot wait until the book he and Penny Kittle are working on comes out. Sounds like it will be amazing.

And that wraps up two days of learning! I'm so grateful my district recognizes the benefit to attending conferences like IRC and NCTE. Each time I go I'm not only rejuvenated, but ready to try something new in my classroom. What a blessing! 

Friday, October 7, 2016

Gertie's Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley - Blog Tour

When I was asked if I wanted to be part of the blog tour for Gertie's Leap for Greatness, I said an immediate yes. My schedule is insane, scheduling posts right now is a nightmare, but this book has my heart. Anytime an author can get a first line like this, I'm in love.

The bullfrog was only half dead, which was perfect.

Then there are the characters - enemies with names like Mary Sue Spivey, loyal friends like Junior, and family like Aunt Rae with her, "Give 'em hell, baby." And then there's Gertie.

Gertie is a character I wanted to pull close, give her a hug, and watch her take on the world. Her mom decided she didn't want to be a mom when she was young, but still lives in the same town. Now that her mom has put her house on the market, Gertie has decided she needs to be the best fifth grader in the universe to prove that she doesn't need her mom. Unfortunately there are people like Mary Sue standing in the way. At her core, Gertie is a loyal, kind, and proud kid. She reminds me of my favorite character growing up - Ramona. I loved this story with everything in me.

MacMillan was kind enough to send me two copies of the book - one for myself, and one for someone who is "great like Gertie." In their words, someone who goes above and beyond to be great, not just for themselves. (And if they happen to love kids books, so much the better.) Well, I'm thrilled to pass a copy on to my colleague, Leigh Anderson.

Leigh absolutely loves kids books, her Facebook feed shows what she's reading on a regular basis. She champions fabulous books and shares them with her sixth graders. What also makes Leigh "great like Gertie" is her love of dogs, specifically King Charles Cavaliers. We share a love for the breed, but Leigh has gone above and beyond. She's had many of these wonderful dogs, some from rescues. Her heart and love for animals could fill our school and I am certain she will love Gertie if she hasn't read it yet. 

Gertie's Leap to Greatness was released this week. Go check it out! 

Monday, October 3, 2016

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

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

YIKES! Somehow I didn't share what I was reading on my blog even once in September. Not sure how that happened. I think in starting a new grade level this year I've been a bit more busy, a bit more preoccupied, than I realized. My goal this year was to share every book I read here, to have a record of it. So, without further ado, here is my September reading round up. 

Here's what I love in reflecting back over this month of reading. I can see my new job in it - the tons of romance books early in the month, the new favorite YA books of Stand Off and Draw the Line. But I can also see the books I've read for the past 20 years in education at the elementary level - the picture books that I still bring into my new 7th grade classroom, the copy of Dog Man that I bought because I knew some kids would love to see it, Raina's Ghosts, etc. 

I've absolutely slowed down on my reading since the summer, but still managing to squeeze in a bit here and there. I'm currently reading Bird by Crystal Chan in preparation for an author visit. It is wonderful so far. 

Have a great week! 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Day One of IRC's Annual Conference

Amazing session with Jeff Anderson.
I was telling my husband last night that if I could work part time and attend conferences part time, I'd be a happy person. I cannot leave the classroom, I love teaching, but I absolutely love learning. 

I love attending conferences, learning new things, figuring out what I can take back in the classroom next week. Conferences, the sessions I attend, and the people I talk to all come together to make me a better teacher. They rejuvenate me at any point of the year and simply make me happy. 

Today I had the awesome opportunity to attend the 49th annual IRC conference. My new seventh grade colleague, Mel, went with me - which made it even better. We attended three sessions today: two from Jeff Anderson, and one from Kylene Beers and Bob Probst. 

Kylene and Bob presented on information from their book, Reading Nonfiction. There was so much I want to take away from there session. Mel and I have been having the students do Kelly Gallagher's Articles of the Week. I think we can incorporate some of Kylene and Bob's questions into this - the ideas of looking for what surprised you, what the author thought you already knew, and what was confirmed or challenged. I love looking at the article with that lens. Also, asking the kids to think of what the author's purpose was, or bias. We have a bunch of adults that cannot read critically, or look for bias, currently in our country. Maybe we can raise the next generation to do better. Kylene and Bob's book is one I haven't read yet, but will be reading ASAP. 

Jeff Anderson makes me smile every time he presents. I love his professional books: Revision Decision, Everyday Editing, Mechanically Inclined, and 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Jeff's books for kids crack me up and my students devour them: Zack Delacruz Me and My Big Mouth and Zack Delacruz Just My Luck. The first session we attended today from Jeff reminded me of the importance of teaching the skill of sentence combining. Jeff has a way of showing students one thing, a quick lesson, with beautiful mentor texts. The kids have fun, learn, and don't hate grammar. What a concept! In his afternoon session he shared the power of writing off mentor texts for quick writes. I loved some of his samples, especially the book You Don't Know Me by David Klass. Powerful writing resulted.

As is true for any conference, I learned a lot while also getting to see friends. Through conversations at lunch with my friend Jillian, or in a session with Mindi, or in the car with Mel, I left IRC's first day invigorated and ready to return. Now I'm off to read The Boy in the Black Suit before sitting in Jason Reynolds' session tomorrow. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Inquisitor's Tale by Adam Gidwitz - Blog Tour

There is one book that no matter what grade I have taught, no matter who I book talked it to, the book has flown off the shelves. In teaching fifth, it was constantly checked out, passed student to student. In seventh grade I shared it the first week of school and it has again been passed from hand to hand, never returning to my shelves. That book was Adam Gidwitz's brilliant Tale Dark and Grimm. A high percentage of my three classes of seventh grades have read it (and the next two installments in the series.) When I shared with them that Gidwitz had a new book coming out, they were ready for it. Was it still fast paced? Did you get pulled in from page one? Was it a bit violent? Yes, yes, and yes, my dear students.

Inquisitor's Tale was not at all what I expected. Here we venture into France in the year 1492. We begin at an inn, but it feels like a tavern. A traveler wants to know why three children are wanted by the king. As the patrons at the inn begin to share their interactions with these three kids, we learn their backstory. We begin with Jeanne, who was wanted because of her magical dog, Gwenforte. Then there is William who lived in a monastery, but was hated because of his skin color. And finally, there's Jacob, who is being persecuted because of his religion - Judaism. 

There is humor in this book (Farting dragons anyone?), friendship, and lessons on loyalty. At times I put the book down and marveled at what Gidwitz had managed to accomplish with this novel. There is a level of depth that I hadn't expected. There is a chance to let our students draw lines from this story of the three children in 1492 to events we see unfold in the news today. But, at its heart, this is just an amazing story. 

It's release date was 9/27, so it is out in the world. Go get it. Now. You won't be sorry. The Inquisitor's Tale, what an amazing adventure. 

Blog Tour Schedule:
Monday, 9/26Green Bean Teen Queen (Review)
Monday, 9/26MundieKids (Review)
Tuesday, 9/27Books 4 Your Kids (Review)
Tuesday, 9/27Novel Novice (Guest Post)
Wednesday, 9/28Read Write Reflect (Review)
Wednesday, 9/28The Reading Nook (Guest Post)
Thursday, 9/29Imagination Soup (Review)
Thursday, 9/29Middle Grade Mafioso (Guest Post)
Friday, 9/30All The Wonders (Podcast) 
Friday, 9/30Book Blather (Review)

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Voices from the Middle

This year so much has changed for me. Moving from fifth grade to seventh grade isn't a huge change overall - just two grade levels. Yet that move also means going from teaching elementary school to middle school. As I learned in my grad classes this summer for my middle school endorsement, middle school is a different world.

I could write post after post about why this world is absolutely the place for me, but I'll save that. What I wanted to do was point you in the direction of an amazing resource if you are also residing in the world of middle school. 

One of the items on my checklist this summer was to change the section I was in for my NCTE membership. I've always belonged to the elementary section, but knew I needed to switch that with my grade level move. When I was doing that on the website, I realized this job change also meant that I should subscribe to a new journal from NCTE - Voices from the Middle. (Find out more about Voices HERE.)

My September issue came just a few weeks ago. WOW. It is filled to the brim with amazing articles. I flipped through the pages reading words from Kylene Beers, wonderful middle school teachers, author Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Chris Lehman, Linda Rief, and so much more. Each article grabbed my attention. It is a journal I've picked up, read, and reread for the past two weeks. A wealth of knowledge resides between the covers. 

I was also thrilled to be asked by the new editors - Shelbie Witte and Sara Kajder - if I'd join a panel of middle school educators as voices for their podcasts. It has been a ton of fun. There are three podcasts out so far and I know a fourth is coming soon. (You can check out the podcasts HERE or in iTunes.)

My mom taught me long ago that teaching is a profession where I should always be learning, reflecting, and growing.  One way I've done that over the years is by belonging to professional organizations like NCTE. I'm grateful to Voice from the Middle for pushing my thinking and inspiring me as I begin this new endeavor. 

Middle School...I think I've found my new home. 
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