Sunday, May 3, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm thrilled to link up with Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each Monday and share our reading lives. Check out their sites for more information. 

I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up last week's reading pace, but I did find time for some amazing books once again. Here's a quick shot of this week's reading:

As you can see, I found some amazing books. There are three I'd like to give a special shout out to and they are at the beginning, middle, and end of this week's list.

Tom Angleberger is quickly becoming a "must read" author for me. Whatever he writes, I know my students will love. The first book in The Qwikpick Papers series was called Poop Fountain. Quite frankly, the book sells itself in a fifth grade classroom. I know my students will be just as intrigued by this installment, The Rat with the Human Face. The series follows three friends as they meet and go off to have an adventure and kind-of solve a mystery at the same time. Great fun.

The other two books I want to give a special shout-out to are advanced copies. I'm so sorry for that, I know how when I read about an amazing book I want to be able to read it RIGHT AWAY. However, these are too good to not share.

Linda Urban is one of my favorite authors. I think Hound Dog True is one of the most perfect books I have ever read. She completely caught me off guard with Milo Speck, Accidental Agent. I think I will do a separate review for this (and the next book) closer to the release. Let me just leave you with this - Milo is yanked into his clothing dryer by an ogre who lives in another world. How will he get back to his own world and what does his dad have to do with this? I LOVE Milo and certainly hope Linda will be returning to this group of characters again.

Finally, I was beyond thrilled when a friend mailed me a copy of Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead. Like I said, I'll write a more detailed review soon, but holy crap. This is good. As in pre-order it now, you won't want to miss this, good. I love all of Stead's books, but this one is moving to the top of my list. She nails three different story lines in three different point of views, she makes me care about every character, and she deals with some very current teen issues - like sending photos through text - in a realistic and relatable way. LOVE. 

Interview with Brian Wyzlic

Michigan Reading Association hosts an amazing conference each March. This year they also had one of the best - if not the best - kick-off celebrations to begin the conference. The brainchild of Colby Sharp, there were Ignites and lip-sync karaoke contests to begin our weekend. Fortunately, even if you were not at MRA, you can still hear the brilliant Ignite presentations that began our weekend of learning. Colby has organized a blog tour where they are sharing one Ignite per blog and I’m thrilled to be a part of it.

Brian Wyzlic gave an Ignite on one of my absolute favorite topics - relationships in the classroom. Before sharing Brian’s wonderful presentation, I wanted to ask him a couple of questions.

My questions are in black, Brian's answers are in green. 

Brian, first of all, could you explain to everyone what you teach and how long you’ve been in teaching?
Certainly, Katherine. I teach high school English and math to an awesome group of students. This is my 8th year teaching.

I know that you believe relationships with your students are a critical part of your teaching. How did you come to that belief?
I was actually just thinking about this the other day, before I knew this interview was coming. It goes back to my high school creative writing teacher, Mr. Hebestreit at Livonia Churchill High School. I remember sitting in his classroom, thinking how great it felt to be there -- like he actually genuinely cared about me as an individual. Like I mattered to him. Then I looked around the room, and I realized that it seemed as though everyone felt the same way. Not only did he care about us as a collective group of students, but he cared about us as individuals. I remember the work I did in that class, and now I’ve seen this power first-hand on the other side of things as a teacher.

What do you do to cultivate those relationships?
I try to do some things with each student, both simple and more complex. I greet every student at the door with a smile. But there’s a subtle thing I do with that. I don’t smile until I see each student. So they know my smile is a result of seeing them come to my class that day. It’s simple, but it’s powerful. I also try to get to know my students. I let them talk in my room, and I join in. And when I can -- this is where it gets more complex -- I use the things they’ve talked about (be it Clash of Clans, The Bachelor, Taylor Swift, anything really) in my classroom instruction. We know interest drives motivation. I just try to let them know I’m listening and that I care about their interests. I could go on for days here, but those sorts of things are the base of it all.

What benefits have you seen as a result of the bonds you have created?
When students trust their teacher, and have a good relationship with them, they’ll try things they don’t think they can do. My students take chances on writing a thesis that reaches a little bit, because they know I’ve got their back if it gets tough. They don’t give up when they’re not understanding polynomial long division because they know I’m not going to give up on them. I firmly believe that my students do more than they usually could as a direct result of the bonds I have with them.

What do you think is the biggest challenge in forging the bonds between teacher and student?
It takes time. Nobody can walk into a classroom on day one and have that trusting bond. That’s really frustrating when it’s a whole new group of students every year. It might take weeks to develop those bonds. It might take months. With some students, that bond will never come. The worst is when you, as a teacher, do something to hurt their trust in you. Two minutes of saying the wrong thing can take months of work away. But there’s nothing more important to their development as learners.

Do your relationships help you connect with the students after their time with you?
They do! Just a couple weeks ago, I had a student I had 5 years ago e-mail me to let me know he was graduating college and what else was going on in his life. Of course, it turned into a conversation about books, even though I had him for math :-)  I’ve also had the opportunity to tutor some students in college after they’d left my classroom. Another student just had her first child, and I was able to offer my congratulations to her. It’s like I have family everywhere I look. Can you imagine how awesome a world that is?

Is there anything else you want to share about creating relationships with your students?
To all the teachers out there, if you’re working on forging those bonds with your students, keep it up. It’s worth it. For those of you who don’t make this a priority, I hope you give it a chance. Know that it takes time. But as regular readers of your blog know, Katherine, it’s important. It’s just so important.

Thanks so much for stopping by, Brian. And now you can all see Brian’s fabulous presentation at MRA in the video below. If you want to learn more from Brian, head on over to his blog at WYZ Reads, or check him out on Twitter at @brianwyzlic.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

The Importance of Authors

My homeroom with Jaleigh Johnson
While we don't have the benefit of too many author visits in our tiny town, we are blessed to have a few authors in the area. Marianne Malone who wrote Sixty-Eight Rooms has been to my classroom to visit my students several times over the years. Last year, Jaleigh Johnson moved into my neighborhood. I learned that she was the author of a soon to be published book (at that time) called Mark of the Dragonfly and asked her to speak to my class then, and again this year. Every time either of these amazing authors have visited my classroom, I have marveled at the impact of their words on my students. I am profoundly grateful that they take the time to come in.
These ladies write brilliant books, I tell you! 
Katy introducing Jaleigh
On Tuesday, Jaleigh Johnson came to see my ELA classes. I asked her to come in and share a bit about her writing life with them. Monday we brainstormed questions we might want to ask her on a Padlet. I shared the link with her and she tailored her talk to answering those questions. Watching their faces light up when she was answering "their" question was priceless. Listening to her tell them that revision is critical and how long she spends with a draft was wonderful. Now they know I am not crazy when I reinforce this message during writing workshop.

Towards the end of her time with us, Jaleigh shared some information about her next novel set in the world of Solace. While not a sequel to Mark of the Dragonfly, I'm guessing it might be considered a companion book. The students were excited to know something the rest of the world doesn't and couldn't wait to share their thoughts with me about this new book when we were done. Look for this one in early 2016. 

Preston thanking Jaleigh for coming.
After Jaleigh's talk was over, she kindly signed books, bookmarks, and writing notebooks for each child. I know that many will treasure this signature and it feels me with gratitude that she spoke to each one and made them feel heard. 
Starting the day with a quick author visit was absolute perfection. I highly recommend it and wish it could be a regular event. :) Huge thanks to Jaleigh - and Marianne - for taking the time to come to my room when I've asked. And also, thanks to the multitude of authors and illustrators who "talk" to my students on Twitter. You all have no idea the impact your words have on my kids. We appreciate it more than you can ever know. 
A new spot for a Mark of a Dragonfly tattoo. :) 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Look for the Helpers

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." – Fred Rodgers

Sometimes I think I can be too empathetic. I watch the news and my heart hurts. Looking at the people of Kathmandu, I cannot help despair for those poor people. Remembering that it was climbing season, I worry for those on the mountain or at the base camp. Last night I got online and learned of rioting in Baltimore. I think of the citizens, the officers, the people of the city. I worry.

At times it seems there is so much going wrong in this world, how can we ever get to a place that is good? Looking at Facebook, I can’t wade through the status updates to find a similar one to my own mind. What if police officers are mostly good, but there are some that aren’t? What if citizens who have been oppressed have a right to be angry, but this is too far? What if we cannot help all of these people in Nepal that are hurting and we instead ignore it. What if, what if, what if…

I think of Rodgers quote and I’m calmed, some. There are helpers. There are people out there giving. There are people out there fighting to make sure that others are given a fair shot. I just wonder if it is enough.

Ironically, I am teaching a Civil Rights unit in my class right now. Yesterday the students broke into groups and studied a specific topic from the Civil Rights movement. They researched in books I had gathered and online. Walking by one group I overheard a member reading off some facts from the iPad to her friends. They were discussing injustice and how people looked the other way in the 50s and 60s. I worry that we are doing the same now.

As I tucked in my own children last night, watched them drift off to sleep, I felt guilty. I am safe, I am blessed. Am I grateful enough? Do I do enough? How can I help?

Opening up Facebook this morning I see a lot of blame. Blame for the officers. Blame for the citizens. What if we stopped blaming and started finding common ground? What if we acknowledged that there is racism alive and well here? What if we began by realizing that poverty is a huge issue that we are continuing to ignore. What if we talked about the fact that there are folks in poverty who work really hard, do not use drugs, and need welfare, yet continue to live in poverty? What if we talked about how hard it is to get out of it?
On the flip side, what if we acknowledged there are a plethora of police officers who do their job every single day, go above and beyond, put their life on the line, and go to bed like it was no big deal, just a day at the “office”. What if we talked about the fact that cases across the country such as these are giving their job a bad reputation, but that they themselves did not earn that. What if we respected them for the brave work they do?

I don’t think this is an either or situation. One side is not right at the expense of the other. What I know is that my heart hurts. I worry. I am so sad for the people of Baltimore. I despair for the people of Nepal. And there is more. So much more. To the point I cannot even bear it. And so, I will look for the helpers. They are always there.

Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

I'm thrilled to link up with Teach Mentor Texts and Unleashing Readers each Monday and share our reading lives. Check out their sites for more information. 

It has been a busy reading week, one of those that you look back and know how crazy busy life has been and are surprised that you actually read anything during the week. I think it helps that most of my reading has been focused - I am starting a Civil Rights unit this week in conjunction with the Social Studies teacher on my team and I felt like I needed some background. Here's what I've read:

Every book I read was fabulous, but I wanted to give two specific mentions: Yard Sale by Bunting, illustrated by Castillo, is completely enchanting. It follows the story of a family that needs to move, likely a parent has lost their job, but the little girl is confused. I cannot wait to use it to teach inferences with my fifth graders. It is perfect. 

Also, George by Alex Gino is a book I cannot get off my mind. This is a book written for middle grades about a child, George, who was born a boy, but knows she is a girl. George wants to try out for the role of Charlotte in the play Charlotte's Web, but her teacher says that role is only for girls. I think Gino did a brilliant job of portraying the struggle George is going through in her mind as she grapples with some big questions. This one is not out until this fall. 

This week is a crazy one again. Not sure what reading I will get done, but first I will be finishing Linda Urban's upcoming novel, Milo Speck. I'm loving it so far. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Lenny & Lucy by Philip and Erin Stead and a Giveaway!

I first encountered the work of Philip and Erin Stead in A Sick Day for Amos McGee. Not sure how I missed them before that, but I quickly became a huge fan. Reading some of their brilliant books – whether as a collaboration or solo – I was amazed at their work. Some of my favorites of their books written and illustrated with others include And Then It’s Spring written by Julie Fogliano, illustrated by Erin Stead and Special Delivery written by Philip Stead, illustrated by Matthew Cordell. When they work together, such as in Amos or A Bear Has a Story to Tell, it is magical. That is why I was super excited to see their new book, Lenny & Lucy, that is due out this fall.

Lenny & Lucy tells the tale of a little boy named Peter who has moved. His new house is over the bridge from a scary forest and he simply cannot get any sleep, even with his loyal dog, Harold, by his side. He gets the idea to create a guard for the bridge named Lenny. Lenny is a huge guard, created out of pillows and blankets that Peter stitches together. When Peter fears that Lenny is lonely, he creates another guard, named Lucy. It is with his creations and his beloved dog that Peter is able to begin to feel safe at his new home.

In Lenny & Lucy the Steads show their talent for storytelling and illustrations. There are several that I would love to remove from the book and place on my wall. The words and pictures are simply beautiful. This is a picture book you cannot miss.

My students are even bigger fans of the Steads as of this week. Kohl’s began a campaign for children’s health and education nationwide. It is called Kohl’s Cares. For only $5 you can get a copy of one of the Steads’ books and another $5 will get you a stuffed animal that goes with it. (More info on Erin’s blog HERE.) We now have the elephant from Amos McGee along with the turtle from And Then It’s Spring in our classroom. You would be surprised by the amount of fifth graders that want to cuddle with a stuffed animal during independent reading.

And today is your lucky day. MacMillian is allowing me to give away a plush from the Kohl’s Cares line along with the corresponding book to a lucky reader of Read Write Reflect. Please enter below by Sunday evening at 10pm central and I will draw one winner. They will then contact you about shipping you your prize! Good luck!

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