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. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Beauty of Failure

My seventh graders and I have been talking a bit about failure this week. It happened in a round about way, one of our words for word study was valiant. In learning about bravery we discussed times we weren't brave. Some kids began talking about what they were scared of. Failure was listed at the top of their list. Then, I remembered Hank Green's video from this past Friday:

It was about how we don't talk about failure. I had that in the back of my mind Tuesday when I saw John Green's reply to his brother, sharing his own failure. I shared that video with my class on Wednesday.

After watching it, we wrote about our own feelings about failure. The kids were in agreement on one thing, they don't talk about it. They think failure is embarrassing. They try hard not to fail. I think we all do.

The thing is, John and Hank are right. We learn from failure. It is where we learn best. Being "safe" and making sure you don't fail is a sure-fire way to have a dull life. Failure is where the real stuff resides. 

One kid asked me if I've ever failed. I laughed at first, but seeing a few earnest faces I realized they were serious. I reminded them that everyone has, but that wasn't enough. So I shared that my list of failures would encircle our classroom and spill in the halls.

Cheerleading, basketball, volleyball - all failed attempts to try out for something. Asking a boy out in middle school and being told no. Trying out for a music group in high school and not making it. Picking a sorority to rush, but not being accepted at that one. Applying for jobs and not getting them. Practicing and practicing for a meet, but getting last place. Getting 10,000 or more words into writing a book for teachers and knowing it won't be what I want it to. Giving up. All failures I've experienced in my 42 years on this planet, and there are so many more.

The thing is, that's ok. I've learned from everything I've done. It's made me more understanding of others. And, just as important, after each failure I've picked myself up and found something good in the experience and moved on. Sometimes to try again, sometimes to realize that this wasn't for me. I've also become a whole lot kinder to myself over the years. Not great, yet, but better than I was at the age of my beautiful students. If only I knew then what I know now. Wisdom and perspective come with age.

Failure. I hope that maybe our discussions on it will make my students reframe their own self-talk when they fail the next time. I hope it will make them treat someone kindly when that child fails in front of them. I hope, I hope, I hope. I hope they can learn to see the beauty in failure. It is there, you just have to look for it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Twitter in the Classroom

It's interesting that here I sit in year twenty-one in the classroom and yet, I feel like a brand new teacher. Well, not new, exactly. I have the knowledge of what I've done before, but an entirely new building, curriculum, and group of colleagues to wrap my brain around. And so, I look at the calendar as I did on Tuesday and think, "Oh, crap. It's September 13th and we haven't tweeted yet this school year."

In previous years Twitter was something I taught the first week. Ditto to blogs. I had access to nine iPads daily, more if I needed. Technology use was not something I thought about on a daily basis, it was just there. Our classroom was connected to the world by default. I concerned myself with teaching how we would use it, what digital citizenship was (over and over all year), and then they were off. It was organic. 

Now I need to sign-up for a cart of Chromebooks. Where I had the iPads all logged in to our Twitter account, I can't do that with these devices. I have an iPad in the classroom - and that's logged in. So is my computer. With that, I set about on Tuesday of connecting my group of seventh graders to Twitter.

Many had tweeted in my class two years ago as fifth graders. As soon as I began talking about it, I saw their heads nod. Interestingly, while many of them have their own Instagram and Snapchat accounts, very few have a Twitter account. We went over the basics - the 140 character limit, hashtags, verified accounts, how we follow others, what we tweet, etc. I wrote a tweet on the projector in front of them. And then I asked them to tweet at some point that week.

What followed was kids making lists on sticky notes of who was in line as they passed the iPad person to person. As I conferred with readers I would have kids come up on the side to ask if this user was the author they were looking for. We talked about using the district hashtag and they wondered if anyone in the community would search it and see their tweet. I heard shouts of excitement as the person with the iPad saw notifications that an author or another classroom had tweeted them back. 

Connecting my students to the world through Twitter (and blogs) is an integral part of my classroom. I want it to be authentic, not forced. I want them to see it as a reaction to what they read, learn, and share. Due to the high percentage of kids I've already taught in previous years, I know we will get there quickly. My favorite moment on Tuesday, however, came from a former student, who is a current student once again.

I had already taught the lesson on Twitter and was conferring with readers at the front of the room. Lizzie was sitting in the back reading Ghost by Jason Reynolds. I heard a book slam shut and looked up as Lizzie stood up, holding the closed book in her hands and gesturing with it. All of the other readers looked at Lizzie along with me as she said, "Seriously? Where is the next book?" 

I immediately knew what was going on and said, "Sorry. I think it is still being written." 

Lizzie let out a huge sigh and then asked if we could tweet him to be sure.

Day made. 

A huge thanks to the authors and classrooms that tweeted us back this week. 

If you are on Twitter and want to follow our class, we are @SagesHoots. We also use the hashtag #gosages (our district hashtag), and #readergrams or #writergrams depending on what we are tweeting about. Katharine Hale started those hashtags in her classroom to connect students who were recommending books or asking for writing advice. Love it. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Seventh Grade Classroom Tour

As the year began, I had several kind folks ask if I would share photos or a video of my new classroom. I truly meant to do that earlier, but the year got away from me. I cannot believe we are almost halfway through September! 

That being said, I remembered that I still hadn't created the video, so I did this past Sunday when I went in to get caught up. The video of the room is below. Thanks for the interest in checking it out. So far our set up seems to be working well, but I'm sure the layout will adapt and change as our year continues.

If you have any questions or want a clarification on any part of the room, give me a shout. Hope your year is going well too! 

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Blogging and Seventh Grade

Three and 1/2 weeks in and I'm still loving seventh graders. I posted yesterday about a short unit I taught this week on September 11th. One thing I haven't shared yet is our journey into blogging. 

Out of my three classes, I've already taught 2/3 of the kids when they were in fifth grade. If they were in my class, they blogged with me then. To a third of them, however, blogging is new territory. It's also new to my seventh grade colleague who teachers the other sections of language arts. Since she's just learning the ropes with kids and blogs, and since we have a large group who hadn't blogged before, we elected to make the blogs private to the five classes at first. 

That left me with a dilemma. Something I believe in strongly is that power of being heard. I wanted my students to be able to share their thoughts with the world if they chose. The thing I've always loved about KidBlog was that kids can choose - blogs can go to classmates, connections (classes that follow our blogs), or public. By making our blogs private, they didn't have the option of sharing their posts. So I tried to think of a solution.

I have a class website on Weebly that is a landing spot for many things in our class. I added a page there called "classroom blog." This week as students added their blogs on September 11th, I told them to let me know if they wanted their posts added to the "public" blog. Not all of them are done, yet, but several have asked me to put their blogs up. If you have a chance, could you swing by there and leave them a comment? I can't wait to see where this takes them. Thanks!


Friday, September 9, 2016

Teaching Kids About 9/11

Watching Boatlift (link in the post below)
I'll never forget it, that day 15 years ago. A student's mom stood in the doorway of my fourth grade classroom. I walked over to her on that early Tuesday morning and she whispered that the Twin Towers were just hit. She watched my class as I flew down a flight of stairs to my mom's third grade classroom, my heart in my throat as I whispered the news to her. With my heart pounding I asked about my uncle. He worked at the New York Stock Exchange and I thought it was in the Trade Center. Fortunately, it wasn't. She and I both had a quick conversation and then resumed teaching, trying to belay any anxiety or worry we had and to keep everything as "normal" as we could for our students.

The uncertainty of that day is something that sticks with you. As does the following day as I stood in my classroom with our guidance counselor at the start of the day. He had a scheduled character education lesson to deliver. We began our day as we always did, with the pledge. The students, with their innocent nine and ten-year-old hearts, plowed right ahead like normal. My colleague and I stood there, voices trembling, and tears snaking down my face. I wondered what was to become of us.

This year as I watched the date approach on the calendar, I shared with my 7th grade colleague my desire for the 7th graders to research 9/11, to learn more about it. The fact they weren't even born yet is unreal to me. It feels like yesterday, but it is over a lifetime away for them. So, we prepared. 

We shared the video Boatlift (here) narrated by Tom Hanks, and I cried.

I previewed the first chapter of these books, and then I cried.

We researched Heroes and Heroines from a lesson plan on the 9/11 memorial website (found HERE) and I cried.

We analyzed the speeches of FDR (Day of Infamy) and Bush's speech on the evening of 9/11 (lesson from the same site as above) and I cried.

Our students wrote blog posts about their thoughts on 9/11 (you can see some here) and I cried.

It was an unreal week. My students shared so much. I tried to share what I could. We talked about fear after 9/11, looking for the helpers (thanks, Mr. Rodgers), and how we can make the day a day to give back. Looking at my students I decided that the world would be better off if we viewed it from the eyes of a child. They get it. They are the best of us. 

And then I cried. 

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

My New Reading Life

I'm fourteen days in to my middle school teaching career. Fourteen days where I've connected with kids, recommended books, conferenced a bit, and watched them plow through novels. Many of my seventh graders are already on their third book of the year. They floor me with the rate they are devouring books. Before the year began, I worried if my library would support the reading habits of a seventh grade reader. I'd purchased some new books, brought a lot of my old library, but I knew there would be holes. For the past fourteen days I've watched, conferenced, and read myself, paying attention to what was missing. I now know with certainty where the holes are...

Romance books.

See, much of my fifth grade library traveled with me. Divergent works in seventh. It's actually a bit mature for 5th. Historical fiction, mysteries, fantasy, etc - worked in both worlds. At the start of last week a student came up to me and asked where the romance books were. I looked at her, asked if she considered The Lightning Thief series a romance (I mean, there is some tension, right?). Her eyebrow raised and then she grinned at me. I told her I'd work on it.

That night I racked my brain, what romance books did I know that were ok for middle school? And, I wondered, what do seventh grade girls (or boys) really want a romance book for? It was that question that made me stop and laugh. See, from seventh grade through ninth grade, this was my favorite series of books by far:

I read every volume in the series multiple times. There was no deeper meaning, no huge life lessons, I just loved these books. I also realized that sometime life is crazy enough. A realistic fiction book, with a bit of romance, doesn't require me to "think" as much. I can just relax and enjoy the story. So who am I to judge what my students want to read? As a result, I went on a reading binge this weekend. Here's what I read since Friday:

Other than the two picture books and one graphic novel, you might notice a bit of a theme...lots and lots of "kissy" books as one of my friends would call them.

This is a bit stressful for me, and where I feel the most unprepared for seventh grade. It was pretty easy to veto a book for fifth grade. Sex in a plot was an automatic no. Even too much romance had me cringing. But in seventh? Books, to me, have always been my safe space to learn about the world, to prepare myself before I had to deal with anything myself. So finding my line in the sand in the world of YA is much more difficult, but I'm beginning to figure it out.

After reading three YA books yesterday on my day off from school, Luke came upon me in the kitchen reading Isla and the Happily Ever After, one of my new favorites. He looked at the back, looked at the other two books I'd read that day (P.S. I Still Love You and Kissing in America) and asked me what was up with all the romance books.

I explained that I needed to figure out what ones to bring into my seventh grade class, which ones were the best fit for my new group of kids. 

Luke said, "For the girls?"

I replied, "No, for anyone." 

He grinned at me and said, "What boy would read a romance book?"

I grinned back and said, "A smart one. Want to know how a girl thinks? Want to know what makes a decent boyfriend? These book are the ticket."

I got a pause, a head nod, and then he said, "Let me know which ones are the best."

Smart kid. Now I'm off to read The Sky is Every Where by Nelson. Have to say, this new reading life isn't too bad.