Archive | April, 2019

SBAC Math

9 Apr

Even though I was administering the ELA test, yesterday’s first session of state testing was all about Math for me.

Six sets of headphones. Until a student pulled one set out of the bag and the headphone jack fell off. 6-1=5. Five sets of headphones.

I teach at a more affluent school than I used to. At my old elementary school, we tested in a lab and each computer had its own headset. We wiped them down between tests.

My current school – a middle school – most kids have earbuds and everyone has a Chromebook, so we test in our rooms and kids are supposed to bring their own earbuds. Of course they didn’t. They’re middle schoolers and it was a Monday! Hence, my SBAC Math test.

Five sets of headphones + 8 students with hands up needing to borrow a pair = lots of juggling and wiping of earbuds for me.

I hope they all remember their headphones the rest of the week.

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Bunnies, hearts and grief

8 Apr

As a middle school teacher, I sometimes forget how young my students are. I spend so much time with them everyday, that their age falls away, until they say or do something that makes me say, “Oh yeah, they’re twelve.”. Those middle years, with one foot in the teen world and on foot in the world of young children – can be hard to capture. Kevin Henkes does a wonderful job in Sweeping Up the Heart.

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Publisher’s Summary: Amelia Albright dreams about going to Florida for spring break like everyone else in her class, but her father—a cranky and stubborn English professor—has decided Florida is too much adventure.

Now Amelia is stuck at home with him and her babysitter, the beloved Mrs. O’Brien. The week ahead promises to be boring, until Amelia meets Casey at her neighborhood art studio. Amelia has never been friends with a boy before, and the experience is both fraught and thrilling. When Casey claims to see the spirit of Amelia’s mother (who died ten years before), the pair embarks on an altogether different journey in their attempt to find her.

Using crisp, lyrical, literary writing and moments of humor and truth, award-winning author Kevin Henkes deftly captures how it feels to be almost thirteen.

This is a slow quiet book, named for an Emily Dickinson poem, and a little melancholy in places. It tackles complex themes with beautifully simple language that will touch your heart.

At the beginning, it is made very clear, that the book is set during Spring Break in 1999. I was expecting that to have some significance beyond worries of the Millennium Bug, but it didn’t. I suspect the year only served to orient readers to a world without cell phones. There are points where Amelia feels younger than twelve, but then I think about my students. They are an inconsistent lot. I think fourth or fifth grade readers are probably the target audience, as young people generally like to read about characters who are a bit older.  Overall, a lovely book that addresses issues around grief, change, and communication.

An evening with Jacqueline Woodson

5 Apr

It’s a busy week, after the relaxing pace of Spring Break. It’s all good stuff and has me wondering why everything gets packed into one week and isn’t spread out over the whole month. The Universe can be a weird place sometimes.

Last night, wasn’t weird, it was wonderful. I hear Jacqueline Woodson speak as part of the Portland Arts and Lectures series, where authors talk about their work.

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Early on she told said, ” I know I’m not supposed to re, but that’s okay because most of my books are memorized.” She started reciting “show Way and had us from that moment on.

She went on to talk about the many ways we take in narrative and told her own story, listening to the stories her family told. Her family worried she’d write about them and she learned that  how she portrayed people mattered.

In telling the story of writing Brown Girl Dreaming,  Woodson said, “if you have old people in your life talk to them, get their stories”. Those of us who have lost our parents, grandparents, and others of that generation really understand why she says that.

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What I found most fascinating was her explanation of how Brown Girl Dreaming  came to be the book it is.  She said it was falling apart – that all books fall apart at some point but you have to do the work to keep it going and move on. In conversation with a friend about the problem she was having, the friend remarked, ” The South was on fire when you were born.” and that was the spark the brought it all together for her. That doesn’t mean it was easy from that point on. There were 33 rewrites, a fact I will happily tell my students.

She gave some good pieces of advice to aspiring writers.

  • Know that you have a story and the right to tell it.
  • Decide why you want to write.
  • Show your writing to people you trust.
  • Be prepared to re-write a lot!

 

This week’s book talks 4/1-4

4 Apr

It’s National Poetry Month, so this week I book talked novels in verse.

Monday

Lion Island: Cuba’s Warrior of Words  by Margarita Engle

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Tuesday

Audacity by Melanie Crowder

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Wednesday

Like Water on Stone by Dana Walrath

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Thursday

Brown Girl Dreaming  by Jacqueline Woodson

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I am going to hear Jacqueline Woodson speak at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall tonight. I’ll tell you about it tomorrow.

 

 

 

All that and there’s a basset hound, too!

4 Apr

It’s only been a month, but it feels like forever since I’ve written about books. After floundering around thinking about which book I’ve read in the last month, I finally settled on one that has a basset hound, because what’s better than books and bassets, right?

The basset hound in Jeff Zentner’s Rayne & Delilah’s Midnite Matinee  is not the main character. He does make several appearances though and provides both comic relief and comfort.

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Publisher’s Summary: Every Friday night, best friends Delia and Josie become Rayne Ravenscroft and Delilah Darkwood, hosts of the campy creature feature show Midnite Matinee on the local cable station TV Six.

But with the end of senior year quickly approaching, the girls face tough decisions about their futures. Josie has been dreading graduation, as she tries to decide whether to leave for a big university and chase her dream career in mainstream TV. And Lawson, one of the show’s guest performers, a talented MMA fighter with weaknesses for pancakes, fantasy novels, and Josie, is making her tough decision even harder.

Scary movies are the last connection Delia has to her dad, who abandoned the family years ago. If Midnite Matinee becomes a hit, maybe he’ll see it and want to be a part of her life again. And maybe Josie will stay with the show instead of leaving her behind, too.

As the tug-of-war between growing up and growing apart tests the bonds of their friendship, Josie and Delia start to realize that an uncertain future can be both monstrous…and momentous.

I’m going to be honest here, the story takes a bizarro turn when the girls meet the producer they think will change their lives. However, it also does a great job tackling how friendships evolve as young people grow older, the complex feelings around parental abandonment, and the excitement and uncertainty as high school ends and teens prepare to move on to the next phase of their lives.

 

Happy birthday, Mom!

2 Apr

If we hadn’t lost her in June, today we’d be celebrating my mother’s 88th birthday.

We are a family of storytellers and the ones I like to tell tend to be funny and not very flattering. There are a lot of stories I “remember”, but really, I was too young to remember. I have just heard them repeated so often they have become part of my memory. My favorite story I tell people stems back to high school. I was working at the local swimming pool after school and on weekends.

“What time is your dinner break?” Mom asked me before I left for school that day. Dad was either off or working a night shift because she continued. “Dad and I will drive dinner up to you.” Mom didn’t drive.

I must have told her. I forgot about the conversation during the school day and only remembered as I got off the school bus and walked to the pool. It was winter, and cold, and the warm scent of chlorine hit me as I opened the door to our small local pool and then entered the office.

I taught my before dinner classes and showered off before heading into the office for dinner. The design was poor. The front door of the office faced the front door of the pool. It was a half-door and also served as the front counter, so, every time the front door opened, pool staff got a blast of cold air. We generally huddled in towels.

I had just taken a seat in the office, wrapped in two towels, when the headlights of car flashed through the glass and I knew dinner had arrived. Another swim instructor sat nearby, huddled over the sandwich she had pulled from a paper bag as my mother entered, bearing a plate covered in plastic wrap. I said my thanks and Mom left, knowing I only had a short dinner break.

“Wow!” said my colleague as she looked over, her eyes almost popping out of her head. I had a plate with roast beef with gravy, mashed potatoes with a pat of butter (Mom knew I hated gravy on my potatoes), and a green vegetable.

Even though the cold air kept blowing in, I was warming up from the inside, with food and with love, as I ate the dinner Mom had prepared for me.

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Randy Ribay

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