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What do you call it?: A Slice of Life Story

22 Sep

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Two weeks before teachers had to go back to school, the middle school humanities teachers had a 4 day writing workshop put on my TCRWP. I can honestly say that it was one of the best professional development events I have ever participated in. The middle schools have adopted the writing Units of Study and my 6th grade PLC (professional learning community) is currently implementing the first 6th grade unit. But we are left with a burning question:

WRITER’S WORKSHOP OR WRITERS’ WORKSHOP?

I was wrestling with this dilemma on day when a teacher came in and asked me that very question. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone.

What do you call it? When I say it, it makes no difference. I can see WRITER’S WORKSHOP because each kid is working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I can also see a case for WRITERS’ WORKSHOP because it is a group of writers simultaneously working on their own stories, techniques and pace. I get around it by writing WRITING WORKSHOP on the board, but saying WRITERS WORKSHOP aloud and letting kids insert the apostrophe wherever their minds want to.

So, I would love to know: what do you call it?

Germ warfare

13 Sep

September means exposure to back-to-school contagions. That’s why most schools now include had sanitizer on their supply lists. That’s why new teachers get sick so often. I taught at my last school for 12 years and for the last few, I didn’t even get a cold. I knew those germs intimately and had developed a good system of defense. Now that I’m at a new school, I’m being extra cautious, taking more precautions that usual to keep myself healthy, although I think the problem is less severe at a middle school that it is in an elementary school. I hope I’m not carrying new germs into my new school community, either. I;d hate to be a Typhoid Mary.

Yes, poor Mary Mallon, who has gone down in history as Typhoid Mary, or Terrible Typhoid Mary: A True Story of the Deadliest Cook in America  which is how Susan Campbell Bartoletti refers to Mary in her recently published book.

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Publisher’s Summary:This is the story of a cook – a quiet, diligent cook who kept to herself. Her speciality was homemade ice cream topped with fresh peaches, which she served on hot summer days. She worked for some of the wealthiest families in New York, who spoke highly of her skills.

In August 1906, when six members of one household nearly died, the cook mysteriously disappeared – and the hunt for Typhoid Mary began. The resulting story became a tabloid scandal. But the true story of Mary Mallon is far greater than the sensationalized and fear-mongering stories. It’s also a lesser known story of human and civil rights violations. How did this private and obscure domestic cook become one of the most notorious women in American history? What happens to a person whose name and reputation are forever damaged? And who is responsible for the lasting legacy of the woman who became known as Typhoid Mary?

There is not a lot of documentary evidence of Mary Mallon’s life, so the book is as much a narrative of hygiene and social customs at the time Mary lived. Because of this, Bartoletti has to create an idea of what could have happened by using words such as “probably”, “perhaps”, “may have”, etc. In spite of this, I found this a very interesting read, and would be great nonfiction companion to Deborah Hopkinson’s The Great Trouble (about  a cholera plague in London) and  Laurie Halse Anderson’s Fever, 1783 ( a Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia).

Three down, one to go

20 Aug

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Today is Day 4 of the 4-day  TCRWP writing workshop for middle school teachers. I think everyone who attended is energized and excited about implementing some of these strategies in our classrooms.

It has been good to be the student, to have to think like them, to do the tasks we will ask them to do, and to see how we can teach these ideas.

It’s been hard, too. There’s been some homework, but that isn’t the hardest part. It has been hot here and although my morning sessions have been in the nicely air-conditioned library, my afternoon sessions have been in a stiflingly hot classroom. Emily has been a saint. She teaches in that classroom all day and still has a smile by the end of her last session.

The 6th, 7th and 8th grade Summa teachers have agreed that we will all teach Ray Bradbury in reading. Sixth grade is taking on his short stories, 7th  reads  The Martian Chronicles, and 8th grade reads  Fahrenheit 451. So, when our homework Tuesday night was to choose one of the stories from a packet they provided, read it and jot some thoughts, I naturally chose Ray Bradbury’s All Summer in a Day. Wednesday, we used our notes to learn techniques to have kids write a literary essay. Even though we were writing about several different stories, the strategy worked for everyone.

The beginning of the end

6 Aug

I have a meeting at my new school today. I am excited, but also a  little sad to know that summer holidays are almost over. Today’s  half day meeting is for teachers who will be new to the school. It will give me a chance to start really thinking about what the coming school year will look like because, I really haven’t been able to do much yet to get ready. Tomorrow I have a full day presentation by Kelly Gallagher. I am super excited about this because he is the author of Readicide: How Schools are Killing reading and What You Can Do About It.

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Publisher’s Summary:Read-i-cide n: The systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools.

Reading is dying in our schools. Educators are familiar with many of the factors that have contributed to the decline — poverty, second-language issues, and the ever-expanding choices of electronic entertainment. In this provocative new book, Kelly Gallagher suggests, however, that it is time to recognize a new and significant contributor to the death of reading: our schools. In Readicide, Kelly argues that American schools are actively (though unwittingly) furthering the decline of reading. Specifically, he contends that the standard instructional practices used in most schools are killing reading by:

  • valuing the development of test-takers over the development of lifelong readers;
  • mandating breadth over depth in instruction;
  • requiring students to read difficult texts without proper instructional support;
  • insisting that students focus solely on academic texts;
  • drowning great books with sticky notes, double-entry journals, and marginalia;
  • ignoring the importance of developing recreational reading;
  • and losing sight of authentic instruction in the shadow of political pressures.

Kelly doesn’t settle for only identifying the problems. Readicide provides teachers, literacy coaches, and administrators with specific steps to reverse the downward spiral in reading—steps that will help prevent the loss of another generation of readers.

He is the author of several other books on Reading and writing instruction.

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Taking a stand

30 Jul

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In She Takes a Stand: 16 Fearless Activists who have Changed the World author Michael Elsohn Ross has written an inspiring collection of short biographies  featuring 16 contemporary and historical women from around the world who have advocated for change around issues of injustice in its many guises.

Each chapter tells the story of one activist who passionately fought for equal rights at great personal cost. Causes included the rights of girls and women for equal access to the same liberties as men (to vote, for birth control, for education, for safety), to stop global crony capitalism, to support worker’s rights and many others.

This book is designed for slightly older readers. The text is set up fairly traditionally and each chapter has one black and white photo of its subject. This might be off-putting to someone who stumble sup on this book on the shelves but budding activists and lovers of non-fiction will enjoy the book if they take it off the shelf. Ross explains things clearly, with an emphasis on childhood details, motivations, and life turning points.

The book includes related sidebars, a bibliography, source notes, and a list of activist organizations.

Fiction/Nonfiction Pairings: The Danish Resistance

8 Jul

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I have long been interested in the occupation of Denmark during World War 2. It mostly stems from my year on the island of Langeland between grades 12 & 13. Although it was 1982-82, memories of the war were still vivid. In fact, on one of my favorite bike rides, i would frequently stop at the cemetery in Magleby, hallway between the town I lived in, Trygglev and Bagenkop, the southernmost town on Langeland. Six British and Canadian airmen are buried in this cemetery, making World War 2 very real for me in a way it hadn’t been before, at home.

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So it shouldn’t be surprising that I was excited that Phillip Hoose’s latest nonfiction book, The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Andersen and the Churchill Club caught my attention. This is the nonfiction story told in the 1995 Batchelder winner, The Boys from St. Petri by Bjarne B. Reuter. The Batchelder award is awarded to an American publisher for a children’s book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a foreign language in a foreign country, and subsequently translated into English and published in the United States.

Publisher’s Summary of The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Andersen and the Churchill Club : The true story of a group of boy resistance fighters in Denmark after the Nazi invasion.

At the outset of World War II, Denmark did not resist German occupation. Deeply ashamed of his nation’s leaders, fifteen-year-old Knud Pedersen resolved with his brother and a handful of schoolmates to take action against the Nazis if the adults would not. Naming their secret club after the fiery British leader, the young patriots in the Churchill Club committed countless acts of sabotage, infuriating the Germans, who eventually had the boys tracked down and arrested. But their efforts were not in vain: the boys’ exploits and eventual imprisonment helped spark a full-blown Danish resistance. Interweaving his own narrative with the recollections of Knud himself, here is Phillip Hoose’s inspiring story of these young war heroes.

By airing these two books, students can get information about this period of history along with some insight into the boys’ belief in their cause and their fear of the consequences they face.

Great weather….if you are a tomato

2 Jul

A few months ago, I bought two tomato plants from a friend’s fundraiser. I knew that they’d be Ok while I was away at ALA because everyone knows it rains in Oregon until the 4th of July. Except this year. We are experiencing something of a long-term heat wave and drought. Kind neighbors agreed to water my plants while I was away and they are thriving. I even have my first fruit.

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I am not a fan of the 90+ degree weather we are having and I am thankful for my window air conditioner that makes sleeping comfortable. The forecast seems to indicate that we will be in the 90’s through Tuesday.

While I was at ALA, I got a ridiculous number of advance reader copies of novels. I got a few non-fiction arcs too. One of them was The Rain Wizard: The Amazing Mysterious True Life of Charles Mallory Hatfield by Larry Dane Brimner.

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Publisher’s summary:In December 1915, San Diego’s leaders claimed the town’s reservoirs were nearly dry. Knowing the city would not survive and grow unless it had water, they hired Charles Mallory Hatfield, whose skills at making rain were legendary. But when torrents and torrents of rain came, disaster struck. Roads were closed, people drowned, and dams burst. The town elders blamed Hatfield and refused to pay him. Was Hatfield really a rain wizard, or simply a fraud? Renowned author Larry Dane Brimner examines the man and the myth by relying on personal recollections from growing up in California, as well as extensive research. Readers will be captivated by Hatfield—a man once known as the Frankenstein of the air—and his secret rainmaking formulas. Includes author’s note, source notes, and bibliography.

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