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I cried this morning

21 Dec

Darn that Patricia Polacco! She knows how to make me cry.

I sat down this morning and read An A from Miss Keller, her latest book about the influence a teacher had on her.

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Publisher’s Summary: How did Patricia Polacco become a writer?

A perfect companion to the classic Thank You, Mr. FalkerThe Art of Miss Chew, and Mr. Wayne’s Masterpiece, this book celebrates a teacher who inspired a young Patricia Polacco to become the writer and storyteller she is today.

Trisha is nervous about being chosen for Miss Keller’s writing class. “Killer Keller” demands that her students dazzle her with their writing, and rumor has it that she has never given an A. The rumors turn out to be all too true—there’s just no pleasing Miss Keller. Then an unexpected loss leaves Trisha heartbroken. Thoughts of teachers and grades forgotten, she pours out her soul in a personal narrative. And when Miss Keller reads it, she tells Trisha, “You’ve given your words wings.”

I received a lot of cards from students in the last week of school. Most kids just signed their name. Some added a holiday greeting, but a few of them wrote very kind words and commented on how much better they’ve become as a writer. I got a little terry-eyed.

I don’t want to be Miss Keller, but I would love to be as inspirational as she is.

Re-reading

17 Dec

Like the students I teach, I’m rereading a lot right now. They are rereading Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and  The Call of the Wild. We hit literary essay writing pretty hard the last few weeks, so, instead of having them write a paper, they are creating an info graphic to compare and contrast the two stories.  Core 1 cheered when I told them. They are drawing and cutting and leafing through both stories, looking for their text evidence.

I’m rereading the 2016 William C. Morris YA  Debut Award Finalists.

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It’s only three weeks until I leave for Boston, where the committee will choose the best of these five to win the award. If you haven’t read them yet, take some time over the break (if you get one) and read them because they are all fantastic.

  • Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda written by Becky Albertalli, published by Balzer & Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers
  • Conviction written by Kelly Loy Gilbert, published by Hyperion, an imprint of Disney Book Group
  • The Weight of Feathers written by Anna-Marie McLemore, published by Thomas Dunne Books, an imprint of St. Martin’s Press
  • The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly written by Stephanie Oakes, published by Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers
  • Because You’ll Never Meet Me written by Leah Thomas, published by Bloomsbury Children’s Books

 

Literary spiritualism

8 Nov

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It’s YALSA Symposium weekend…two days to talk about Young adults, books and libraries. I don’t often give up a Saturday, but this was definitely worth it.

I sat in on 4 excellent sessions, heard a number of authors speak and picked up some new books.

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I am excited to go back to school on Monday and tell the kids about meeting Jack Gantos, who talked about his internal and external writing process and even referenced his neighborhood map that we used as an idea generator.

Gantos' Neighborhood Map

Gantos had a lot to say about books and writing. he talked about the books that “move into you like a squatter”. He also talked a lot about balance: the balance he tries to find between the internal and external story. He explained how a lot f his work is about the unevenness and self loathing that kids go through during their adolescence, when their balance is off.

He also talked about the “literary spiritualism” of community reads programs. He was the first person yesterday to mention the significance of having people of multiple generations in a room talking about a book or an idea. It came up later in other sessions, too. It was a call to be involved with a community of readers, share books and put books in the right hands.

I was exhausted by the time I got home, but it was that good exhaustion that you feel after doing something worthwhile.

Fields, Lakes & Gowganda

10 Sep

My mother was born in a town called Field, in northern Ontario. We used to joke that she was born in a field. Let’s just say I got my sense of humor from my dad.

She grew up speaking French and was told she’d go to Hell if she played with English kids. She started learning English when she started school. Fortunately for her, her oldest sister, my Aunt Yvette, married and English-speaking Protestant, to Mamère’s horror. Mamère had softened  by the time my mother married an English-speaking Protestant.

I got thinking about my mom’s young life as I read Out of the Woods by Rebecca Bond. It is a retelling of an episode from her grandfather’s life, and is set not far from where my mother gee up.

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Publisher’s Summary:Antonio Willie Giroux lived in a hotel his mother ran on the edge of a lake. He loved to explore the woods and look for animals, but they always remained hidden away. One hot, dry summer, when Antonio was almost five, disaster struck: a fire rushed through the forest. Everyone ran to the lake-the only safe place in town-and stood knee-deep in water as they watched the fire. Then, slowly, animals emerged from their forest home and joined the people in the water. Miraculously, the hotel did not burn down, and the animals rebuilt their homes in the forest-but Antonio never forgot the time when he watched the distance between people and animals disappear.

The book has a magical feel. Perhaps it is because of the quality of the art, which feels like old sepia photographs. Perhaps it is the quiet voice that tells this story. I just which i had been there, to see the humans and animals, gathered together in the lake.

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Although this isn’t really a personal narrative, it is the retelling of a family story, so I will set it out during my erosional narrative unit for kids to browse if inspiration is needed.

Back to School Nightmares

6 Sep

I haven’t had a back to school nightmare yet, but there are still two sleeps until the first day of school.

Last night I had a weird dream that was more like a YA mystery novel set in a school called Saint Kellare’s. Other than the school’s name, the only other details I remember are vague images of long-haired girls in tweed skirts and dark blazers skulking along ivy-covered walls.

For some kids, school really is a nightmare. Christy Jordan-Fenton and Margaret Pokiak-Fenton have made a literary career out of writing about Margaret’s experiences at residential schools for Native Canadians in the high arctic.

Although Fatty Legs  was published in 2010, I just got around to it now because I was considering it for a read aloud.

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I won’t use it as a read aloud, but I will use it for our first unit of writer’s workshop: personal narratives

Goodreads Summary: The moving memoir of an Inuit girl who emerges from a residential school with her spirit intact.

Eight-year-old Margaret Pokiak has set her sights on learning to read, even though it means leaving her village in the high Arctic. Faced with unceasing pressure, her father finally agrees to let her make the five-day journey to attend school, but he warns Margaret of the terrors of residential schools.

At school Margaret soon encounters the Raven, a black-cloaked nun with a hooked nose and bony fingers that resemble claws. She immediately dislikes the strong-willed young Margaret. Intending to humiliate her, the heartless Raven gives gray stockings to all the girls — all except Margaret, who gets red ones. In an instant Margaret is the laughingstock of the entire school.

In the face of such cruelty, Margaret refuses to be intimidated and bravely gets rid of the stockings. Although a sympathetic nun stands up for Margaret, in the end it is this brave young girl who gives the Raven a lesson in the power of human dignity.

Complemented by archival photos from Margaret Pokiak-Fenton’s collection and striking artwork from Liz Amini-Holmes, this inspiring first-person account of a plucky girl’s determination to confront her tormentor will linger with young readers.

The duo continues Margaret’s story in A Stranger at Home, which tells of Margaret’s return to her  family after two years at school.

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They then rewrote them for a younger audience and created two picture books

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I hope everyone has a great start to the 2015-16 school year.

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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Peril and Perseverance

22 Jul

As most of you know, I will be moving to a new school in the Fall, teaching 6th grade in a program for the highly gifted. This is quite a shift from teaching 4th grade at a Title I school, but I am excited about the challenge and adventure this new job presents.

In two weeks, I will go to the first of 3 workshops I need to attend before school begins. Although this will be my first official foray back into middle school  I have been thinking about it. As with any grade change, it is important to know what to expect in terms of curriculum, but also in terms of what kids should be able to do.

A friend of mine has a daughter who was in 6th grade last year at Jackson Middle School.. She told me throughout the year about the longterm Biomes project her daughter was doing in class. It was complex and multifaceted, culminating in fiction and non-fiction writing. Her teacher was so impressed with the student’s results, he got in touch with a local publisher and had his students’ work published. Alive and Well. Mostly. is a collection of the fiction that these 6th graders wrote.

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From the Publisher: Alive and Well. Mostly. Animal Tales of Peril and Perseverance for Young Readers by Young Writers, illustrated by Colin Adams and edited by David A. Wierth is a collection of imaginative short stories about animals in their native biomes. Migrate through the ocean with an adventurous narwhal, defeat a badger army with the king of the owls, befriend a firefly with a vengeful howler monkey, or navigate complex social dynamics with an arctic wolf. Each story is sure to draw you in: friendship, family, predators, betrayal–this book has it all.

As I read the first story, I laughed, because I could picture the writer. And this feeling continued throughout the book. These are excellent stories, written by 11 and 12 year olds. Their stories reflect their age, but they also reflect a lot of research and editing. The result is an excellent volume that I will add to my classroom library once I get around to setting it up.

You can find out a little more about it on the publisher’s website. If you have a young person who loves to write, they might enjoy reading this delightful collection, and it might inspire them to write their own stories.

The Death of the Hat

22 Jun

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The Death of the Hat  is the 4th collaborative anthology by Paul B. Janeczko and Chris Raschka. The book’s title comes from the Billy Collins poem within, which is one of the poems in the final chapter “Contemporary”. For this is a collection of poetry spanning 2000 years. In fact, the full title of the book is The Death of the Hat: A Brief History of Poetry in 50  Objects.

All of the poems focus on objects, earthly and celestial. Chris Raschka’s light watercolors give each of them life and help us see what lies beneath the surface of the poets’ words.  The poems come from Rumi, Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Pablo Neruda, Edna St. Vincent Millay, and others less well-known in the West like Cui Tu, Bai Juyi and Basho. Although these poems were not written for children, they are a great way to expose children to the “canon” of poetry.

The book would be useful in any classroom. Kids could write about an object, or create a history of themselves through objects, whether in poetry or in prose.

However you decide to use it, this is an excellent tool for the classroom.

From A to Z

12 Jun

Today is the last day of school for kids. Teachers have to go back on Monday, but, this is really the last day.

Today the building will be full of noise and excitement. Tomorrow, and for the next two and a half months, it will be mostly quiet and empty.

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We have an assembly at 9, where awards will be given out. Before we go, I will give my ids my gift to them. It is a tradition I had when I last taught fourth grade and I revived it this year. I have written an alphabet book for the class entitled , F is for Fourth Grade.  The kids always think it will be their names in alphabetical order, but it isn’t. Each letter describes a personal quality, then I say which kid best described that quality. Having only 23 kids this year, I had a few letters left over, so I gave them some advice. Here are the first and last pages of my A to Z book.

A

is for Articulate 

Articulate means “using language easily and fluidly”.

Vincent is an articulate student. He thinks before he speaks and uses interesting words in his sentences. Vincent has a good vocabulary.

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is for

Zealous

 A zealous person is eager and passionate about something.

Endeavour to be a zealous student and friend. Give 100% to all you do. Be eager about your learning and faithful in your friendships.

 

Randy Ribay

YA author, teacher, nerd

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