Sunday, December 27, 2009

Skills-Based Journaling

I've been thinking a lot about a blog post by @RussGoerend on skills-based journaling, trying to adapt his method to what I'm doing in the classroom. I like the idea of having guided journal topics as a method of formative assessment allowing me to see both skills my students need more help with and holes in my own instruction. I like how he set the journaling up like a blog--which is something I'd love to do with my students, but I know we (both my students and their computer-literacy skills and myself as a teacher) are not ready for quite yet.

I'm rather proud of myself right now... Russ uses Google Spreadsheets to keep his scores. Unfortunately, much of Google Docs is blocked for all of the computers in my room except my teacher station. But I did figure out how to conditionally format cells within Microsoft Excel. I use iGrade for Teachers on my iPhone to assess Bell Work assignments without picking up papers, I can use that as well for this assessment and not carry my laptop around the classroom with me. The numbers can then be transferred into my spreadsheet during my preparatory hour. I realize that it seems like an unnecessary step, but I like being able to move throughout my room without a computer. Besides, nosy students enjoy looking over my shoulder at other students' grades.

I was thinking about how to show my students their progress reflecting about certain skills. I want to be able to project their scores onto our drop-down screen and not show student names. Simple. Format the cells with a black background and no names are visible. Because their grades posted on the bulletin board are in numerical not alphabetical order, they probably won't make the assumption that the spreadsheet presented to them is in alphabetical order, either.

Last pre-implementation consideration: a rubric. I remember either seeing a comment the necessity of a rubric or some assessment tool that students can have before them while writing. The rubric I present to my students to keep in their binders will include hand-written examples of each level.

Your thoughts on what I should include? I'm not good at writing rubrics. The language I used to explain the scores (3--Proficient; 2--Nearing Proficiency; 1--Beginning Step) is the language that students hear for both our short cycle assessments and the New Mexico Standards-Based Assessment. In that regard, I found it appropriate.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Preview: The Eyes of Kid Midas by Neal Shusterman

It's no secret I'm a huge Neal Shusterman fan. I'm anxiously awaiting the novel Bruiser, which he talked about when he addressed the NM Library Association conference in April 2009. So I was excited to see a representation of his novels at Books-a-Million yesterday. I was disappointed that Borders, my default bookstore when in Indianapolis, wasn't even carrying his most recent release, Everwild, the second book in the Skinjacker trilogy.

Anyway, I saw they had The Eyes of Kid Midas and I remembered the story that Shusterman told during lunch about how he began his career as a storyteller. I can't remember exactly how it goes, but I know that Shusterman was a camp counselor once, and one summer he had trouble getting his boys to settle down so he decided to start telling them a story. That settled his boys down. Quickly word got out that this guy was telling a neat story. That story is the story that turned into The Eyes of Kid Midas--what should prove to be an interesting take on the King Midas story of Greek Mythology.

Books I Read in 2009

I made a Wordle for the list of books I read in 2009. I don't think I've forgotten many, but I think there are a few from over the summer that I left out. This is an exercise that I have done with my students before, where the larger the size of the item in the wordle, the more important it is in the story. In the case of my wordle here, the larger the text, the more I enjoyed it. What I found out after I made the collage is that I read so many books, that the difference between the sizes is smaller than I thought it would be.

If you want to see it bigger and the little finger thing isn't working--it didn't work on mine--click here.

End of the Twilight

I am finally done with the Twilight Saga, having finished the fourth installment, Breaking Dawn, this morning. This one I received as a Christmas present from my mother, who made me wait the two days until Christmas (I was with her on the 23rd when she bought it) to read it.

After having talked to my students at the end of the semester about this novel (I had two reading it at the time), and the fact that my cousin, the original Book Buddy, told me how it ended, I thought I knew what to expect.

I was wrong.

Sure, Bella turns into a vampire. I think everyone saw that coming. But don't things like that usually wait until the end of novels? Point for you, Stephanie Meyer for not being quite that trite.

One of my criticisms of the novel at the beginning was that I felt like the mirroring of the stories with canonical literature was more overt than necessary. Take the Romeo & Juliet plotline from New Moon. Romeo is exiled from Verona = Edward goes into self-imposed exile in Italy. Romeo gets the message wrong and things Juliet is dead = Alice only se
es part of the story when Bella jumps off a cliff and Edward thinks Bella is dead.

I could go on.

But... and there must be a "but"... But from what I here, there are more teenagers (because the Twilight Saga isn't just for girls) reading the classical literature now, or at least enough that a re-release of many of the classics with more attractive covers (not the boring Signet Classics covers) was deemed necessary, as was the inclusion of these titles in the Young Adult section of the bookstore. Please note that I'm not complaining. This is merely an observation.

But back to Twilight. I'm going to admit that the catalyst for reading the novels was the trip to the movies with my boy-cousins, only one of whom--the aforementioned book buddy--is an avid reader. That particular book buddy was disappointed with the end of this series. Much like he was disappointed with the end of Harry Potter. I'm not sure any end of a series is ever particularly satisfactory. Not once you've been up close and personal with a character. I, however, was satisfied with the resolution and can now effectively put this series behind me.

I will admit that it has made me curious about vampire and werewolf lore, especially with the talk of the difference between Jacob's pack of shape-shifters and the Children of the Moon that scared Caius so much.

It really is unfortunate that many of my students are daunted by the size of a novel and are so easily bored if it isn't constant action. I think there are many who would enjoy and relate to the Twilight Saga. And yes, though I was opposed to it in the beginning, I did enjoy the story.

So there.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Of the books I've read in 2009, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, is in the top five. It might actually be ranked #1. House of the Scorpion was fantastic, too. One of the things I liked best about this novel was every prediction that I made (minus who was going to win, since I know it's a trilogy) was incredibly wrong.

I had a kid start to read it last semester and he just didn't get it. Why is it that students, and not just the struggling readers that I teach, have issues with any fiction that isn't realistic. So the fact that Katniss, Peeta and Gale live in a world that is dissimilar to their own makes it difficult for many to understand. I am fairly certain, however, if the student had pressed on instead of giving up in the first couple pages, he would have enjoyed the violence of the second and third section, when the games started.

It's an interesting take on Survival of the Fittest. Made me think of Lord of the Flies a little. Except with media coverage. And with outside people imposing on the survival. It's interesting how the media changes the way people act. Had there not been cameras on them constantly, I'm sure Katniss would never have led Peeta on. Funny how she always had the fact that there were cameras present in the back of her mind, guiding some of her conscious actions.

It's a wonder that the Capitol couldn't see the barbarism of collecting two children from each of the districts and forcing them to commit murder. It's even sadder that the people bought into it and allowed the reaping to continue to happen. Sometimes I wonder if stories like Collins's are prophetic. Or stories like M.T. Anderson's Feed.

Given the state of things, where are we headed?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I Must Be Doing Something Right

The last grading period this semester my students participated in book groups. They used Edmodo to converse with students in other classes and completed imaginative response projects as a way to respond to their reading. In my morning classes, many of the students finished their novels well before the end of the grading period. Because they're writing me book notes, and it is a reading class after all, they were/are still required to read during full-class SSR.

Of the 15 students in my first period class, 8 are reading books I've either started during a read-aloud, or books that they've seen me read over the course of the semester. Two of those eight students asked me specifically for a book they saw me read that they found interesting. One of the kids saw one of my reader response projects and asked me to explain. I told him to read the book to figure out what it meant, and he did.

All of this is to say there is power in reading aloud to middle school students. There is power in doing book talks with reluctant readers. There is power in completing and displaying the projects you ask students to complete. There is power in modeling silent reading and entertaining the questions they ask about your book. They're NOT always stalling. And teachers shouldn't listen to instructional leaders who say that middle school students shouldn't be read to.

Some of the books I've read this semester that students picked up:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why I Love Twitter (short post)

When I began as a Twitter, my updates were protected, and I only followed people who I already knew (and they were all from either HS or the NMLA conference). A couple of weeks ago, I unlocked my tweets, posted something about #ncte, which I wanted to attend but didn't, and my online professional development opened up 100 fold. I feel like I have a network of teachers that I'm following and are following me, all determined to share as much as they can on edtech, strategies, and the art of teaching.

The experience of participating in Twitter has broadened the world of my students as well. Through Edmodo, we are currently connecting with a class of students with @chadsansing in another part of the country. Funny how many of my students had to look at a map before they realized that their new peers are farther away from where we are than my hometown.

Educators, if you haven't tapped into this resource, you need to, and Mom, I'll set you up when I get home later this month.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

I can't believe I'm actually reading this but...

Over Thanksgiving, I took four of my boy-cousins, ranging from 10 to 18, to see New Moon. On Saturday, when I got back to the great NM from Indy, my niece and I watched the first Twilight movie. After New Moon, my oldest boy-cousin and I decided that we actually have to read the novel (much to my chagrin, even though I'd resigned myself to it before). Two of my students, who are both currently working on Eclipse, giggled at me when I said I was going to start the series. Giggled like "ha, ha, we won!" type giggling.

Thing is, I don't know where I'm going to read it and not get made fun of. I'm sure that my nieces, even thought they've seen the movies, will make fun of me for reading it. Ah, well. I must find my Twilight confidence. Thing is, one of my book buddies already told me how it ends.

Don't Get Unwound

One of my colleagues didn't like Unwind, so he gave me his copy and I added it to my classroom library. I covered the third hour of one of my fellow English department cronies last week, carrying that novel with me, and did a short book talk to her class. One kid, who I really thought wasn't listening, wandered over, picked it up, and wandered back to his seat with it. For the remainder of the period, he sat in the corner reading this novel. At the end of class, when the kids were packing up to leave, he stands up and goes, "Okay, Miss. I'm taking this with me." I think it surprised him when I replied with, "Okay."

On Tuesday, he brings the book back to me saying, "It was awesome, I finished it in two days, and then my sister read it and loved it." Because it was the end of the passing period and he was on his way to class, I didn't get a chance to engage with him about it, but I am quite stoked that both he and his sister enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

A Character Alphabet (Part 2)

Here's G through M

G is for the gate that Margo and Q had to scale on their adventure when they broke into Sea World, the last amusement park in Orlando that Margo had to break into.

H is for the high that Q feels when he figured out that paper towns were not abandoned housing developments, but instead a mapmaker’s way of catching copyright infringement. Then he finds out that Margo was in Algoe, a paper town with one building.

I is for the intensity with which Q loves Margo, even though they hadn’t been friends since they found Robert Joyner dead in Jefferson Park.

J is for Jefferson Park, the location where Margo and Q found Robert Joyner when they were nine.

K is for the killing of the Joyner, a detail that Margo changed for the story she wrote about her and Q when she was 10.

L is for leaving, which is what Margo did. She told Q that leaving was something she had to do for her. She couldn’t live near her parents or the city of Orlando anymore.

M is for Margo Roth Spiegelman, the girl that everyone thought they knew, who sees herself as a paper girl, in two dimensions.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Character Alphabet (Part 1)

Sometimes, when I get bored (or when my students need examples), I do reader response projects. I like this one. It made me think a little differently about my novel. For this example, I used John Green's Paper Towns (Speak, 2008), which my students saw me reading and heard me talk about for a few days.

So here's my A-F

A is for the anxiety that the protagonist Quentin feels when Margo Roth Speigelman convinces him to go on a quest for revenge with her that includes breaking and entering.

B is for Blackberry, the way Q’s friend Radar (probably) updates his Wikipedia-like website called Omnictionary.

C is for catfish. Margo had Q go to the grocery store, buy three whole catfish wrapped separately and hid them in various places, saying that her relationships with people “sleeps with the fishes.”

D is for darkness. When Margo’s clues lead Q to an abandoned mini-mall, he finds the dark to be rather frightening initially. The more time he spent there the more he became accustomed to the darkness.

E is for the effort that Q spent for a month trying to track down the clues that Margo left for him.

F is for failure. Q would have felt like a failure if he found Margo and she was dead.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Kindle + iPhone = $259 in Savings

Okay, so I was putzing around on the iTunes App Store during my staff meeting this afternoon and came across the Amazon Kindle app for iPhone and iPod Touch. (Mom you should totally get this.) I've been thinking about how convenient a Kindle would be for the 12 hour trip I have from NM to IN next week, but this is definitely the better solution.

Previously, I was running Lexcycle's Stanza, which I've read is the best app for free eBooks. And you can wirelessly transfer books downloaded onto your computer to your handheld device. It supports Project Gutenberg and Planet eBook downloads, among others. I'm going to keep running Lexcycle's Stanza, if only because of the ease of transfer and the free books I've already downloaded and don't want to lose.

See, I do a lot of waffling. I love physical books. I like the way they feel. I like the way they smell. I like the sound they make when I pop a kid in the head with one. ;-) For me, paper books are much more practical, especially since I think it'd be significantly more difficult to lend books to students from my classroom library if I didn't have the physical thing. Goodness knows that if I lent one of them my iPod Touch, I'd probably not get it back in the same condition if I got it back at all.

From what I understand, though, the book prices on Amazon are lower than anywhere else. I was excited when I found Matt de la Pena's Mexican White Boy because it's been on my list for a while now. But I'd pay $10 for it on Kindle, then pay another $8 at least when I went to buy the paperback to go in my classroom. Gah. Maybe not so practical for me, but I've downloaded a bunch of books in the public domain, so it can't be all bad.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

On Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Series)

I'm going to have to say that this is the first book I've read in a long time (I've been working on Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness since sophomore year of high school) that I haven't been able to finish. Usually when I put books down it's because I have to read for class, or because I have other work to do and I fully intend to come back to it. I just couldn't finish this one. I'm going to have to reflect and figure out why. It may have something to do with the fact that I was reading John Green at the same time, and honestly, the two don't compare. I've read some reviews of Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and the one in USA Today by Bob Minzheimer said Diary of a Wimpy Kid "Has taken the word 'reluctant' out of 'reluctant readers'" which I've found to be true. I bought the entire series (thus far, book 5 isn't out yet) for my classroom library and there's always someone reading it. I like to know what my students are reading, and will usually get to many of the novels I haven't read eventually. I'm going to try to come back to this one. In the meantime, it's going to stay in my classroom library for my students to enjoy.

In other Wimpy Kid news, there's a movie pending. Check out the Entertainment Weekly First Look here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On Private Peaceful

Now, I haven't read this novel yet. It's on my list. I have a student, let's call him WarGuy, that I had to take a minute and talk about.

This week is Red Ribbon Week. In honor, and to reinforce awareness in our students, we had a school-wide assembly during 4th period on Monday. I mention this to my students once they get in the door and get settled, and WarGuy, who's reading Private Peaceful says, "We're not reading today?!?"

From many of my students I'd expect that statement to take a "Hooray! We don't have to read." or "Yes, no Super Sucky Reading today" (and yes, I have one that actually says that for SSR on a regular basis. Of course, she won't tell anyone that she secretly reads at home). WarGuy was genuinely upset that he didn't get to read.

To give you an idea about how fast he's devouring this novel--most of my students will take six weeks to read a 200 page novel. That's about six pages every school day. WarGuy, who said when he was transferred into my class that he really doesn't like reading, is over 3/4 of the way done, and I gave him the novel last Wednesday. He comes in every day and offers his commentary on what he read outside of school, then does the same after our daily SSR.

Other members of the class find WarGuy annoying, but I hope they're picking up on how I react to him, pointing out the things he does that good readers do, and offering suggestions.

Needless to say, this semester, I got one.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

On "Summer Wind" by Lee Francis

A little preface for this piece...

It's a reader response to a story from Moccasin Thunder, a collection of American Indian stories. One of the more challenging novels I taught during my student teaching was William Faulkner's A Light in August. I'm actually rather sad that I've managed to lose my annotated copy of this novel. Anyway, one of Faulkner's ways of getting into characters' heads was particularly intriguing to me. That is, he would state what the character was thinking, "and place those thoughts in quotation marks," then tell what the character was thinking ...with subconscious thought in italics. I can't remember whether or not I've employed this particular method in my blog here. If I haven't, it's about time, and if I have, then I'm probably due. My goal was to show the progression of subconscious thought, similar to anyone's the angrier they get.

The actual assignment asked us to rewrite the story in a different point of view, either shifting narrators, type of narrator (e.g. omniscient, limited omniscient, etc.), shifting person (e.g. 1st or 3rd). I chose this character because it's interesting to me to explore one's hatred for another group of people, mainly because it's not something that I comprehend. SO without further ado...

"Summer Wind"

This is totally not where the girl wants to be right now, when all her friends are out cruising and hanging. She's stuck behind that stupid register all day with all those idiot customers who have no idea or respect for how hard it is to work on the front end.

She couldn't believe this one woman the other day. Old lady. Indian. God knows she must be slow. The girl sighs heavily and starts ringing the old woman out. She's there with some boy who the girl thought might be cute if he wasn't so damn dark.

"Twelve dollars and twenty-seven cents." She wonders if her disdain for those natives came out in her voice. When she's tired, things like that are harder to hide.

The girl couldn't believe the audacity of that woman. The girl gave her the total and the woman smiles this saccharine nasty-ass-sweet smile. Damn woman spent five minutes rooting around in her purse trying to find her wallet and the girl's thinking "You best stop grinning at me," …thinking god damn injuns holding up my line, why don't you go back to the reservation we stuck you on…

Then, and then she started counting out all this change. Slowly. Like the molasses the girl's mother talked about when she was late getting out of the bed in the morning. She wanted to say, "Damnit old lady, I know you have some paper in that billfold," thinking "Why couldn't she pay in bills"…thinking the genocide of the Holocaust was wasted on the Jews… But she didn't say any of these things. And then the old woman dropped all the quarters on the floor and had to start over again.

"Could you repeat the total, dear?" Her voice was still sticky.

"Twelve twenty-seven," the girl spat. Literally, though less intentionally than one might believe. She sent a mock-apologetic glance at the people in line behind the old woman who were snickering to themselves at this point. Probably at the retardedness of the lady.

The girl was so angry by the time the old woman got through counting and recounting that when she gave the girl the coins, the girl was so flustered with rage that she dropped them all over everywhere thinking, "Shit,"…thinking I can't believe these goddamn fucking injuns wasted all this fucking time

"I could count it again." The soft voice penetrated the girl's inner monologue. "Just to make sure it's all there."

The girl shook her head. "That won't be necessary."

"Okay, then dear. You have a nice day." The girl turned shades of red as she watched them walk away.

When they're out of earshot, she said, "Damn, injuns" under her breath thinking "Thank god they're gone," …thinking why didn't the white man wipe them all out when they got here? Would have done the entire world a whole lot of good…

Ugh. "Can I help you?"

Saturday, October 17, 2009

In my infinite brilliance...

... I left my copy of House of the Scorpion at school. So I read Am I Blue? last night and started in on Twisted today. But I'm jonesing to find out what's happening to Matt.

Gah. How could I have left it at school...?

As an aside (and I'll really post about it later) but my two favorite stories from Am I Blue? are the title story and the last story "Dancing Backwards." I quoted "Dancing Backwards" twice today.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Educator Appreciation Week

I totally took advantage of Educator Appreciation Week at Barnes & Noble. This week I bought
  • Haunted and Choke by Chuck Palahniuk (Note: This is my second copy of Haunted. This is what I get for lending it to a former student. And I totally didn't realize there was a face on the cover that glows in the dark until I talked to one of the guys at the Barnes & Noble in Albuquerque who said it freaked him out when he was closing one night. He also said that the reason they had to start keeping all the Palahniuk behind the counter was because Palahniuk gives tips on how to steal books.)
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson (Note: Clearly, I have a thing for graphic novels right now. Expensive obsession. But Flight looks really cool. And I want it.)
  • Ball Peen Hammer by Adam Rapp and George O'Connor
  • House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer (Which I'm going to have to loan to an 8th grader who is not one of my students, but maybe I can get his English teacher to help me keep track of him. He's totally excited about it.)
  • Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl (Note: This was for one of my book buddies, who saw it when she was at B&N the other day, surprised that Dahl wrote for adults. For the record, I didn't know that either and Matilda is still my favorite.)
  • Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper (Note: This is my fourth copy of this book. Kids keep keeping it. If they read it, I guess I can't complain.)
  • Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson (Note: I bought this one because Anderson wrote in her blog about how people in Kentucky and Indiana are going through the process of having the book removed from the school. I like being defiant in this way.)
So far I've finished Ball Peen Hammer and I'm about a third of the way through House of the Scorpion. And yes, I'm still working on the books that currently appear in my Shelfari list. Sooner or later, I'll get to Hunger Games, which I've heard about a few times in NCTE's Text Messages. I seriously considered picking up Paper Towns and replacing my copy of Looking for Alaska, both by John Green, the latter of which I lent to another teacher in my department and he never returned it.

Hi, my name is Eli and I'm a book addict.
Hi, Eli...

Saturday, October 3, 2009

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

In honor of Banned Books Week, I thought I'd finally get around to posting about The Golden Compass, which I finished reading a few weeks ago and referenced in my letter to my students last week.

I am one of those people who will turn around and read the exact thing that someone is told not to read just to wave an emphatic pinky finger in their close-minded faces saying, "Ha! I read that and there's absolutely nothing you can do about." Do understand that I am not about putting a novel like Meg Cabot's Queen of Babble in the hands of one of our seventh graders (this was one of the novels pulled from the shelf at my middle school, and justifiably so). There's a difference between censoring because one disagrees with philosophical content and censoring because of the maturity level of the readers.

My motivation for reading The Golden Compass came from the aunt of one of the students at my middle school. She called up his mom and told her to make sure that he didn't read this novel for religious reasons. I wasn't privy to more details of the conversation--I got the story maybe third or fourth hand from our school librarian. But as with any book challenged (or psuedo-challenged) in our library, I had to find out why.

I'm going to go into the religious issues at a later date, but I do want to comment that I can see how some people would have problems with the novel. I can also say that it's one I'd recommend to some of my reluctant readers, especially those who have already seen the movie (which, by the way, has been cleaned up as far as religious content goes).

I felt the movie was good for what it was, and worked for the medium in which it was presented, but as far as story goes, the novel has it, hands down.

Friday, September 18, 2009

On Monster by Walter Dean Myers

The question concerning this novel is...

Is Steve Harmon guilty of murder?

That's the first question we addressed when discussing the Walter Dean Myers novel Monster on Tuesday in RDG 598. The introductory activity was an interesting one. On a slip of paper, we pretended we were the jury at the end of the novel and cast our vote for guilty or innocent. In my way, I had to point out that while I didn't find Steve guilty, I also could not find him innocent. The best I could come up with is not guilty of the crime for which he was tried.

One of the main reasons I cannot find him innocent has to do with the reliability of the narrator. (We read an article about it, and of course I can't find that article now.) The story is told in script format; the main character is writing the screenplay for a movie. For some reluctant/struggling readers, this can be a little off-putting at first, especially if they have had little exposure to drama. But it's Steve's story, and he reserves the poetic license to change any details he wants to serve his purposes. We see this most clearly in his testimony, which was pointed out by one of my classmates. In his musings that do not belong to the script portion of the story, he reflects on going into the convenience store to buy mints. In his testimony, he says that he'd never been in the store. I don't know if I trust Steve to tell the whole truth now.

But should he be found guilty of murdering the gentleman in the store? I don't think so. Accessory, at best.

What's interesting is I thought about this particular discussion on Wednesday, when a student of mine locked my class in the patio, which caused a ruckus in the hallway during instructional time. I took my class outside to play vocabulary baseball--a nice change from studying in chairs under fluorescent lights. On the way in, one student convinces another to lock the door. The one doing the convincing might have been the one who also caused the ruckus, but I have no witnesses to corroborate that story. What I do have eye-witness testimony of, however, is the student who locked the door. Back in the classroom, one student tries to inflict the consequences of her actions on the other student because the other student told her to do it. Steve Harmon didn't kill the guy in the store. Student 2 didn't lock the class in the patio. They didn't like that answer too much.

Many people thought Steve to be a monster. Do I think he's a monster? No. And the message I hope kids take away from the novel is to think about the consequences of their actions, and keep themselves from becoming monsters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve

This is my response to Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve. Enjoy.

You hear the bard sing tale of my youth and exploits

He told of my play, not deeds

So I return to finish my song

The headless man in reeds.

We return to my story in the midst of battle

As we should far away of Arthur’s men

A rapid chase through wood and pine

With one who destroyed home and killed kin.

He showed and stole a woman

While through the woods he fled

And by some luck of god or goddess

His horse attacked and fell

He got back up and drew his blade

A short and pointed lance

I saw and lowered my shield

But not in time to thwart his glance

Through flesh and bone to flesh and bone

To my steed my leg was stuck

Then both went crashing to the ground

Goddess curse my luck.

I screamed and whimpered like a girl

Pounds of flesh pressed into my flank

Two comrades pulled me from the carcass

And carried me back to town on a plank

In my brother’s house I was kept

Surrounded by he, his woman and babes

And I cried more than the youngest one

When Myrridin said I’d be lame

The wound itself was deep and red

The bones within were shattered

Medwrat said, while holding my head

That god would make me better

Arthur’s wife was there too, Gwenhwyfar

Barely seen in the corner

My cause she took and had me moved

To heal better in her care

Anger seeped from my pores

That I didn’t die that night

What use to Arthur is a man

Who cannot stand and fight?

All the women sent to tend to me

I sent them all away

Even the one I took in a raid

Who came and wept all day

Those who saw me were few

My attitude made them flee

My brother, only would see me after

The only I could stand to see

What he didn’t know was I envied him

Riding with Arthur to war

Confined to this room alone

In bed, an awful bore

Console me, yes, he tried to do

With stories of the past

I’d be up and running by fall of leaf

Sometimes I thought him an ass

But somewhere within his words gave me strength

As did the stories he told

At midsummer I tried walking

Not strong enough on my own

A staff I gave all my weight

Each step filled with pain

But not halfway ‘cross the terrace

I had fallen and was crying again

Gwenhwyfar tried encouragement

Then she held me when I cried

I relaxed there, she stroked my hair

Then something stirred inside

She sent for wine and barley cakes

Then sent her girl away

Over this we spoke of future

And made plans for me to stay

She said, “Bedwyr, you’ll be my champion

When Arthur’s men are gone

When they all ride off to wars

And leave us all alone”

I was excited by this prospect

Being useful once more

But more excited for other things to come

What Gwenhyfar had in store

She told me of a sacred place

Where spring water ran too hot

Where reeds and weeds had overgrown

The bath that time forgot

I was to meet her there

The temple at the heart

There we expressed our love

Never to be torn apart

There’s a heightened sense of something I missed

Being with Gwenhyfar

It’s not the love we share together

But maybe danger, maybe fear

But every morning tending the horses

I think of the moments we share

The touch of her hands, the feel of her skin

The silkyness of her hair

But sooner or later Arthur must return

And what to come of us then?

Though he has never had interest in her

And we both are naught but men

So I ask “what will we do when Arthur comes home?”

And Gwenhwyfar says he may not

That he may be cut down as Valerius once was

And left in the battlefield to rot

I say that Arthur cannot be killed

Warriors like him never can

Not long as he carries Caliburn

He is Britannia’s safest man

We go around in circles

Predicting Arthur’s demise

Suggesting Cei take his place

His rule would be more wise

I told her I’d kill Arthur

Then she’d be mine to wed

We both knew I could barely stand

And that Arthur’d have my head

I told her that I’d treasure her

The way Arthur never did

I never saw her as an aged woman

Though we’d never have a kid

The last night in the darkness

A small voice called out “Lady?”

A girl appeared with startling news

That Arthur was back already

The girl made plans to save us

But it already was too late

We just stared, holding each other

Already sealing our fate

Arthur came in and bellowed

His voice echoed from the stone

Though I knew he was my kinsman

I knew I wouldn’t go home

Lightning flared on Caliburn

Arthur’s sacred blade

And from the hatred flash in his eye

His hand would not be stayed

My head was left in sacred spring

My lady’s shift was sprayed with red

Warrior, lover, champion, now

All I am is dead

You heard my story of youth and play

And now one of my deeds

Now I leave having told my story

The headless man in reeds.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

I blame my recent obsession with graphic novels on the Text Messages podcast I listened to this summer that discussed the popular graphic novels and their draw to teens. I have one student in my class who is currently reading American-Born Chinese, and having just finished it, I'm rather happy about this fact. Hopefully, he can identify with the idea that everyone, really, is trying to figure out who they are, and find a place to fit in whatever social/cultural circle(s) they choose to run in.

American-Born Chinese is told in the form of three parallel stories: the story of Jin Wang, a middle school student who has just moved to a place where no one looks like him; the story of the Monkey King who lets his pride stand in the way of understanding what it really means to be a diety; and the story of Chin Kee, a caricature of the Chinese stereotype in America. These three stories come together, and each of the main characters understands what it means to have a place in America.

I do have to point out one funny bit before I sign off. Do you remember William Hung of American Idol fame? American-Born Chinese wouldn't be complete if Chin Kee didn't make fun of him, too. As much as I'd love to show you an image of that particular page, I'm not going to. If you're really interested, you can see it for yourself. What I will leave you with, however, is a video of Gene Luen Yang talking about his graphic novel. Enjoy.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Five Things I've Gained from Reading (Part I)

When I was reading the NCTE Inbox entry on Five Things I've Gained from Reading I knew I had to answer the five questions for myself, I just hadn't made a point to do so. So here we go, starting with the first question:

What piece of literature has stayed with you, even though you haven't read it recently?
Every few years I have to go back and read Herman Hesse's Siddhartha, a story about a Brahmin's son and his journey toward understanding the universe and understanding self. This is one of those novels that found me at the right time in my life. Senior year of high school, my Western literature class. I was at a place where I wasn't sure about my faith, and I was able to connect with Siddhartha as he traveled with the shamans, met Buddah, conversed with a man who lived on the river, lived as a wealthy business man and consort, and eventually made his way back to the river, all in order to find himself and figure out what he believed. I had been struggling with religion and faith for seven years when I read this novel. In essence, it validated my search for what made sense to me.
I sent one email to one friend, and used Facebook and Twitter to get responses from others on this topic.

In her email, S said that the novel with a lasting impression on her is Bridge to Terabithia. Recommended to her by her sister, Bridge to Terabithia may have been the first novel she read that dealt with death. She says,
I struggle with making sense of life and death. People's impact on our lives, and then their withdrawal from our lives, whether by death or by paths diverging. Why bother letting people in, if eventually they are going to go away in some form or another? We let them in because we are better for their influence, we are changed, in some way. We need other people to help us become who we are meant to be.
The responses I got from Facebook were
  • Story of B by Daniel Quinn (And apparently CW's readings of this novel follow the advice of Gordy from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian on reading).
  • Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (JG's mention of this novel made me want to pick it up again--and I started listening to the dramitization like crazy.)
  • The Stand by Stephen King -- this came from someone who's not the biggest Stephen King fan, too, so that was interesting.
I only remember getting one response from Twitter, and now I can't find the series of tweets in which TF gave me her response.

The purpose of the question, Traci Gardner says in her post, is to show literature's "enduring value to the reader." A few of the people I asked responded to me with something along the lines of "I have to pick just one?" And I think that's why I had such a hard time with this question. I've read so many books just in the last few months, and there are so many of them that have made an impression on me, or that I think are fabulous reads and would read again if I didn't have a million other books on my reading list (which seems to gain more books than get ticked off). I couldn't decide if I wanted to discuss Roald Dahl's Matilda, which was one of my favorites growing up--so much so that the cover fell off. Or if I wanted to use Phyllis Curott's Book of Shadows which is another about spirituality and self-discovery. Those aren't the only two I wrestled with, but it came down to those two and the one I ended up choosing.

Hopefully, Part II will be posted without too much delay.
I saw this on the Virgina Library Association Blog and had to share. The post is about Banned Books Week 2009.

The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

This is another one of those brief posts where I tackle the issue of censorship. It was brought to my attention that one Meg Cabot book was pulled from the shelf at the middle school where I teach for inappropriate content. I can appreciate pulling books from the shelf on the basis that there are ideas/issues that the middle school aged student is not mature enough to handle, but as I understand it, the novel wasn't read in its entirety.

I have a problem with people banning books when the book has neither been read nor thought about in terms of the bigger picture. Like the whole Harry Potter scandal of old. Something about challenging something without having all of the facts, or in this case, the background, doesn't sit right with me. Besides, how do we grow if we do not, from time to time, subject ourselves to something uncomfortable?

All of that being said, because the one book was banned from our library, the rest of the Meg Cabot was pulled from the shelf, the challenger thinking that the remainder of the novels were to be discarded as well. Apparently one of the members of the library staff thought that the books were pulled so the challenger could read them and decide whether or not discarding the entire collection (29 titles show up in a library search for "meg cabot"). So by the same token, should we ban Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach, or Lois Lowry's The Giver (which is award winning) to protect the children? Hmm. I read these as a child and they're fantastic.

That being said, and because I have a defiant streak, I decided to read the first of the Princess Diaries novels. I was curious to see what the challenger could find so objectionable in this novel, that my best friend and her kid had both read already, and to see what they pulled from the novel to create the movie.

The closest things to objectionable I could find are as follows
  • Mia has a preoccupation with breasts. Not in a homosexual way, mind you, it's just that she doesn't have any and thinks being noticed and landing a boyfriend is determined by cup size. Maybe in high school, that is the case, and I know many girls, even at the middle school level, can identify with Mia's obsession over this issue.
  • Mia likes to look out the window at people in her neighborhood, particularly the transsexual who lives across the way. I'm sure some could protest that any slightly homosexual activity or suggestion shouldn't be read by their children, but I'm willing to argue that if people are going to get up in arms because there's a transsexual living across the street from a character in a novel and that's what they're upset about, then they're not looking at the bigger picture -- see the coming-of-ageness of this novel (see me waving my arms around like there's a cauldron in front of me trying to magic people into broader world views).
  • Mia comes downstairs one morning to see her algebra teacher in his underwear--mind you, he's dating her mom. There's an implication there of "inappropriate" behavior between two concenting adults. And Mia does make a point to show that her mother is not promiscous and doesn't bring home every Tom and Harry that she goes out with in the interest of her daughter. The only reason Mia caught them is because she decided not to spend the night at her friend's house.
And honestly, that's it. There are other novels I'd be more apt to consider to remove from the collection than this one. And while the book and the movie are wildly different (though I don't think Clarise is painted as as big of a snob as Anne Hathaway suggested in her commentary to the movie), I can see what they drew from and how they adapted the film for the big screen. I can honestly say that I enjoy both the book and the movie equally.

Take that, people who get upset about movie adaptations and how they differ from the novels.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Listen (Video) by Laurie Halse Anderson

I found video on Youtube of Laurie Halse Anderson reading her poem, Listen. The purpose of the poem is to show reader's responses Speak. I think the title is appropriate. Check it out.

On Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

Before I begin and disappoint my reader, I do want to say I'm limiting my discussion of this novel if only because I'll revisit it once the semester starts. When I do, I'll post discussion/assignments here just as I have before.

Wintergirls (2009) is in the same vein as Speak (1999) and Catalyst (2002), though I don't think it occurs at the same school as these two novels (Melinda, from Speak is mentioned on page 150-something of Catalyst). In this novel, the title character, Lia, is struggling with anorexia and with the death of her bulimic friend, Cassie. Anderson, in an interview on the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE)/ podcast Text Messages talks about the novel and about how she tried to discuss the topic in such a way that the novel didn't become a guide to those teens with eating disorders.

I did want to mention that Anderson made an interesting stylistic choice, in using strikethrough text, in this first person narrated story. I read some criticism of using this technique to get into Lia's head by another blogger a few days ago (and it's my luck I can't find that blog again). The gist of what the blogger said was that it takes away from the story. I must disagree. If Lia's emptiness, which she uses as a synonym for strength, comes from her self-denial, then the reader must be allowed to see that inner struggle. Without the strikethrough text, readers don't see Lia's fight with herself, between what she really wants, and what she wants. It a way, it reminds me of William Faulkner's Light in August where characters are thinking "one thing" and ... thinking something else in their subconscious altogether...

Also the blogger argues that Lia's use of figurative language wasn't authentic--especially not for a 17-year-old high school student. I have to refute with: if she's a reader, it's possible that the language used in Lia's head very well be authentic. If my notebooks from that time in my life still existed, the tone and metaphor use would be similar. Because of this, the language makes it easy for me to relate to and identify with Lia.

I think I'm going to leave you with a link to the poem that Anderson read at the end of the podcast. This one, her reading of it, made me tear. Not good when you're driving down I-10, but a moving poem nonetheless.

For more information about Laurie Halse Anderson, click here for her website, or here for her LiveJournal.

Anderson, Laurie Halse.(2009). Wintergirls. New York: Viking.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Banned Books

S sent me a list of banned books from FindLaw. Check it out here. Personally, I love reading banned books if only because it says "Ha!" to those people who would challenge anyone's freedom of expression. Censorship is always a touchy issue, and on the real, I'm not sure where I stand, especially when it comes to censorship within the school system. I will admit that I suggested one of my book buddies not read Gregory Maguire's Wicked because I didn't think it was appropriate yet, and I'll also admit that I suggested that Lauren Myracle's ttyl be pulled from our middle school library because I don't think the students are mature enough for it. Here's where I differ from many who censor and challenge books -- I've read them both. I actually very much enjoyed both novels. And if my book buddy were older and wanted to read the novel -- either novel, really -- I'd give it to her without a second thought. I'll tell you this much, I wouldn't suggest a ten-year-old read Chuck Pahlinuck's short story "Guts" from Haunted either (if you want to read the story, read Palahiniuk's essay on it first), but I think he's one of the most fantasic writers I've ever read. Maybe the argument about censorship and how one sits on the issues depends upon the evidence the challenger can present and the background the challenger comes to the table with. Challengers have to understand that while they may not want their children exposed to novels like Rowling's Harry Potter, there are parents (even religious parents) who see more than just the setting of the novel, or who will allow their children the choice to read such novels. Is it fair to deny other people's children the choice? At what point do the interests of one parent for his or her child extend to the interests of other people's children?

Some of the books I've read from the list of most banned in the last century:
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
  • The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
  • Harry Potter (Series), by J.K. Rowling
  • James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl
  • Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
  • Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
  • Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
  • Native Son, by Richard Wright
  • The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, by Mark Twain
  • Where's Waldo?, by Martin Hanford
  • Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Greene