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.