Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Review: Wringer not all birthdays are welcome

Wringer not all birthdays are welcomeWringer not all birthdays are welcome by Jerry Spinelli

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don't know what I was expecting with Wringer, when I picked it up at Scholastic. I read Stargirl and enjoyed the story and thought I ought to read some more Spinelli.

Wringer is about the struggle between fitting in and maintaining self-identity. It's about peer pressure and "rites of passage" (that read a little more like hazing to me). And it's about finding the courage to stand up to the people you thought you wanted to be friends with.

While the protagonist is elementary-school aged, I found the themes to be appropriate for even my middle school readers. It will be easy for them to make connections between this text and the middle school life--that which they see in the hallways all the time.

View all my reviews

Review: The Beasties

The BeastiesThe Beasties by William Sleator

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book has been on my TBR list since the summer of 2006. I found it at the Scholastic Warehouse sale a few weeks ago, so I picked it up. I remember sitting in a discussion at an Advanced Placement seminar talking with language arts teachers from across New Mexico about this book. Specifically the activity that the teacher did with her sixth grade class--creating a new cover. I wondered about the cover of this novel, and it really doesn't make sense unless you read it all the way through. I can't help but wonder, having finished it, if Sleator had an environmental agenda, and if this agenda is promoted in any of his other titles.

View all my reviews

Review: The Sorceress

The Sorceress (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, #3)The Sorceress by Michael Scott

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I know I frequently reference Gordy from The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie, but I have good reason for invoking the spirit of Gordy right now. I promise. The Immortal Secrets of Nicholas Flamel is a series I'm going to have to read those three times that Gordy suggests. Right now, I'm still reading for the story. This story takes its characters all over the world. Scott stays true to the history of the sites he pulls into (and sometimes destroys).

The Sorceress has fantastic pacing. The story cuts between what's happening with Flamel and the twins, Machiavelli, Billy the Kid and Dr. John Dee in such a way that you can't stop reading because you want to know what the continued action is with one character while reading about another.

I'm honestly not sure if I haven't skipped all the way to the results of the third reading (if you've read Part-time Indian, you know what I'm talking about).

View all my reviews

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Review: The Roar

The RoarThe Roar by Emma Clayton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this one up at the Scholastic Book Fairs warehouse sale because I thought the cover looked both familiar and interesting. I thought, after reading the back, that it would be similar to the Hunger Games, except that the children involved were competing for prizes, not their lives and food for their districts. In that respect, the two stories are similar, however, the intensity of the Hunger Games is not replicated in The Roar.

The basic premise of the story is that Mika, one of the protagonists, is searching for his lost twin. Everyone, his parents included, think she is dead but Mika is holding out hope. His therapist-of-sorts tells him he must compete in an arcade tournament and that will help him find his sister. So he does. And eventually he finds her. I'm not going to give too much more of the plot away than that.

What I will say is this book is like Matilda by Roald Dahl meets the X-Men (some of the characters are mutants) meets The Last Star Fighter (check out this link to Wikipedia after you read the book. There are plenty of parallels.)

To my students: If you're a fan of dystopian fiction (click here for an explanation) and/or science fiction this might be a good read for you.

View all my reviews

Friday, December 3, 2010


Today, my principal stopped me in the hallway before school. She said she wanted to tell me about an administrative meeting she had with principals across the district and the superintendent. The meeting involved discussion of what successful schools in other areas are doing to make them successful. What the superintendent came up with was this: in the successful districts all teachers taught literacy/reading instead of relying solely on the elementary teachers or the intervention teachers.

My principal was happy to contribute to the meeting the efforts the Reading Committee is making here to build awareness about content area literacy and provide professional development that includes strategies to help students build their content area literacy. She also indicated that I may be getting calls to talk to other teachers in e district about what we're doing here. That would be cool.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Books I've Read

I got this from Derek, and instead of doing it in Facebook notes, I'm doing it here--Mainly because I don't use Facebook notes. Also, I added some commentary. Some of it is funny and some of it isn't. Hopefully it shows up.

The BBC believes most people will have read only 6 of the 100 books listed here.

Instructions: Copy this into your NOTES. Bold (I underlined, too. Couldn't see the boldness on a black background) those books you've read in their entirety, italicize the ones you started but didn't finish or read an excerpt. Tag other book nerds.


1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen--This is one of my favorites from Brit lit class. It's just so funny.

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien--What I've heard about lengthy descriptions put me off of this one. I did read The Hobbit when I was a kid though. My mom got my dad a pretty version and I snuck it off the shelf and read it.

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee--Doesn't everybody? Isn't it one of those 9th grade standards?

6 The Bible--I read this in high school. I don't know why.

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte--Oh, sophomore English X, how I almost failed thee.

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell--Had to buy a new copy of this one. Lent it to a student who never brought it back.

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman--to be fair, I read the first and own the other two, I just haven't gotten to them yet.

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens--More high school English

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy--You'll never guess why I read this one? Oh wait? You did? English 10X. Mrs. McQuiston's class.

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller--I owned this at one point. Not sure what happened to it.

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare--I've got one of these. Picked it up for $6.98 at Half-Price Books ages ago when I was in college. Probably for Shakespeare class. Yeah, I got a C in that one.

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien--See above note.

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveller’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger--I saw part of the movie for this one and, um, what?

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot--Um no. I taught a George Eliot novel during my student teaching and it was painful-probably because the action didn't start until 2/3 of the way into the book.

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald--I've read this one at least 3 times and own at least 4 copies. How I ended up with 4, I don't know. If anyone needs one, let me know and I'll mail it to you.

23 Bleak House – Charles Dickens

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy--Long as hell.

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams--funny as hell.

26 Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck--My mother bought a collection of Steinbeck when I was a kid. The covers were so unappealing. Maybe I should get over that.

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll--Ah, Johnny Depp, how you startle me. I remember, though, the Alice in Wonderland television show on the Disney channel from when I was a kid. It had something to do with a mirror. I also remember that my copy of this book was pink.

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis--My aunt gave me a copy of the series when I was a kid and knew nothing about allegory. I lost most of those. Now I'm an adult, I know about allegory, and I really want to read them again. (I picked up a collected version at Coas a few months ago).

34 Emma – Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe – CS Lewis--isn't this one redundant? Chronicles of Narnia, like His Dark Materials, implies the entire series.

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini--add this to the list of books I own that I haven't gotten around to reading

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Berniere

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden--Read this one during my student teaching. I believe that was the same semester that the movie came out.

40 Winnie the Pooh – AA Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown--The book was much more complex than the movie. At one point I had two copies of this one. Not sure what happened to the second.

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47 Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood--also read during my student teaching. There's a poor quality 80s movie that retells this one too. Oh, yeah. And dystopian!!

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding--Derek, I can't believe you haven't read this one. Have I mentioned that I love dystopian fiction?

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan--say his hame five times fast

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54 Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55 A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley--More dystopia. Oh, I love dystopia.

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon--I've been told I need to read this one. Haven't yet, though. Don't own it either.

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck

62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov--One of my AP students was reading this during my student teaching and said it was wonderful. It's on my mile-long to-read list.

63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt

64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold--I own this one. Saw the movie. Was told that the ending of the novel left a little to be desired.

65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville--ugh. I will probably never finish this one.

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker--Hooray for vampires that no one calls vampires and gothic novels in the Victorian era

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce

76 The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath--Read this one in ENGL 111. Really shouldn't have.

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens--Brit lit in college.

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker--Read this one earlier this year. Possibly this summer. Amazing. Hard, yes. But AMAZING.

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – EB White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle-- I have Volume 1. It begins in a boring place and haven't had the patience to come back to it.

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad--I can honestly say I've been trying to read this since I was 15.

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo


Review: The Arctic Incident

The Arctic Incident (Artemis Fowl, #2)The Arctic Incident by Eoin Colfer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read something in Guys Read: Funny Business (I think. I know it was a Guys Read book though) about where Artemis Fowl got his start. Apparently it had to do with one of Colfer's brothers who had a mischievous streak. That actually made me appreciate the character a whole lot more. Never let it be said that knowing the background of an author or the origin of a character ruins a story. If anything, I think it enhances it.

I realize that the series continues, and it makes me wonder what Artemis's motivation is in the rest of the series. For the first two books, he was concerned with finding and rescuing his father. This mission is over? So what's next for Artemis? Warding off the people who may come after his father? Figuring out why he was kidnapped in the first place? And what about the fairies? They and Artemis are square now. I'll be interested to see what happens next.

View all my reviews

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I made it up myself dictionary

Splat n: someone who is annoying, like a mess that gets in your way when you're trying to do something important.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Review: Hold Still

Hold StillHold Still by Nina LaCour

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This one was sad--another hard read--but really a novel about hope and about finding a way after the unthinkable happens.

I just listened to a podcast about text sets, so rather than give you a review of the novel, I'm going to give you a text set that could include Hold Still. Call the set Teens Dealing with Death

Related titles:
Deadline by Chris Crutcher
Th1rteen R3asons Why by Jay Asher
My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Piccoult
The Pact by Jodi Piccoult
Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
Martyn Pig by Kevin Brooks
Hate List by Jennifer Brown
Tears of a Tiger by Sharon Draper
Looking for Alaska by John Green
We Were Here by Matt de la Pena
Mick Harte Was Here by Barbara Park
After Ever After by Jordan Sonnenblick
If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

That list is all I can come up with off the top of my head. Read what you like.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Turkey Break Reads

This year is the first year that my school district has given us an entire week off for Thanksgiving. It may be one of the only holidays that lines up with holidays at the university, which is nice. I decided, between working on research studies and visiting the Grand Canyon with my family, I was going to try to read at least three books. Here they are...

13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
I finished this one on the way home from the Grand Canyon. I'm going to admit that I had a little trouble figuring where it was going, though I imagine that we were meant to feel at least a little of what the main character was feeling.

What I couldn't figure out was why the novel was written in 3rd person limited. I think it could have been much more powerful were it written in first person--we'd get directly into Ginny's head. Feel what she's feeling. Maybe I'm partial to first person narrators, though. I don't know.

What I do know is that there is a sequel to 13LBE, which I hope will tie up some of the loose ends. From what I've heard from Maureen Johnson, she wrote the sequel because her fans asked her to. Readers have power and nerdfighters are made of awesome.

Hold Still by Nina LaCour
I got this one from Rockin' Librarian. She ran across it while shelving and thought it would be a good read. As it turns out, she thought so. I've started this one and see it going in a similar direction as Jay Asher's 13 Reasons Why (fabulous read, but not in the school library). I should be done tomorrow, I think.

Exposure by Mal Peet
This is one I've waited a while for. I read Tamar in my YA literature class last fall and Keeper las semester. I didn't really care for Tamar, but that has more to do with the fact that period pieces, or novels about war aren't at the top of my "Genres I Like" list. I loved Keeper, and Exposure is along the same lines. Where Keeper took a supernatural route, Exposure is a retelling of Shakespeare's Othello. I have a date with SparkNotes before I read this one. Eventually I'll go back and actually read Othello, but for right now, a short overview will work nicely.

I plan on posting formal reviews for all three books through Goodreads before school starts on Monday. Check back here or on http://www.goodreads.com/engltchrleo for more thoughts.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Links of Note

I decided I needed to start writing at least biweekly about the links I pull from my Twitter feed. That way, at least they're all in the same place, and I can look anything I've forgotten up using tags. This is what I've got so far:

I'm interested in this only because I'm always curious about what more I can do with my iPad. For the most part, I use it for my college classes (in an effort to be more green), to create last minute presentations when the internet in my hallway at school is down and to allow kids to view videos for Skeleton Creek and Trackers from their desks and not my teacher station. I'm anxious to see what more I can do with this device.

A collection of links to writing prompts. Good for timed writing. Has RAFT prompts, some from Six-Traits, and a link to photo prompts. Not a bad resource to have on hand.

This Australia-based website has information on what readers do and how to help struggling readers in the middle grades. I haven't perused it completely, but put it here to refer back to when I have some time.

Royalty free sound effects. (I think this one comes from Google.) Needless to say, I could see how this could work well for school video or Glogster projects.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Math: Practical Application

I decided, this year, to decorate my classroom with movie posters. I started with five and eyeballed their placement on the wall. Two days ago I picked up a poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and decided that I needed to even out the space on the wall.

I borrowed a tape measure from the library and came up with this:

Then, used that information to come up with this:

My first hour students balked at my explanation.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Deadline

DeadlineDeadline by Chris Crutcher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There are some books you pick up, start reading, and think, "I love this main character, I don't want something bad to happen to him." So you read through the entire book hoping that the end isn't what it's billed to be. And you try to prepare yourself. But there is no preparing yourself. It's like rereading John Green's Looking for Alaska, or reading Jodi Piccoult's My Sister's Keeper (or anything by Jodi Piccoult, really). You know what's coming, but there's no avoiding the visceral reaction you have to the text.

I will reread this book. And when I do, I'll actually write a review of the book rather than my thoughts in general about books that make me cry.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Review: Murder At Midnight

Murder At MidnightMurder At Midnight by Avi

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While Murder at Midnight is well out of the genre I'm used to reading (I have a bias against anything remotely close to historical fiction) the mystery element had mr guessing all the way to the end. Avi attacks the question of how to find truth when everyone has their own agenda, and I think he does it well.

I believe the sequel ti Murder at Midnight, Midnight Magic, is published already. Unfortunately, I have a long list of books to read before I can get there.

View all my reviews

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Review: The Alchemyst

The Alchemyst (The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, #1)The Alchemyst by Michael Scott

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Oh, wow.

This is a book my book buddy told me to read ages ago and I added it to my list on Goodreads, but didn't really put much priority on getting it read. Then I went to a conference on gifted students in Albuquerque last weekend, and the keynote speaker there said it was a must read. I probably wouldn't have picked it up so soon if I hadn't recognized the title as one of Book Buddy's recommendations.

Michael Scott does a beautiful job of putting mytholgies in a modern context. The fact that the book took place in modern times (I have a hard time with historical fiction most of the time) was surprising. Already vaguely familiar with Nicholas Flamel from The Sorcerer's Stone, I expected the novel to be set in the past. What I really loved is how Scott didn't limit himself to one mythology. I recognized the Greek and the Egyptian, but I know I'm going to have to do some research to find out who some of the other characters are. I love learning new things when I read fiction.

A colleague of mine left me a message today saying if I liked The Alchemyst, then I'll love the rest of the series--it gets more intense as it goes along. I'm also curious to see how some of my predictions will turn out--while I was wrong for the moment, there is a chance that I might be right.

I'm hoping my school library has the next book in the series--I don't know when I'm going to have a chance to get to the bookstore.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 28, 2010


We've been talking a lot about process in my research class so I've been
thinking about it in terms of a lot of things, including the way I come up with mini-units. I thought I'd show my process. This is a picture of my whiteboard right now.

We're going to start talking about heroes next week, getting ready to read The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan.

In related news, the student (not from my class) who had The Red Pyramid now has The Lost Hero. The school librarian thinks I'm stealing business. Just because I have books that the library doesn't have in.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 25, 2010

What is Reading?

Today, two other colleagues and I were talking about what makes a struggling reader. My response was, "it depends on your definition of reading."

Here's the situation: a colleague's student (we're taking a literacy assessment class and tutoring elementary students) is struggling with oral fluency. Even though he is having issues reading aloud, he has good comprehension. Colleague #2 says that this student is a struggling reader because he struggles with one aspect of reading.

What do you think? Should he be labeled a struggling reader?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Friday, October 22, 2010


I teach Read180, and this year I feel like there are more restrictions on my time. Read180 was designed for a 90 minute block of time, where our class periods are only 70 minutes long. I've made some modifications to the schedule so that students get time on the computer, time to read, and the full class instruction I'd previously sacrificed so they would have that computer time. It's taken a little over a week to settle into the routine, and as long as I stay on top of the organization of it, it'll be okay.

Here's the difficulty:

Since the beginning of the semester, seven pairs of headphones have been destroyed. These headphones are at least $30 a pair. Two microphones have been taken apart.

So this morning I bought three new microphones--the kind that look like mini-boom mics. They have been taped to the table, and each student is now assigned a specific computer. I hate micromanaging, but $210 in headphones and we're two weeks into the second six-week period? I don't think we can afford that, really.

Students are also now asked to provide their own headphones. I rigged the tables so there is a headphone jack right next to the microphone, eliminating the problem of headphone wires being too short. Some of my students are a little incredulous, but I have provided them with everything else, including their composition notebooks, so I don't see this as such a stretch (they can get headphones in the library for $1).

It has worked out fairly well today, though students have until Monday to have their headphones.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Monday, October 11, 2010

Word Challenges

In our last unit, one of the target vocabulary words was "abandon." In keeping with meaningful use, students were asked the following question:

If you had to evacuate,

  • What would you definitely abandon?
  • What might you abandon?
  • What wouldn't you abandon?

Here are some of the most common answers...


Definitely abandon

  • school
  • cat
  • clothes

Might abandon

  • clothes
  • dog
  • friends
  • make-up

Could never abandon

  • four-wheeler/motorcycle
  • family
  • pets
  • cell phone
  • parents
  • laptop


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Review: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (Oz, #1)The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

I've wanted to read the Wizard of Oz for years but didn't want to pay the money for the text. Because of Project Gutenberg, I didn't have to, which was cool. My interest in the story came from wondering what the difference was between the text version and the original film version. I was excited to see right away how the filmmakers made the choice to make Kansas black and white and Oz in color. I also think the choice to make Dorothy's entire visit to Oz a dream (in the film) was a way to end the movie without having to turn the other books into films as well.

I also read Gregory Maguire's retelling, Wicked, and became even more curious about the aspects of the story Maguire used from the original stories. Already, the character of Boq showed up (Maguire has interesting treatment of this character). All 14 novels from L. Frank Baum are available on Project Gutenberg, so you'll be seeing my thoughts on them here soon.

View all my reviews

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Review: Thirteen Reasons Why

Thirteen Reasons WhyThirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was putting off writing a review for this book only because I gave it to a student as soon as I was done. It was one of those books that I walked past in the bookstore for ages, wondering what it was about... 13 reasons for what? This is Jay Asher's debut novel, and I must say, I'm incredibly impressed. As I was reading, I felt the same anxiety that Clay Jensen did, wondering what part he played in the suicide of one of his classmates. The novel follows one student as he tries to figure out why the tapes (the novel is essentially the following of an elaborate suicide note left to 14 members of Hannah Baker's class).

This novel is sad. There's no two ways around that one. It deals with bullying, and suicide and its aftermath, but it's told with a hint of mystery. I have to admit that as I was reading this one, I was secretly hoping that in the end it would all turn out okay.

View all my reviews


Additionally, check out the Jay Asher's website. The link I've listed here is the link to the page with the video/audio recording of Hannah Baker's tapes. The book is essentially Hannah's tapes with Clay's commentary, so a big part of the story lies solely in these tapes. If you don't want to cry, don't listen.


Monday, September 13, 2010

I feel light today

Mondays aren't usually hectic days. Already today has been a hectic day in the best of ways. I'm wandering around the front of the building looking for a custodian (I left my work keys in my other bag) and I run into one of my second hour students. This student finished An Abundance of Katherines by John Green on Friday during 4th, came and picked up Perfect Chemistry by Simone Eckles before 5th period. I figured she'd be a solid quarter of the way through it today. She tells me that she's finished the entire book and read the beginning of the second one published in the same volume. So it looks like I'm picking up Rules of Attraction soon.

But that's not all. Three other students came to me today ready for another book to read, and they all wanted to be able to take it with them. One,
A friend of the girl who finished the Eckles piece, picked that one up at her friend's recommendation. The gentleman is reading American Born Chinese because he wanted another graphic novel. The third student is going to be the one to tell me about 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson.

But wait! That's not all. There is a student who I've worked with for spelling bee who I friended on Goodreads (one of my colleagues uses it with her class). She walks into my room right before third with a huge grin, then hands me a note from her mom giving her permission to read Kick-Ass (by the way, her mom appreciated the fact that I made her ask). So that kid is excited too.

So far, awesome morning.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Backchanneling and Socratic Seminar

I've written two posts (here and here) before on using Edmodo as a backchannel for student conversation during lessons. I discovered TodaysMeet in my twitter feed today and I've started thinking about backchanneling again.  Right now I'm locked into the READ180 progam, so I'm trying to figure out how I can incorporate these idea into that model. I definitely plan on using the ideas here when we do The Lightning Thief as a full-class read toward the end of the semester.

On Levels of Questioning
I think a big part of active engagement with a text is the ability to write the same types of questions the instructor of a class would ask about a given text. To really get students into a Socratic seminar, have them generate their own questions that will be used. There's something to be said for ownership when it comes to what students do and don't remember. Here is a link to the post I wrote this summer about levels of questioning.

On the Socratic Seminar:
These are the guidelines we received at the Advanced Placement Summer Institute I attended this summer. They are pages 54-55 in Ayn's handbook (pdf).


Backchanneling and Socratic Seminar
There are a few things I know about myself as a student. First, when I'm taking notes by hand, I am less engaged whatever discussion is going on around me because I'm so caught up in getting all of my notes on the page. I also know that if I'm not engaged somehow, whether it be note-taking by hand, on twitter, or live blogging, I am more likely to let my mind wander during class. Do I honestly expect anything different from my students? Hardly.

In theory, the students in the outer circle (if you're taking the fishbowl approach to Socratic Seminar) are paying attention to the conversation occurring in the inner circle. They might be paying a little more attention if they wrote the questions the inner circle is answering, but as a student, that still wouldn't actively engage me. I propose a way* to further involve outer circle students in the seminar. (Note: I realize this will be a more of a distraction for some students than others.)
Have the outer circle students take live, electronic notes via backchannel about the inner circle's conversation. They can make note of interesting things people say, aspects of/places in the text that they referenced to answer particular questions, and offer brief commentary on their peers' conversation. When I was reading about Google Wave and its uses in education, people discussed using Wave for collective note taking. Using Edmodo, Twiducate, or TodaysMeet for backchanneling does the same thing. This frees up the inner circle to concentrate more on their conversation and less on taking any notes they would otherwise take. With collective note taking, the outer circle students are more likely to commit more of the conversation's ideas into notes. It also allows students to pay enough attention to the conversation that they can redirect the inner circle by asking different questions as the opportunities arise (assuming the discussion questions are mostly provided by the students). Copy conversation and post to blog or wiki to refer to later.
*Originally I had two different (albeit similar) ways to approach this, but as I was typing decided that this was the better of the two.

Comments? Suggestions? Bugs you see in the system? All thoughts are welcome. :-)

Review: Eragon

Eragon (Inheritance, #1)Eragon by Christopher Paolini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As was the case with Twilight, I liked the story more than the writing. There were instances where I felt like the writing was forced. According to a student, the movie didn't do the book justice, so that's a point in the book's favor.

I appreciated the complexity of the relationship between Eragon and his dragon, Saphira. I also appreciated that Paolini took a break from the traditional hero journey archetype when he introduced a second mentor after the first was killed.

I don't feel the sense of urgency with the Inheritance series as I have with other series. I'm not sure why that is. Readers will enjoy the story. They will say, Eragon is going to fall for Arya the elf. They will wonder how the Varden will defeat the urgals. And they'll be ready for Eldest after they find that Eragon leads the defeat of the Shade that was hunting him.

Now, to take on the Empire. But first... some training with the Elves and a mystery guy from Eragon's dreams.

View all my reviews

13 Ways to Raise a Non-Reader

I saw this in my Twitter feed and thought it was awesome. A must-share.


from Horn Book (http://www.hornbook.com)

Monday, September 6, 2010

A little bit about AR

I decided, for the last hour, instead of reading I would participate in this week's #engchat on Twitter, where the topic was bridge literature: YA texts we can use to help students make connections to the canonical texts we're required to teach. I first heard about that on Text Messages, which you can listen to here.

We moved into discussion about Accelerated Reader, and a link was posted to @donalynbooks's article How to Accelerate a Reader. Good read, and possibly a good start for me on @pursuitofdreli.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

How I'm Rethinking Homework

I was waiting for this column to go live on Language Arts New Mexico, but last I checked it hasn't made it there yet. I've copy/pasted it here for your reading pleasure. Every year I take on a new action research project; something designed to make my teaching and my students' learning easier and more relevant. This past summer, I read a collection of essays by Alfie Kohn entitled What Does it Mean to be Well Educated? I thought about other articles I've read by Kohn, in particular, "Rethinking Homework" (2007) which can be found here. I've heard the arguments for and against homework. This is my response.


Kohn, A. (2007). Rethinking homework. Retrieved from: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/rethinkinghomework.htm

Review: The Crossbones

The Crossbones (Skeleton Creek, #3)The Crossbones by Patrick Carman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I learned, while reading The Crossbones, that I'm a lightweight when it comes to scary/suspenseful stories, especially when there isn't a synopsis to read that outlines every detail. I believe that Patrick Carman is a genius, though. Marrying storytelling with moviemaking adds an edge of suspense to the novels that I don't think could have been accomplished as successfully with print text alone.

It's no wonder that the Skeleton Creek series is so popular with my students. I hope the fourth book (because there's at least one more) is worth the wait. I imagine it will be.

View all my reviews

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Some Amazing Students

I'm sitting in first hour right now, and all my students are using a Google Form to write their book log. It's a simple form that enables me to see what they're reading, what they're struggling with, and whether or not they're enjoying their read. I'm writing now because it's the way my class works. When I write in my notebook, they write in their notebooks. When I read, they read. Building their literacy skills is truly a community effort. So right now they're writing so I figured it was only fair that I do the same.

I look around my classroom and they're all participating. I see varying degrees of typing proficiency. And some students who are more verbose than others. But I've also seen every single student, at some point in the activity, look something up in his book. I am excited to see the messages they're leaving me about their independent reading. This kind of start to the semester makes me think that we're all going to build on our literacy skills this semester.

This is one of those situations in which, while I say I hate the numbers and they don't offer a full picture of a students' literacy skills, there's some validation in seeing that improvement in assessment score. Maybe because that's how we're judged. And it doesn't feel great when your students don't show improvement on the assessment and that's publicly displayed for the entire staff to see.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Heat by Mike Lupica

HeatHeat by Mike Lupica

I wasn't overly impressed with the first Mike Lupica book I read two summers ago. This one... this one was a fantastic read from start to finish. Miguel/Michael Arroyo is a 12 year old baseball player in New York City whose family emigrated to the US from Cuba. His father is gone, so he and his 17 year old brother (who lies and says he's 18) struggle to make ends meet. All Michael wants to do is lead his ball club to Williamsport and the Little League World Series, but it seems like everything is standing in his way.

There's enough scandal, suspense and action in Heat by Mike Lupica to keep the pages turning. If we don't have it in our school library, it's one that definitely needs to go on the list.

View all my reviews

Laurie Halse Anderson made my student's day

Last night I sent a message to author Laurie Halse Anderson on Twitter that looked like this

When I checked my twitter feed at lunch I had this waiting for me in my mentions

Naturally, I had to share this with my student. She smiled so hard that I thought her face might break. I appreciate that Anderson took the time to send me back that message. It made my student's day. And mine.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rough Start

Last week was the first week of school, and the first time we've ever started on a Monday. In previous years, we started on Wednesday or Thursday--two or three days to get to know the students, then the weekend and Deming Duck Races, then we'd hit the ground running the next Monday. Everyone felt like the week was a little long. It didn't help that all the housekeeping type items that had to be completed were completed during first period.

Despite ongoing internet problems, it is very exciting that so many of my students are excited about the books they're reading. Almost all of them have selected books out of my personal library. I admit that there are some books I was more excited about students reading than others -- I think there are four students reading Patrick Carman's Skeleton Creek, and three reading his novel Trackers, drawn in by the fact that there are videos. Others are reading Shusterman, Anderson (both MT and Laurie Halse) and a myriad of other books on a myriad of topics. The neatest thing is to see one student lean over to another during independent reading and point to something in the book they're reading, then look to see if they'll get in trouble for talking. I encourage this kind of interaction. I want my students to talk about books, not just with me, but with their peers as well. And it has already begun.

I do hope that the server problems, particularly in the afternoon, are resolved. Because I teach the Title I Language Arts class, there are some requirements must make sure my students meet, like using the Scholastic READ180 program so the powers that be have the ability to pull student reports to monitor progress. I also hope that this week passes with less frustration than last week did.

Trying out a new app

I saw on a blog I follow that the blog was posted with BlogPress for iPad. One of my Twitter friends posted yesterday or the day before about clients people use to write their blogs that aren't web based. These two things got me thinking.

I often use my phone to take pictures of student work or to take pictures of notes written on the board during class. It's a hassle to email myself the pictures then upload them into a post, or to download the pictures from my phone and onto my computer then upload them into a post. I could email the pictures directly from my phone, but I haven't figured out how to do more than one at a time (though now that I think about it, it might be pretty simple).

I'm going to try BlogPress for a while, see if live blogging, particularly during my university classes, works for me.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A New Look at Percy Jackson

The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, #1)The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's so different reading this book through the lens of a teacher. This time, I read the teacher's guide as I was reading the novel. That process made me focus not only on the progression of the story and the hero journey (because I love the hero journey archetype), but also on the specific Greek myths in each chapter, and the foreshadowing, which is a whole lot easier to spot when the reader has a good idea where the story is going. I was also more aware of characterization given the criticism of the movie, where Percy is portrayed as well into his teens rather than as a 12 year old.I anticipate using clips from the film to illustrate points or to initiate debate over which author made the better choice, but I definitely won't be showing the entire thing.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Hitchhiker's Guide, #2)The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After having listened to the commentary at the end of the Primary Phase recording of The Hitchhiker's Guide (where I found out some neat info about production of the series as well), reading the print version made so much more sense. Two things helped: One, I was able to compare the text with the audio version I've heard many times; and two, understanding where Douglas Adams came up with some of the material he brought to the story. In the commentary of the Primary Phase, the narrator (who also does the voice of the book) talk about how the producers of the radio program never knew where Adams was going to take the story. I knew it was a satire, but didn't realize that Adams was satirizing everyday regular life. I should have, and now feel quite silly for not having thought of this when, at the beginning of the series, the book commented on green pieces of paper making everyone unhappy. From this particular installment of the "increasingly inaccurately named Hitchhiker's Trilogy" I pulled out one bit that stuck with me. Before Zarniwoop, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian meet the guy who runs the Universe, the book tells us that "it is a well known fact that those people who must want to rule people are, ipso facto, those least suited to do it. To summarize the summary: anyone who is capable of getting themselves made President should on no account be allowed to do the job" (197). And that about wraps it up.

View all my reviews >>

Friday, August 6, 2010

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp (Alfred Kropp, #1)The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp by Rick Yancey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This story (which according to Goodreads is the first in a series) is about an ordinary boy who has accepted his ordinary-ness, but is actually a hero waiting to, I don't know, burst out of his awkward shell. As with most archetypal heroes, Alfred grows up away from his parents; his mother died before he was a teenager and he never knew his father. He lives with his uncle at the beginning of the story, an uncle who's opportunistic nature is what sends Alfred on his journey.

I usually love stories that follow the archetype of the hero journey, and I usually love Arthurian legend, but this updating of Arthur's story didn't really draw me in. I'm still trying to figure out what it was that didn't make me jump up and down and go yay! like I do with most Arthurian stories. I'd prefer The Squire's Tale or Here Lies Arthur, or my favorite, The Mists of Avalon any day.

View all my reviews >>

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

This one was a read aloud with one of my book buddies, which is why it was on my reading list for so long. I wasn't entirely sure we were going to get through it at the beginning.

Also, I recommended Out of My Mind to my mother this summer, who teaches special education. She got excited because she had a student who had cerebral palsy and felt like his world opened up when he got a computer he could use to vocalize what was in his head. Mom said he moved when he was still in elementary school, but came back and had lunch with my mother and the speech pathologist at her school years later. I think it's pretty awesome when a reader, even and older reader, can connect with the story, ideas, and themes in young adult literature.

Out of My MindOut of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sharon Draper is one of the first authors I suggest when I have a reluctant reader. Most of my students have loved the Hazelwood High series, Romiette and Julio, and Battle of Jericho. While I liked Out of My Mind, I think it is a little slow to start, where readers will spend the first 50 pages or so thinking, "Okay, where is this going?"

The protagonist, Melody, is a fifth grader with cerebral palsy. Most of her life, she's had trouble communicating, controlling her limbs, and doing much for herself. All she wants is to be normal. So when she gets a computer called a Medi-Talker, that she can program to speak for her, Melody decides to show her smarts by joining her school's quiz team.

In Melody's quest to be as normal as she can be, she learns about the reality of being in a circle of "friends." Except that she never feels like she really fits in. When her team wins the local quiz competition and they go out to celebrate after, Melody is embarrassed because she has to be fed. While he teammates don't comment, the silence at the table speaks volumes about their opinions about Melody, despite her obvious talent and intelligence. I found myself getting angry at the way her classmates responded to her and talked about her, and felt like in the end, Melody got shafted. But that's the reality, isn't it? Unfortunate.

Out of My Mind is a story for anyone who feels like an outsider. It's a story that special education teachers can relate to (hi, mom). And it's a story that will give readers insight into what it could be like to not have a fully-functioning body, but still a fully-functioning mind.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Color Purple by Alice Walker

The Color PurpleThe Color Purple by Alice Walker

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novel was a hard read. One that either got you in the beginning, with a scene describing the rape of the narrator by her father, or put you off entirely. I read this novel because it has been challenged in the library of the school where I work. Everything that happened in the novel, from the sexual abuse, to the changing of partners, needed to happen in order for Celie to find herself the way she did. The catalyst for her discovery: reflecting on her relationship with Shug with the man who was her husband. As far as content and the challenge, I think there are lessons to be learned from The Color Purple about love, about how we treat each other, about family, about religion, and about life--how it takes some a lifetime to find happiness, and sometimes just as long to realize that contentment might not be so bad. But it takes life's difficulties to provide the ability to come to that realization.

View all my reviews >>

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

ChainsChains by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I usually don't like historical fiction. There was something, though, about Anderson's storytelling that drew me into this story. Chains is set during the Revolutionary War in New York. The protagonist, Isabel, is a slave in the household of a family of British supporters. Throughout the novel she deals with the loss of family, trying to decide which side of the war supports her best interests (I never thought about the role slaves played in the war), and gaining her freedom. The second part of the story is told in the novel Forge, which I'll be adding to my to-read list soon.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Black Heroes in 1777? With Powers?

The Sons of Liberty #1The Sons of Liberty #1 by Alexander Lagos

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was an interesting read and I'm curious to see where the rest of the series is going. What kind of experiments did William Franklin do on those animals and Brody and Graham to give them powers. What are the extent of the boys' powers? I don't know much about art, but I do like the visuals. The colors change with the time period - when Ben Lay recounts his experiences on slave ships, there is a hint of sepia to the images. I'm excited to see what happens next.

View all my reviews >>

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

The Bar Code Tattoo (Point Thriller)The Bar Code Tattoo by Suzanne Weyn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While I agree that Bar Code Tattoo isn't as good as Feed by MT Anderson, it was an intriguing read. I can't imagine what it would be like to be branded in such a way that all moves, and purchases are tracked, and the government (controlled by a private corporation) includes genetic code records in the each person's file. The effects of which is those people who are genetically unfavorable lose their jobs, their homes, and are essentially killed off. This is discrimination on another level.

One secondary character, Mfumbe, was pressured by his parents to get the bar code tattoo because of his genetic code. They argued that African-Americans have been discriminated against for so long, the fact that they are more genetically stable works to their advantage for the first time. Mfumbe, despite his parents' insistance, refused. I can appreciate his parents' position, but I also appreciate that Mfumbe didn't sway from his beliefs because the greater good lay elsewhere.

I'm going to say it was worth the read and I'm curious about the conclusion of the story in The Bar Code Rebellion. Will the government and mob mentality prevail? Or will the resistance actually overthrow popular opinion?

View all my reviews >>

Friday, July 9, 2010

Eye of the Storm

  Bone, Volume 3: Eyes of the StormBone, Volume 3: Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started this series because I bought most of them in support of my middle school's library. I remember wondering what it was that drew so many boys to this series that the books were almost always checked out.

After reading Eyes of the Storm, I have a pretty good idea. There's fighting, gambling, these two stupid rat creatures who make me laugh every time they appear in a frame because they argue like an old married couple.By the end of this installment, I was hooked. By now we know that Kingdok, leader of the rat creatures isn't the guy calling the shots. I thought the guy calling the shots was the guy in the hood who cornered the really annoying Bone cousin in the last book, but it turns out it's not him either. So who's trying to take over and where did they come from?

Oh, and I said this when I read The Last Dragon Chronicles by Chris d'Lacy too, but I want a dragon.

View all my reviews >>

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

I like Adventure Novels

Stormbreaker (Alex Rider, #1) Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Do you like the Bourne (movie) series? James Bond? All those action/adventure movies that are in the theater right now? (I haven't seen A-Team and I haven't heard anything about it, for the record). Then I'll bet you'd like Stormbreaker.

Stormbreaker isn't the type of novel I'd teach; it's a surface novel. But the action sequences are described in such a way that the reader can clearly visualize what's happening to Alex.

I liked that Alex wasn't perfect. He didn't go off on his mission and not run into trouble (or slips of the tongue) the first time he met his mark. He's what I imagine Agent Cody Banks would be like.And bonus: there's a movie. When I get home, it's definitely going on the queue.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why do they call him Bruiser?

Bruiser Bruiser by Neal Shusterman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I've been waiting for Bruiser since April of last year, and it was well worth the wait. In Bruiser, Shusterman uses multiple perspectives again, and more successfully than in Unwind. This time, we're only in the heads of the principle characters, rather than many different characters.

Brewster is an empath. He absorbs the feelings of the people that he likes. I can't imagine what it would be like to absorb the feelings of the people whose company I enjoyed. I think about the empath in an episode of Charmed, who had to shut himself off, living in an abandoned building to get away from the feelings of all the people in the city.

Because I don't want to ruin the story for my faithful readers, I'm not going to say anymore than that. Enjoy!

View all my reviews >>

Monday, July 5, 2010

The Adoration of Jenna Fox The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I'm not sure what I expected when I started The Adoration of Jenna Fox. Probably a love story. Definitely not a near-future story about a girl involved in a tragic accident who has been re-bioengineered by her parents. But the story is one many readers can identify with. Jenna struggles to remember something that happened in her past -- I'm sure many probably envy her the ability not to remember as we all probably have things we'd rather forget.  Jenna is struggling to figure out who she is -- we all went through/are going through figuring out who we are in terms of trying out different clothing styles, hobbies, hair, etc. What does it take to be your own person?

The novel raises questions about medical and scientific ethics that could turn out to be a real problem for the world in years to come. What if scientists bioengineer plants resistant to specific bugs, which lends other bugs useless because they don't need to defend the plants. One small change like that could be disastrous to an ecosystem.

I was surprised most of all by the ending. I expected Jenna to go to the mat for what her friend wanted, but that didn't happen. At least scientists made changes to the biogel so bioengineered people live a "normal" length of time?

View all my reviews >>

If you liked this title, you might also like:

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Connecting With the Classics: Dracula

I stole the title of this blog post, and my post on Beowulf, from an episode of the NCTE/IRA podcast Text Messages about ways to engage students with classic stories. You can play that episode right here.

All-Action Classics: Dracula (All-Action Classics) All-Action Classics: Dracula by Michael Mucci

My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I thoroughly enjoy reading books from the Victorian Era in England. Dracula was one of the novels I taught during my student teaching. I love the graphic adaptation as an introduction to the story. Bram Stoker's original used correspondance to tell the story -- Jonathan Harker's journal, telegrams, newspaper clippings, letters. Mucci's adaptation takes the big events and makes them visually stunning. The colors he uses are dark and subdued, giving the graphic novel a gothic feel that mirrors the book.

View all my reviews >>

Books I Read in June

I know this is a little late... but the books I read in June were

From the Harry Potter Series:

  • Sorcerer's Stone
  • Chamber of Secrets
  • Prisoner of Azkaban
  • Goblet of Fire
From the Twilight Saga, in honor of the movie released on June 30th:
  • Twilight
  • New Moon
  • Eclipse

Connecting with the Classics: Beowulf

Beowulf Beowulf by Chris Ryall

I wasn't aware that Neil Gaiman wrote the screenplay for the live action/animated theatrical version of Beowulf. I get the sense that things changed from the epic poem to the film (and this graphic novel based on the film) but I can't remember. Reading this graphic novel makes me want to go back and reread Beowulf and maybe find a copy of Grendel.

I think this graphic novel would be a intro to the more difficult Beowulf text. Teach with graphic novels, anyone?

View all my reviews >>