Monday, March 29, 2010

Initial thoughts on Skeleton Creek

Skeleton Creek, by Patrick Carman caught my interest at the NMLA conference in 2009 because it's a novel that integrates video. Not a novel that was made into a film, but a novel where the video is (supposed to be) integral to the continued understanding of the plot.

Skeleton Creek (Skeleton Creek, #1)This novel, though I hadn't read it yet, was the starting point for my dissertation topic: roughly--a discussion of how change in book presentation changes students' literacy needs. Skeleton Creek is supposed to be a scary story. When my students ask for a scary novel, usually whatever I give them isn't scary enough for their tastes. Maybe it's because they don't visualize. Maybe it's because they're so desensitized by the visual media they've grown up with that the pictures they form in their heads don't compare to what a filmmaker can do with camera angle, actor positioning and music. I don't know. But I've watched one of the videos that goes along with Carman's book already. It reminded me of the Blair Witch Project, which is a movie that creeped me out.

A drawback to presenting a book like this is that if you don't watch the video, you can't move on. Well, I'm on my second day stuck where I am in the novel because of testing and no computers on, and class and homework. It's unfortunate because I really want to continue. I'm thinking about reading on and seeing how important the video is to the story. Especially since my district doesn't like to stream video and blocks everything (rightfully so, they just found an undetectable virus).

More to come.

Carman, Patrick. (2009). Skeleton Creek. New York: Scholastic Press.

RDG 514 Portfolio Piece #2: A Novel

            Gone, by Michael Grant (2008), is Lord of the Flies *(Golding, 1999) for the current generation. In Perdido Beach, California, everyone over the age of fifteen disappears in an instant. Everyone else is left to fend for themselves without adult supervision. But there’s a barrier between Perdido Beach, rechristened The FAYZ (Fallout Alley Youth Zone) and the outside world. No one can get out and no one can get in. No one knows what caused the disappearances. And everyone looks to Sam Temple to lead them, to figure out what happened and keep them safe. But the kids from Coates Academy, the private school on top of the hill, have other ideas and their own agenda. It doesn’t help that some kids are developing strange powers and are using them to control those without. Take Golding’s story, mix in some of NBC’s hit show Heroes and add a force field and you’ve got Gone by Michael Grant.
            School Library Journal, on, recommends Gone for students in Grades 7 and up, the same grade levels in which students read Lord of the Flies.
            Why read Gone, especially since it’s a longer read than most students are willing to sit through? Gone can be a vehicle for discussion of who has power in society, why those people are in power and how they remain in power. In the novel, the kids begin to divide themselves into factions—those who have powers against those who don’t, those who rally behind Sam Temple, who has a power, because he has saved them before, and those who rally behind Caine from Coates Academy. Caine also has a power, but his motives are self-serving. We could discuss how Sam’s leadership differs from Caine’s leadership, and how different students in school are leaders and how they became to be viewed in that role. We can also make a connection to current politics and how the political system works.
            If read in conjunction with Lord of the Flies, students could draw parallels between the two texts, comparing the characters of Sam and Ralph, and Caine and Jack in terms of personality, situation, willingness to lead. One discussion topic often linked with Lord of the Flies is the nature of man, or the idea that man is inherently evil. This argument could be discussed in the context of Gone as well. The two leaders of the FAYZ, Sam and Caine both carry secrets that they do not want exposed. How these secrets play into their leadership roles and the choices they make would make an interesting addition to the Lord of the Flies discussion of man’s true nature.
            In his profile on Goodreads, Michael Grant said that his goal in writing Gone was to “creep [people] out. To make [them] stay up all night reading, then roll into school tired the next day so that you totally blow the big test and end up dropping out of school” (n.d.). I want students to have the satisfaction of completing something bigger than they thought they could. I want them to be able to say, “Yes, Michael Grant was right, I didn’t want to stop reading,” or “No, Michael Grant was wrong, and this book didn’t remotely interest me,” and be able to use the text to support their reasoning on either side.
            A teaching activity with Gone would be to write a scene from the next novel. Gone 2 is subtitled Hunger. In an interview with Static Multimedia (Johnson, 2008), Grant said that the residents of the FAYZ would be dealing with many forms of hunger, some obvious, and some not so obvious. Students could brainstorm types of hunger, then choose one type as a starting point for their own scene.

*For my own amusement, each Lord of the Flies link goes to a different place.

Biard, J.H. (n.d.). “Editorial Review.” In School Library Journal. Retrieved from
Golding, W. (1999). Lord of the Flies. New York: Penguin.
Grant, M. (2008). Gone. New York: HarperTeen.
Grant, M. (n.d.). Goodreads | Michael Grant. Retrieved from
Johnson, B. (2008). Michael Grant Interview. Retrieved from

Sunday, March 28, 2010


This year's standardized testing has been an interesting experience for me. Instead of testing an entire class, as I've done in the past, I'm proctoring the tests of two students taking the test one at a time with a scribe. What that means is either 1. I stare at student while student is testing or 2. I do something that isn't distracting while sitting at the same table as student, like reading. So I've been reading. We still have 2 1/2 days of testing left next week, but I thought I'd go ahead and share the novels I've read in the last two weeks.

I found it interesting that I picked a few novels with similar thematic content in close succession. On Friday, I finished the 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation. On Saturday, I read I, Q: Independence Hall, which also discusses terrorism. During the week I read Bystander by James Preller and The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier, both of which have to do with bullying and are not pictured here because I checked them out from the school library. The Tomorrow Code by Brian Faulkner was particularly interesting and reminded me quite a bit of A Wrinkle in Time. I liked that it didn't take place in the United States (it's set in New Zealand) but the language isn't so difficult to understand that an adolescent from the US couldn't understand it. Quantum Prophecy: The Awakening #1 was okay--a Heroes/The Incredibles type read. It's one of those series novels where I didn't feel compelled to run out and buy the next book. I did enjoy the second Artemis Fowl novel, The Arctic Incident, as well as Edward Bloor's Taken. The twist in that novel wasn't one I expected. I read The Compound by S.A. Bodeen on recommendation from another blogger, and enjoyed it as well. I realize I'm being vague as far as plot, etc. is concerned here. My goal was to list the novels I've been reading rather than reflect on them this time. What I really need to do is a reader response project. Maybe this week.

I'm thinking about going the Skeleton Creek route. I'm interested to see how the videos add to the story.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

To Ning or not to Ning

Since I started working on my proposal for the French Award, I've been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to create blogs for my students that are protected--I know a number of teachers ask for outside comments on their students' blogs... I'm not there yet. I wanted to create self-contained community that included students from all four of my classes. The would be able to interact with each other and create a community of readers with common goals.

So I looked at Edublogs, Blogger, WikiSpaces, Wetpaint and PBworks and couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.

And then I checked one of my Nings and rediscovered that there are blogs built into this system. What this means is that I may not use Edmodo next year, which makes me sad. But in one interface, I have discussion boards, blogs, mail, a calendar, video (if my district will allow streaming) and photos. And it's organized in such a way that finding material will be a whole lot easier than before.

So I created a Ning called Reading Room 211 and have been playing with it. I mentioned it to my 4th hour students and they're a little miffed that they had me this year because next year sounds like more fun. One student even commented that he's jealous of his brother because his brother will probably get to do all the fun movie-making next year.

I wanted to get through the semester and use only one website, but I think I'm going to maintain a wiki and leave it open to the public. I've had problems with students downloading copies of assignments from Edmodo (I'll post the same PDF on Edmodo and on our wiki and it can only be opened from the wiki--no idea why). I'll keep a copy of the syllabus, assignments, and agendas there so they are viewable anytime by parents. Both the wiki and the ning will have the same title, so they should be fairly easy for my digital natives (who are really scared of new technology and being wrong) to remember.

Things I should consider about using a ning next year? Any thought is appreciated. I'm working on rules and guidelines now.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

French Award Proposal

In the laundry list of things I had to have done by Tuesday, one of the most interesting was my proposal for the French Award. The French Award gives $5000 to a teacher to fund a project they're interested in incorporating into their class.

My project involves using video as a synthesis of student learning. The items I'd purchase to create my project are a Flip Video Camera, an Elmo Document Camera, 6 iPod Touches, a 1 TB external hard drive and somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 FollettBound novels (they're a little more expensive, but Follett will replace any damaged book for free, and kids can be pretty hard on books).

Here's a basic outline of the project--know that I'm pretty excited about this, and will probably try to do it even if I don't get it funded.

1.     Students will vote for one of six thematic: Natural Disasters, Self-Identity, Truth, Acceptance, Survival, and “Big” Issues. Based on their responses, a thematic unit and other related texts (readings, videos, music and art) will be chosen.
2.     Through mini-lesson, teacher created podcasts to be viewed in small groups on iPods, teacher guided practice, small group practice, reciprocal teaching and independent practice, students will learn about varied sentence structure, vocabulary, reading strategies and other elements of language arts as they are presented in their language arts classes. All of this knowledge will be incorporated into the script for the film they will produce at the end of the six weeks.
3.     Each week, students will compose a blog post (web host to be determined), reflecting on their learning, reflecting on their thoughts about the theme in terms of their personal experiences and their reading, and suggesting ways that their learning and connections can be incorporated into one of the six film categories (these categories will be used as tags for easy reference later, other categories will be added based on the theme selected):
a.     Anticipation—what we thought before we started reading
b.     What we read—short summaries of the novel text and other texts read, viewed or heard during the unit, what was learned from them, how they connect together and to the theme
c.     Visual Art—representation of the theme in an artistic way, either researched or student created
d.    Music—type, style, genre, specific examples that might fit the theme
e.     Film—People who think this theme is interesting might also want to see what movies? (Find trailers on YouTube)
f.      Where we ended up—our final thoughts and how our initial thoughts changed or stayed the same
4.     In the fourth week of the unit, students will be divided into specific production teams of no more than three students based on the categories listed above. Students will begin using their weekly blog reflections and the blog reflections of their peers to create a script for a 2-4 minute presentation on their category. During this time we will still continue to have reading and writing strategy, and vocabulary lessons.
5.     Each day in the fifth week of the unit, a group will present their script to the class using the document camera. They will solicit feedback from their peers on revision making notes on their copy as they go about what they should include that hasn’t been included, what can be removed, how to incorporate their vocabulary and writing/grammar into their script. The group will then take those suggestions and revise their script accordingly. They will spend time practicing their script, reading with fluency and expression.
6.     In the first three days of the last week in the six weeks, groups will record/create their portion of the presentation. Students can use video cameras, PowerPoint presentations saved as movies, Windows Movie Maker, scanners or any other necessary technology to create. All video or files will be saved on the external hard drive. Students who have had the technology class as an elective or who are interested in learning how to put together a film will come to my class during lunch to put together the pieces of the film.
7.     The second to last day of the unit will be a viewing of the films from each class. Students will be able to see how their peers in different classes synthesized their learning.
8.     The final day of the unit, students will write a blog post reflecting on what they learned about their theme, their thoughts on the film aspect of the project, what worked well for them and what didn’t, what else they’d like to learn and how we could work better as a community of readers and learners. We will use our blog posts as a springboard into class discussion and debriefing.
9.     At the end of the semester, all parents will be invited in for a Literacy Night were we will show the films students created to their parents and discuss student accomplishments fort he semester.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

I Wimped Myself

This has been going around my twitter feed, an interestingly viral way of promoting the forthcoming Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie. I was amused. Here are my results. Wimp yourself at