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.

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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.

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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 (

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:

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.

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