Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: Big Nate Strikes Again

Big Nate Strikes AgainBig Nate Strikes Again by Lincoln Peirce

View all my reviews

Teacher & Student Questioning

One of the themes I've noticed running through the Model Schools Conference is the necessity of raising rigor and relevance with our students. A common issue teachers have, says Lin Kuzmich, is that we ask questions, then call on one of the three kids who always raises his hand, or, in the even that we don't get an answer, provide it and move on.

Two ways to avoid this. I connected teacher questioning to the "So what?" question and the levels of questioning that we talked about at the href="http://thebooksupplier.com/category/ap-nm/">APSI-NM workshops from last summer. There are a number of questions listed for teacher questioning that go beyond the "Okay, that's the right answer. Next question" mentality.

To further increase rigor, have students create the questions. I like this for inner/outer circle activities, personally. The Q-Matrix gives those kids who are struggling a place to start. Think about it this way: If students create the questions, it requires them to interact with the text in more than a "find the answer" kind of way.

I'll find a link to a clean copy of these and post it on a resource page. The PowerPoint this came from can be found on Lin Kuzmich's website.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Search Cube

Search cube was billed to us as a search engine for educators. It is a filter built by educators for educators. The cube is populated by bring in video links, images and lesson plans about whatever topic is typed into the search box. Take a look a the short video below to see how search cube works.


3 Interactive Timelines

I'm attending the Model Schools Conference in Nashville, and before I forget, I wanted to share some of the resources that I've gathered over the past two days. Some of these resources come from other educators, and some come from presenters. I'm going to include some of these in resources on the pages at the (book) supplier, so you're more than welcome to take a look at them there, as well as other resources that I've compiled.

I think that poster board timelines are a little outdated, especially when students are used to doing searches for images and video on the internet.  When a presenter suggested we give Dipity a try, I thought about other interactive timeline interfaces I've heard about, and went into my Evernote files to see what else I had. I also found a timeline called TimeToast and one from ReadWriteThink.

Dipity is an easy to use,
free timeline website. Users add content, the titles and related images of which appear on the timeline. Clicking on a title or image provides more information about the point on the timeline. Users have to have a login, which requires an email address (or Facebook account), to create timeline. Timelines are populated by manually entering events, importing from a Twitter search, Flickr, Google News search, or YouTube search, among others.

With a free account, users are only allowed to create three timelines before they are asked to upgrade to the premium version for $4.95/mo.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 6 29 36 PM

Timetoast is also an easy to use timeline creating website. Again, email addresses are required to create a login (users can also sign in with their Facebook accounts). TimeToast's interface is easier to use than Dipity's, however users do not have the ability to import from outside sources; all events have to be entered manually. People can comment on timelines, however timelines can't be exported, and there are ads.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 7 40 00 PM

ReadWriteThink is, more often than not, my go-to for materials. The interactive timeline here starts on a screen like this -- and students are able to choose how they want to label their events.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 7 42 26 PM

All entries are entered manually, and there are no graphic options. The view is a little confusing -- once you click on "Finished" you are given the option to print or start over; the timeline is appears as you enter data into the form.

Screen shot 2011 06 27 at 7 57 50 PM

It doesn't require a username or password, but I think it's the least aesthetically pleasing of the three.

I think about the things I've been hearing about how we have to engage learners with images and video in addition to the text, and I think this is where the ReadWriteThink interactive timeline falls short. What really makes it interactive? As far as interactive timelines go, I think I like Dipity best, even though users are limited by the number of timelines they can create.

Word Map for Vocabulary

I'm attending the Model Schools Conference in Nashville, and before I forget, I wanted to share some of the resources that I've gathered over the past two days. Some of these resources come from other educators, and some come from presenters. I'm going to include some of these in resources on the pages at the (book) supplier, so you're more than welcome to take a look at them there, as well as other resources that I've compiled.

The first presenter I saw said that the first step to improving literacy at any school is improving vocabulary. Here's a graphic organizer that one of the ladies at my table says works well for her. She did say, though, that students have to do the steps in order otherwise it doesn't work.

  1. Word
  2. Synonyms
  3. Antonyms
  4. Define in kid friendly words (part of speech)
  5. Sentence in context (like from the text being studied)
  6. Image
  7. Original, student-composed, sentence.

Word Map

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Free Audiobooks

Screen shot 2011 06 19 at 8 34 09 PM

I got this in my Twitter feed today, and thought some of you might be interested. Audiobookcommunity.com is offering two free audiobooks each week for the rest of the summer. One is YA, the other is out of the canon. Check it out at http://audiobooksync.com. There's a list posted of audiobooks and their availability.

As an aside, I like to have audiobooks of books that I already own. I'm excited that Shiver is first, because it will open up that particular text to readers in my classroom who may not have been able to access it before. I'm also excited about Little Brother. I picked that one up at Half-Price last time I visited my parents.

Happy Reading, and DFTBA!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Review: Ghostopolis

GhostopolisGhostopolis by Doug TenNapel

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Garth is accidentally zapped into the ghost world by a ghost hunter chasing a horse. Garth, who is still alive, has amazing powers. Because of these powers, he is hunted by Vaugner, the ruler of Ghostopolis. The guy who accidentally sent Garth to Ghostopolis comes to Garth's rescue.

The story reminds me a little of The Wizard of Oz (and Garth's last name is Hale), where the protagonist goes to another world and has to save it to get home. I'm not complaining. I love the Wizard of Oz, and this story is fantastic both in story and visually.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Review: Thirteen Days to Midnight

Thirteen Days to MidnightThirteen Days to Midnight by Patrick Carman

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I'm going to do a a book talk on this one (which I'll post a link to when I'm done with it), so I'm only going to mention here what I took issue with.

Jacob and Milo are trying to work out what's going on with Ophelia--why she's so desperate to save people and what happens to her when she gets the power they've been sharing (which was not the way I expected it to turn out, mind you). I thought that this aspect of the story wrapped itself up too neatly, too easily. There wasn't an extraordinary amount of struggle for it, and - I don't know - I didn't feel the resolution.

The story does, however, make me want to see the movie The Prestige again.

View all my reviews

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Review: Go the Fuck to Sleep

Go the Fuck to SleepGo the Fuck to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

You know, I was with it and thought it was funny up until the point where the little black baby was toddling past the door and the writing suggests that the furniture in the house is poor, and it's the only one in which the parent is falling asleep. I get that there's anger in other places in the book, but from the narration, it isn't clear that the parent acted on the anger, but that image made me think, "we really don't need any help pushing the stereotype that Black people have shoddy furniture and neglect their children." It could be that I'm being too sensitive about this, but when I deal with students who don't take issue with racial epithets because they don't understand the implications of their speech and behavior, it's hard for me to let things like this pass.

And really, I was with it up until that point.

View all my reviews

Monday, June 13, 2011

Review: Tyrell

TyrellTyrell by Coe Booth

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I put Tyrell by Coe Booth in the same category as I put Street Pharm and Snitch by Allison van Diepen, or Homeboyz by Alan Lawrence Sitomer. These are books that many of my students have absolutely loved.

The novel tells the story of Tyrell, a teenager whose father is in jail, mother doesn't have a job, and a little brother that he cares deeply about. What I liked most about Tyrell is that he is a multifaceted character. It's not a story about a poor, homeless Black kid, it's about a kid who's trying to be a man and stay out of his own way (that means not getting into the things his father was into - those things landed him in jail).

The story is told through first person, and Tyrell is the narrator. The use of dialect throughout the narration definitely adds to the realism of the character.

I also liked how the story didn't really end. Not as an ambiguous an ending as say, The Giver, but everything isn't tied up in a nice neat bow for us. Life isn't like that, and neither was the end of this novel.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Review: The Lost Hero

The Lost Hero (The Heroes of Olympus, #1)The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I bought this book when it came out, and it was so popular, that it went through the hands of a number of students familiar with the Percy Jackson series before I got my hands back on it.

I did find it interesting that Riordan had this series planned by the end of The Last Olympian (check the acknowledgments page).

We have three new heroes: Jason (again, named after another famous Greek hero), PIper and Leo, two of whom are children of gods who didn't take a starring role in the last series. An interesting choice.

I liked the novel - The action was enough to keep the pages turning - but there was something missing in this novel. I think I liked the Percy Jackson series because of the first person narrator and because the focus was solely on one character. The third person narrator in The Lost Hero, I think, distanced readers from the characters in a way.

Between this and the Kane Chronicles, I wonder if he's trying to do too much at the same time. Don't get me wrong though. The ending? Clever. I'm interested to see where this goes in The Son of Neptune, which is due out sometime in the fall of 2011.

View all my reviews

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Review: Rot & Ruin

Rot & Ruin (Benny Imura, #1)Rot & Ruin by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one I picked up because I heard about it on the podcast Text Messages. Dr. Buehler hasn't steered me wrong yet.

No one knows what caused First Night--the night when the dead awoke and started killing off the living. And what Benny remembers about First Night is his mother in a dress with red sleeves, and that his brother took him and ran away. Now Benny is 15 and has to find himself a job or he risks losing half of his food rations. He wants something simple, something he doesn't have too work hard at, and something that isn't joining the family business and becoming a zombie hunter like his brother.

I didn't think I'd enjoy a zombie novel near as much as I did. Rot & Ruin is well written with complex characters and enough action to keep the pages turning.

View all my reviews

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Review: Candor

CandorCandor by Pam Bachorz

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Candor is the perfect place - a Utopia - a place where no one wants for anything. The kids show up on time, do their homework, and never talk back to their parents. The problem with utopias is there's usually something going on behind the scenes. A puppet-master pulling the strings and keeping secrets from the puppets.

Oscar Banks is the perfect son for the perfect place. A model Candor citizen. Except that he's aware of how his father keeps everything in Candor perfect. When Oscar meets Nia, a newcomer to Candor, he doesn't want her to be corrupted by the subliminal messages that keep everything in Candor running smoothly.

It is his attempt to save her that ends up threatening his own existence.

View all my reviews

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Review: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer

Hold Me Closer, NecromancerHold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked up Hold Me Closer, Necromancer because I've seen it on a lot of my Centurion friends' lists lately, then came across it in my school's library yesterday. The story is brilliant. The main character, Sam, has had secrets kept from him his entire life. When Douglass (great name for a bad guy, eh?) finds him, Sam goes on a quest to find out who he is, which in turn puts his life in danger.

This novel is told in from two perspectives: When Sam is involved, the story is told first person from his point of view. In order for readers to find out what is going on when Sam's not in the scene (or not in a position to narrate), the narrative shifts into third person. I thought the shift in perspective helped tell a clearer story, and allowed me to connect specifically with Sam's character.

There's enough action, humor, and talking heads for readers to enjoy.

View all my reviews

Not Visible Enough Part II: YA Saves

When I wrote my last blog post, I was livid. In the 30-45 minutes I spent writing, Maureen Johnson had mobilized Twitter, asking her followers (and their followers) to express what young adult literature had done for them. I set up an archive for the tweets, which you can find here. When I got up at 4 this morning, there were almost 10,000 tweets (thought the most recent tweets seem to carry the hashtag only because it's trending). According to MJ, it took 20 minutes for #YASaves to become the third highest trend in the United States.

I teach 8th grade reading. Every day, young people enter my classroom and as they do, I am asking them to trust me. I ask them to trust that I won't have them do anything without a reason, that anything I ask them to do I either plan on doing myself or have done myself. I ask them to trust me enough to tell me the truth when I ask them what they like in order to make appropriate book recommendations, and then I ask them to trust that coming to me and saying, "This isn't working for me, can we find something else," is an appropriate response to a novel.


I'll admit that I've taught young people who were not trustworthy. At the same time I have to admit that I know adults that are not trustworthy. By not trusting young people with their book selections it's almost like saying that their thoughts, ideas, opinions and life experiences are invalid. By saying that young people should not read "dark" fiction is like saying "your experience is abnormal and no one should have to read about it."

I read through the archive and come back to this: YA authors, you are rock stars. Young people, you, too, are rock stars. It is an honor and a privilege to get to work with such amazing young people and connect with them through books written by amazing authors.

There is more that I want to say about this, but I think I'll give it a rest for now.

Thank you for being awesome.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Not Visible Enough

Before you continue, you should check out this article from The Wall Street Journal.

I was taught that books can serve as a mirror or as a window for a reader. I've learned since that the world is decidely more complicated that just mirrors and windows, but the basic idea still holds true.

Forgive me for stating the obvious, but at it's heart, this is an article calling for mass censorship of the young adult genre of books. As a reading teacher for adolescents and as a (soon to be) university faculty member teaching teachers about literature for adolescents, I respect the right of Amy Freeman to dictate what she wants her child to read. However, to suggest that all adolescents shouldn't read these "dark" books, is going too far.

I remember in one of my first graduate courses talking about children and brain development. The discussion centered around small children and their reading habits. While I'll admit that I don't know much about early literacy because it's not my focus, one part of that conversation stayed with me. Children like to hear the same stories over and over again because they're working though something in their minds. I've seen a similar phenomenon with the six-year-old son of one of my friends, who repeatedly watched Fox & the Hound, then repeatedly watched Balto until he worked through whatever issue he was dealing with.

I've had students, eighth graders, do the same thing. An outsider might argue that they're trying to get out of reading, but I know my students well enough to know that they're processing through. Specific example? I purchased the book Truancy for a student at his request. Two days later he came back to me and said that he'd read it twice. Maybe he was dealing with issues of authority as presented in the institution of schooling, maybe he was dealing with something else. The point is this: the kid was reading, the kid chose what he wanted to read, and the kid needed to reread in order to puzzle through whatever he was dealing with at the time.

So what you're saying, then, Wall Street Journal, is that kids should struggle through their issues on their own? Let me make sure I'm understanding you correctly. Think back for me. Remember what it was like to be a teenager. How many adults did you trust with your deepest, darkest issues? But what if the right book was put into your hands at the just the right time? And what if reading that book allowed you to feel like you were a little less alone in the world. That you weren't the only one going through whatever it is you were going through. I did see you used concession/refutation to argue this point, however, there's a voice missing from your argument. An incredibly important voice, I might add.

We tend to look at our past through rose colored glasses, thinking "When I was young, things were different."

And it's true. When we were young, things were different. When I was young, I went through the whole of high school and can't remember reading anything with an African-American depicted as anything but a slave. And until I took a class specifically on African-American literature as an undergraduate English Literature major, I didn't read anything about anyone who looked like me. I read nothing about characters whose lives looked like mine outside of the race issue. I feel like I'm making up for that now.

For me, authors are rock stars. I posted on my Tumblr blog about how excited I got when Libba Bray replied to one of my tweets. I've posted in the past about conversations I've had with other authors - Laurie Halse Anderson, Ellen Hopkins, John Green, Alan Sitomer, Lauren Myracle - and how I've passed messages back and forth between these authors and my students. These students who are grateful  for the words the words that these amazing authors write. Words that speak to kids who profess to have never, in their adolescent lives, finished an entire book. Words that tell these kids that they're not alone. That the world is bigger than the small town we live in. That the intolerance they spout as truth may not actually be truth. And I, and my students, appreciate their honesty, even when it makes us angry.

A colleague of mine in the doctoral program, who used to teach high school English, tells a story about the students with whom she worked. She says as a collective they were turned off from reading because none of the character in the stories they read were of Mexican descent, lived in a poor community, or sounded the same way they did. They resented being taught by the institution that the middle-class, Midwestern, Anglo dialect was the only correct way of fitting into society. Then they read a text with a protagonist who looked like them and spoke like them and they found that reading isn't all bad.

I grew up in Indianapolis, but I live in a small town now. There are many things that many of the students with whom I work don't know about. Columbine. Surprisingly, 9/11 (I showed a video and they asked me if what they were seeing was real). Matthew Shepard. Remember him? While the reality of gang violence is something everyone knows about and deals with here, the reality of the repercussions of homophobic and even anti-Jewish slurs is not. Do we not, as educators and as authors, have a duty to broaden the minds of our students? Or is the most important goal we have to accomplish tied to a white-washed assessment?

I stand with Libba Bray, who said, "Books are, at their heart, dangerous. Because they challenge us: our prejudices, our blind spots. They open us to new ideas, new ways of seeing. They make us hurt in all the right ways. They can push down the barricades of 'them' & widen the circle of 'us'. And when one feels alone--say, because of a terrible burden of a secret, something that creates pain and isolation, books can heal, connect. That's what good books do. That's what hard books do. And we need them in the world." You can read all of her comments here.

I stand with Lauren Myracle. With Laurie Halse Anderson. With Sherman Alexie. With John Green. With Jay Asher. With Neil Gaiman. With Ellen Hopkins. With Maureen Johnson. With Meg Cabot. With all the authors who tell it, and tell it honestly. Because life can be dark. And life can be messy. And if you don't want your own kid to read about the dark mess that life can be, that's your prerogative. I respect that as an educator.

But come to my classroom. Hear the beautiful arguments that the reading of this dark literature ignites. Tell me that the end of Jacqueline Woodson's If You Come Softly isn't a reality for some kid somewhere, that it couldn't be a reality for my own brothers if they're in the wrong part of town, and tell me where else my students would learn about this reality. Tell me that these kids aren't learning, that they aren't taking something away from the novels they read as more than a guide for destructive behaviors.

Come see the community we create, then tell me we're wrong.

My Reading Slump

Since the end of my semester teaching 8th grade, I've been in a reading slump. I don't know what caused it, but I've been having a hard time finding a book that I have really gotten into. And that makes me sad.

I went on an excursion today with my school's Rockin' Librarian and came home with two books: Okay for Now by Gary Schmidt and  Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride. Rockin' Librarian read Okay for Now, and if I recall correctly, she liked it. I've seen that title, along with Hold Me Closer, Necromancer on many Centurion's reading lists, so I decided it might be time to give them a go, even though I have a box full of books just waiting to be read.

My choice for first: Hold Me Closer, Necromancer because of what Sherman Alexie said on the cover: "This is a SCARY funny book OR a FUNNY scary book. In either case, it is a GREAT book. I LOVE iT" (capitalization in original). It's the funny that's a draw for me. I think it's time for a funny book and since I have to wait until August for Beauty Queens by Libba Bray, Hold Me Closer, Necromancer it is. I'll let you know what I think.

Happy reading & DFTBA

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Books I Read in May

I've been in a reading slump the last few weeks, but here are the books I read in May. Links go to blog posts about those books.

The Sweet Far Thing by Libba Bray
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Bone: Tall Tales by Thomas E. Sniegoski
The Strange Case of the Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
Boot Camp by Todd Strasser
The Raven (Skeleton Creek #4) by Patrick Carman
Zen and the Art of Faking It by Jordan Sonnenblick
Give a Boy a Gun by Todd Strasser
Shine by  Lauren Myracle
Rebel Angels (Gemma Doyle #2) by Libba Bray
Voices after Midnight by Richard Peck

In need of book recommendations

The video explains why I’m asking for this. Thanks in advance. We are decreasing education suck by educating teachers about the powers of young adult literature.
Some of the categories I need books for:
-A book you love that has been challenged or censored
-graphic novel
-coming of age
-strong female voice
-strong male voice
-vivid setting
-a book you could see reading in a science, history, health, technology, etc. class
-any other favorites that you think your English/Language Arts teachers should know about or wish they had known about.
Leave comments here, or in any of the following places:
http://dft.ba/-mso (my facebook page)
In Your Pants: http://dft.ba/-tBU