Slice of Life Tuesday: Mixed Feelings

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Low point = Staff meeting called to tell us that our school is closing in June 2018

High point = NCTE Annual Conference and reunion with all my PLNs from afar

I’m exhausted tonight. Mentally and physically exhausted. I think the past 7 days have given me that full gamut of emotion that makes me want to just get under the covers and sleep.

Sleep to escape.

Sleep to dream new dreams.

Sleep to re-adjust, renew, and rekindle the fire.

Sleep.

 

Image: http://www.clipartmasters.com/clip-arts/sleeping-clip-art-65739.png

 

 

IMWAYR: The Creativity Project

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My plan was to start tomorrow, but I opened The Creativity Project by Colby Sharp tonight after a longer-than-expected drive home from the NCTE annual conference, and fell in love immediately with the structure of this amazing text. I’m sure I’ll read this one quickly again, and later slow down and really ponder the wonder of this amazing project. Colby Sharp is the co-founder of the Nerdy Book Club, so by nature, he is a reader and writer. He asked several authors to supply creative writing prompts for each other, then sent packages to authors with the prompts, asking each to share their writing/creating process. He wanted to share (with his elementary school students) how writers come up with ideas and “observe the way that creativity works.”

Mr. Sharp wrote in the introduction, “A few weeks later, the pieces started coming in, and HOLY SMOKES! I was completely blown away.” As I flipped through the pages tonight myself, perusing the structure of the book, I, too, was in awe of the prompts themselves and the projects that were submitted. For example, author Peter Brown submitted this prompt: “Create something that includes a tree looking out-of-place.” Illustrator Lauren Castillo answered with a drawing of a city scene, and there’s a tree there, looking quite out-of-place.

I can’t wait to read this book deeply and maybe even try something myself. Thank you, Mr. Sharp, for challenging all of us — experts and amateurs —  to create!

(The Creativity Project, by Colby Sharp, and published by Little, Brown and Company, will be out in April, 2018.)

 

 

Middle Level Matters — #NCTE17

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The NCTE Annual Conference began with a question from the #middlelevelmatters meeting: What would YOU write about? This year is the 25th anniversary for the professional journal, Voices From the Middle, and a special edition was unveiled. (Thank you for the copy, NCTE!) This collection of past articles from the journal inspired talk, about struggles and celebrations, and included a challenge — to write.

What will I write about? I’ll write about my reading, my thinking, and my goals for the future as a literacy educator. Since I love sharing my learning, I hope you will join me.

I’ll consider the hashtag presented last Thursday evening: #middlelevelmatters. Middle school is a crazy time for students and their teachers, and I love the days I spend living in the mix of it all. The three main take-aways presented at the NCTE conference about middle level learners are: 1) they need a voice, 2) they need choice, and 3) they need to know that someone loves them.

Stay tuned for posts about these three vital parts of middle level education.

(Image shared from www2.ncte.org)

 

 

#NCTE17

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It’s over. I’m exhausted. The last few days at the NCTE annual conference were THE BEST days of my professional year, and I was happy to share time with all my literacy friends. Some friends I met for the first time in person, and others I got to see again after a long year apart. Thank you all for your kindness, your support, and your generous sharing of ideas!

Ok, That’s IT! (It’s Reading That Creates Better Readers)

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Ok, That’s It! I can’t take it anymore!

(NOTE: The following is an opinion piece meant to voice my own reflections about teaching reading and spreading the love of reading far and wide. I do not state specific research here — only what I have encountered in my years as an educator in general statements. Please be advised: I am only writing here. Please discuss with positive intent to improve reading education for students’ lifelong success.)

Every day I read research, posts on social media, journal articles, you name it. Each person or company attempts to sell their wares with the claim that they (and only they) can help students to achieve in the area of reading in school. AR (Accelerated Reader) gets the brunt of the criticism (maybe AR is the most widely used/well-known program for reading? I don’t know.), but there are other highly touted programs out there that claim high growth/better student achievement. Low test scores, lack of student growth, decreasing student achievement, poor school grades, are all indicators that something must be done about teaching reading in school. Students are failing. Schools are failing. Teachers are blamed, parents are blamed, schools are blamed. Politicians make grand speeches about how they can “fix” our schools. The hole that is student failure in reading is getting deeper. IF you ask “them.”

So what can we (namely, teachers) DO about this fiasco? I have a few ideas.

  1. Make reading in school FUN again. The fondest memories I have of school reading are of teachers who read aloud fantastic stories (using the voices of characters!) and showed us wonderful covers of beautiful books in well-stocked libraries, where we could choose what we wanted to read to take home. We got to use free time to peruse almanacs, maps, atlases, and we talked about the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not tales that grossed us out the most. Every year, my family saved money for the Scholastic Book Fair, because we would get new books to read and share. I was a good reader because I read. We read a lot.
  2. Make real reading a priority. Real reading. That means no snippets of articles or excerpts of stories that have been torn apart and meticulously “leveled” back together to “help” children read. Real reading. That means real books — not basal readers. Real reading. That means real authors weaving their own creations and illustrators designing the pages to make readers say,”Ah! Wow! Awesome!” Real reading, where students are led to practice (at least 20 minutes a day, uninterrupted, in school) with the help of a qualified reading teacher and supports that are there and can be taken away so students can transfer their learning from one text to another. (Yes, this means direct instruction, led by a teacher, and not a computer monitor.)
  3. Invite teachers to attend professional development: conferences, workshops, classes, etc. that will enhance their skills in teaching reading. Build PLNs (Professional Learning Networks) where teachers can learn with other educators and support each other in the work. (Yes! It’s work. That’s okay.) Have teachers practice “best practices” in reading, and watch how they — and their students — grow.
  4. Promote reading/literacy in each community in the nation. (Not just the affluent communities) Education is important, and reading is important for one to become an educated, intelligent citizen of our world. Be a reader yourself, spend time talking about reading, and spread the book love! (This is my favorite part of being a reader in the global community.)

I attended the IRA (International Reading Association, now International Literacy Association) Annual Conference in Minneapolis in 2009. I remember rushing to a session on reading research that would explain how to improve student achievement in reading (my area of teaching). I was so excited; I sat on the edge of my seat with my notebook in hand. I heard about research that spanned 5 years, with over a thousand subjects. At the end of the presentation, the main presenter looked at the crowd and asked, “You know what we found?” (“What? Tell me!” I thought. I readied my pen to the paper.) He gave a long pause and studied the faces looking back at him, and he smiled.

He said, “The more you read, the better reader you become.” 

I gasped (I could hear it.), I thought to myself, “What? Duh! I knew that!” Reading creates better readers.

 

Slice of Life Tuesday: Just write it!

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I worked all day (every period full of life and middle school drama) and met up with a former colleague after school (always nice to catch up). When I got home I did some laundry, put the dishes away, talked to my husband for a while, and started watching the Cubs. But there’s one thing I didn’t do today…

I didn’t write.

So, there I was, scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, all the while thinking, “I should write my Slice today. I need to get that done.” I watched more TV, and checked my email. Then I opened Twitter again. After all day, here’s what I found:

 

 

 

 

So here I am, typing my Slice. Sometimes you need a good kick in the butt. Thank you, Jess Keating and Kelly Gallagher, for motivating me to write tonight. Now I intend to watch more of the Cubs, but I’m more likely to fall asleep within the hour.

IMWAYR: Revisiting Smoky Night by Eve Bunting

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Several weeks ago, I was upset that the news carried stories about devastation from hurricanes, but not the wildfires in Montana. This week fires have destroyed beautiful parts of California, and people are left with nothing. Today for my “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading?” self-assignment, I revisited Smoky Night, by Eve Bunting. It seemed appropriate. 

Smoky Night surrounds Daniel, his Mama, and his cat on the night of a fire that displaced tenants of an apartment building. It’s a scary night, a sad night, and yet a night of meeting and taking care of one’s neighbors when there is need. People were rioting in the streets, stealing from Morton’s Appliances, and throwing items from Fashion Shoes. It’s chaos, and yet Eve Bunting allows the reader to feel hopeful as firefighters arrive, as the neighbors met at the church hall, which transformed to a shelter, and as the tenants became friends.

Another reason I read Smoky Night again was to recapture the magic of picture books, especially Caldecott Award winners from the past. This book won a Caldecott Medal in 1995, and it is just as timely today. Viewing the matches at the opening, to the splotches of paint, to the bubble wrap on page 4, to the leather shoe bottoms, to the fabric cut to look like flames, to…well, just look! It’s fascinating the art that went into this work of art.

If you find the time, read Smoky Night for yourself — for the first or fortieth time. You won’t be disappointed.

(Image courtesy of http://www.goodreads.com. My copy’s cover is worn out!)

 

 

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