Saturday, August 29, 2015

Reading Freedom

I'm reading The Summer of Letting Go by Gae Polisner, and the incredible experience has made me think about what I must do for my students.

I am falling in love with this book and I want to talk about my confusion, ask questions, quote favorite parts and talk to the author. There's no worksheet with pre-made questions. They wouldn't interest me anyway because they aren't my questions. I don't have a study guide and I certainly didn't study any vocabulary words before reading. I'm not creating a plot pyramid or creating a character web. I certainly hope there won't be any essay questions at the end.

I might just read this book straight through tonight because I have nothing else I'd rather do at the moment.

Wouldn't it be sad if I had to stop at chapter 12? What if this book was a genre that I'd already read too many books from? Or, heaven forbid, it wasn't in my reading level and I was discouraged from checking it out?

I want to create these types of reading experiences for my students as often as possible.

In order to inspire and engage my 150 middle schoolers, they need to have reading freedom. Freedom to choose books that interest them. Freedom to read without answering prescribed questions or defining/writing sentences for vocabulary words some company thought they needed to know. Freedom to read as much of a book as they want, or even to finish a book in one setting.

Freedom to ask their own questions. Freedom to reread or stop and talk about their book with someone else. Freedom to ask/tweet the author (if possible) to gain insight or express their emotional reactions. Freedom to write/blog about their experience for a broad audience (and not just the students in their class).

Reading freedom.

I've had it all summer. I've chosen every one of the 50+ books I've read since school let out. I've read more on some days, and less on busier ones. I sometimes read a few at once. I've tweeted authors, and often heard back from them. (A thrill every single time) I've talked with my Twitter PLN, both online and in person, about these books. I've bought copies of many of these books for my new classroom so I can book talk them to my students (and have great discussions). I've chosen whatever I felt like reading at the time: many recommended by respected fellow book nerds.

I've had plenty of reading freedom. If I want students to love reading like I do, I need to free their reading experiences, too.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

I Say Yes to the Desk

     Today's post is inspired by my good friend, Jess Lifshitz (@JessLif), who boldly claimed to have a not-so-fancy classroom. Here is Jess' post She said she prepared her room with a reading theme, not one she copied from Pinterest, and not one where everything had to match or be a specific color. She designed her classroom for function and with her students in mind. Places for them to find books, read books, talk about books and share books. There is space for exploring their writing lives, as well as space to gather together and celebrate reading and writing. Jess has made supplies and a plethora of books easy accessible for when her students need them.

     I moved schools this year, and my classroom (converted from a collaborative math teacher space to a 6th grade classroom) is not quite ready for me to make it my own. However, I have been dreaming about and envisioning ways to recreate the wonderful aspects of my previous classroom. You see, my theme has always been focused on reading, writing, speaking and listening. Books are everywhere. That's the way I like it.

     In addition my classroom library of books, I display and hang up various MN Twins items I've collected over the years. This tells my students about me as a person, just like Jess' duck collection shares a bit about herself with hers.

That said, I'm going to make a bold statement myself...

I'm not giving up my teacher desk.

There, I said it. I'm saying yes to the desk!

     For the same reasons I'm not going to stop putting a little of myself in my room before the students arrive, I'm going to have a teacher desk for my belongings. A place for me to do my work when the students aren't in the room (prep, lunch, before/after school). A place that says that I am important in this classroom, too.

     Just like students have lockers and desks, I want and need a place to make my own. The rest of the room is shared with my students. There will be a place for supplies, alternate seating, and many places to spread out and collaborate. Students will be part of almost every decision, and we will cultivate a classroom where our geniuses are celebrated and respected.

     You see, having a teacher desk doesn't mean that I can't have a student-led classroom. It doesn't mean that I feel like I am more important than my students. It doesn't mean that I feel superior. It just means that I'll have a place for my belongings, pictures of my family, and MN Twins memorabilia that help me feel comfortable in our shared space. Before long, student work will fill the walls and be visible through the classroom.

     I am speaking up on behalf of teachers who don't feel that keeping a teacher desk makes us any less able to connect with our students. Those who know that they don't sit behind it while the students work, but who only use it when students are not in the room. Those who don't feel that having a teacher desk makes our students feel less a part of the classroom.

So I have Twins memorabilia up. It helps my students know more about me and might encourage them to share about themselves. It doesn't mean all students have to like the Twins.

So I have an all-star author wall, showcasing incredible MG and YA authors. It helps my students give different authors a chance. It doesn't mean those are the only authors my students can read, or that I won't add their favorites throughout the year.

So I have a classroom door that proudly displays all of the books I have read over the summer. It helps me connect with students through book talks. It helps my students start sharing their reading lives with me and their classmates. It doesn't mean that my book choices are the only ones.

So, I have a teacher desk. It helps me feel like I am a part of our classroom. It doesn't mean that I have to have control of my students and make sure they know that. It's not a power trip. It's just a desk.

If you got rid of your teacher desk, that's your decision and I respect that.

I, for one, am saying yes to the desk.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Men(tors) On Sticks

Ok, I'll admit to having men on sticks in my classroom.

Let me explain.

They are pictures of men's faces. They are laminated and affixed to Popsicle sticks. These men  are actually my teaching mentors. I use them for educational purposes.

Here's how it started:

I had been using the reading/writing books and ideas of master high school English teacher/author Kelly Gallagher for years. Then came the speaking & listening books of communication guru/teacher/speaker/author Erik Palmer. Next, it was the student engagement "create experiences" teacher/author/educational pirate entertainer Dave Burgess (of Teach Like a Pirate fame). Most recently, I came to know the student-led-classroom work of award-winning teacher (before he was a published author) Paul Solarz.

As I prepared for the 2014-15 school year, excited to tap into my inner (insert any one of the above mentioned gentlemen), I pondered how I could help connect their lessons and ideas to my students. I thought, "wouldn't it be wonderful to have these educators do the teaching?" Knowing that wasn't possible for obvious reasons, I decided to do the next best thing: put their faces on sticks and hold them up in front of my face when I introduced a new concept or strategy. Yes, you heard that right. Essentially, I wore masks of these fine men.

I became Kelly Gallagher when I taught my students the six real-world writing purposes and shared  reasons to read. When I showed them how to sneeze on their papers to get their ideas out. When I avoided Readicide by NOT teaching a book or short story to death.

I became Erik Palmer when I taught and modeled PVLEGS so my students could speak effectively. When I gave them numerous speaking and listening opportunities so they could become better. When I taught them the five types of evidence and introduced them to syllogisms and ACOVA.

I became Dave Burgess when I had my students use play doh on the first day of school to share
something about themselves. When I immersed myself in my passion, encouraging my students to do the same. When I used many of his incredible hooks to create experiences for them, and not just lessons. When I covered all my walls with black plastic tablecloths and hosted campfire flashlight reading day.

I became Paul Solarz when I introduced student e-portfolios. When we started Mystery Skypes. When I started using Paul's book ideas like "Give Me Five" to help create my version of a student-led classroom.

Although my students have seen their teacher wear these educator masks to help them learn so many incredible things, they've also been fortunate to meet most of these men either virtually or face to face. We Skyped with Dave Burgess back in September and did a Mystery Skype with Paul Solarz and his class this spring. Most incredibly, we Skyped with Erik Palmer numerous times, and had an actual 2-day face to face visit from him in May. A highlight of our year for sure!

Are there other men(tors) I'd like to put onto sticks? Yes, there's Matt Miller for when I ditch my textbook and add something new to my digital classroom. There's Michael Matera for when I introduce some gamification. There's Don Wettrick for when I introduce Genius Hour again.

However, I better add a few women(tors) too. My students thought it wasn't fair that females
were originally left out. Very soon, Donalyn Miller, Teri Lesesne, Pernille Ripp, Julie Smith and Kyleen Beers (with Bob Probst) will be added to my collection.

Now that you know the backstory, I'll bet my men(tors) on sticks idea doesn't seem so weird.

Naaah,  it probably still does. :)

Sunday, August 16, 2015

53 Precious Minutes

53 Minutes


53 minutes?

I only have 53 minutes with each of my ELA classes?

How can I possibly teach my Ss reading, writing, speaking and listening using highly engaging, outside-the-box, globally connected activities in just 53 minutes each day?

I don't care about "covering" curriculum, but I do care about getting to know the reading interests of each and every one of my 140 students. I do care about knowing where they've been as readers. I do care about who they are as writers: what interests them and what they need to improve. I do care about developing and nurturing communication skills, which are life skills.

I care so much that I want to make the most of the time I have with my students. Here are 53 experiences to engage my students in those 53 minutes.

1. Weekly book blogs on Kidblogs

2. Socratic and Platonic seminars

3. Literature circles

4. Kelly Gallagher's Reading Reasons

5. Notice & Note Fiction Signposts

6. Non-Fiction Notice & Note Stances, Signposts & Strategies

7. Reading Minutes

8. Daily Independent Reading

9. Classroom Library Choice Reading

10. QR code book trailers

11. Blind Dating Books

12. Speed Dating Books

13. Book Talks

14. Author Skypes

15. Global Read Aloud

16. Biblionasium bookshelves and recommendations

17. Voxer chats with other classes

18. Articles of the Week (from Kelly Gallagher)

19. Writing Sneezes

20. Gallagher's Six Real-World Writing Purposes

21. March Madness Book Battles

22. E-Portfolios

23. PVLEGS & ACOVA lessons and practice (from Erik Palmer)

24. makerspace opportunities

25. Student-selected reading goals (similar to Donalyn's 40-book challenge)

26. Book Shelfies

27. Craft Writing Lessons

28. Editing Lessons (Sentence of the Week, from Kelly Gallagher)

29. Campfire/flashlight reading

30. Flipgrid videos

31. Legos and Play doh experiences (no, I'm serious)

32. Class Twitter to share our experiences

33. Student Twitter chats

34. GHO with other classes

35. Six Thinking Hats

36. Found Poetry and Blackout poetry

37. World Read-Aloud Day

38. Mentor Texts

39. Read-alouds

40. Cardboard Challenge

41. Shared Google Documents

42. Sketch notes to show learning

43. Global School Day of Play

44. Touchcast (green screen)

45. Augmented Reality

46. Pirate Hooks

47. International Dot Day

48. TodaysMeet book clubs

49. Padlet Walls for books we've read

50. Genius Hour/Passion Time

51. TPFASTT for poetry/song lyrics

52. Flashback Friday

53. #youmatter

I'm sure we will fill up our 53 minutes with many more opportunities throughout the year. That's the beauty of a connected classroom with a connected teacher.

Every minute is precious!

Thursday, August 13, 2015

My Twitter Chat Menu

Tuesday night's #6thchat got me thinking.

It was hosted by Michael Matera (gamification guru), who I had the extreme pleasure to meet in person at Summer Spark in June. The chat obviously focused on how teachers can gamify their classrooms. This is an area I don't know much about, and I was drawn in to the possibilities for my ELA classes. I was nervous at first, wondering if my ideas were way off base. Soon though, Michael tweeted encouraging words, and before I knew it, I had a list of personalized gamification ideas.

I was jazzed after the chat ended. It got me thinking about what I get out of the chats I choose to join (or host). That #6thchat felt different: I was a gamification novice all the way through. I didn't have much teacher experience to throw into the ring.

That was ok since my purpose was not to share or lead, but to listen and learn.

I realized that when I join or host a chat, I choose from different options; a Twitter Chat Menu of sorts.

  • I share: book titles in #titletalk, activities I've done in #5thchat, ways I've pirated my classroom in #tlap, resources in ##2ndaryela, #5thchat, #6thchat, funny thoughts about that night's topic in #weirded 

  • I discuss: pedagogy in #nbtchat and #whatisschool, strategies for teaching speaking & listening in #5thchat, teaching English in #2ndaryELA, #nctechat, #bproots, and #aplitchat, leadership qualities in #satchat, #satchatwc and #mnlead

  • I learn: ways to implement book ideas in #tlap, #ditchbook, #learnlap, writing strategies in #teachwriting, information about many relevant topics in #5thchat, #6thchat and now #2ndaryela

  • I stretch: myself to apply best practice and fresh ideas to my content, like in #6thchat tonight, often in #sstlap, I expand my thinking of education on a global scale with #whatisschool

Sometimes I know what I will choose from the Twitter Chat Menu, making a decision based on my current tastes and dietary needs. Other times, I don't know what I will choose until I get there. Speaking of that, I'll admit that I wasn't sure gamification would work in my ELA classroom until I was in the chat. Thinking I would just lurk and learn, I found myself sampling more and more from the Stretch part of the menu.

When choosing Twitter chats, I think it's important to visit all parts of the menu. Sometimes I share my experience and ideas, while other times I am in the mood for a deep discussion, like in the past 6 weeks (and continuing tonight) of #ditchbook. I feel that I always sample learning in whatever chat I join, but need to select the stretch portion more often.

On my menu tonight:
Discussing and Sharing in tonight's #LitLead at 8 CST, focused on differentiatng instruction
Stretching in tonight's #sstlap, also at 8 CST, applying ideas in video clips for use in our classrooms
Discussing and Stretching in tonight's #ditchbook at 9 CST, focusing on Matt Miller's "The Digital Pirate"

What's on your Twitter Chat Menu?

Monday, August 10, 2015

Put Yourself Out There!

How is my recent experience hosting a six-week #ditchbook (Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller) Twitter book study chat connected to a Kelly Gallagher writing workshop?

Let's check out the six degrees of separation that fell into place when I put myself out there.

1- I attended a 3-day Kelly Gallagher writing conference in Eau Claire, WI.  Kelly Gallagher encouraged me (and the other attendees) to join Twitter. Of course, I did.

2- I started lurking in Twitter chats, until I joined one (#tlap), and was welcomed by the author of Teach Like a Pirate, Dave Burgess @burgessdave. This chat became a part of my Monday night routine and I met many wonderful pirate educators, including Heidi Jones @MrsJones_Merton (a fabulous 5th grade teacher from WI).

3- From the educators in #tlap, I found out about the Thursday #sstlap (Teach Like a Pirate for Social Studies teachers), and began participating in that chat. I met more pirate teachers, including host Ben Brazeau @Braz74 and rock star SS teachers like Chuck Taft @Chucktaft.

4- This spring, Chuck Taft shared information about an incredible new edcamp/unconference opportunity called Summer Spark @USMSpark, held at the University School of Milwaukee (where Chuck Taft teaches). Not only was Dave Burgess the keynote speaker, but I volunteered to present about teaching speaking and listening, and Chuck approved my session. If that wasn't incredible enough, I asked Heidi Jones (who lives close to USM) to stay at her house and go together. She said yes, and plans were made.

5- Heidi and I attended Summer Spark in June. Among many other phenomenal members of my Twitter PLN, I met Dave Burgess, Chuck Taft, and teacher Matt Miller @jmattmiller (author of Ditch That Textbook) face to face. That first night of the conference, Heidi and I were lucky enough to have dinner with Dave Burgess and Matt Miller (with a few other fabulous educators), after which we live tweeted that night's #tlap chat. I had just bought Matt's book and he and I had some great conversation between tweets.

6- Once I returned home and read the book, I asked Matt if anyone was planning a #ditchbook book study or chat. My good friend (and health/PE teacher) Jenny Wamsley @JennyWamsley had contacted Matt about starting a #ditchbook Voxer group. Matt was on board for both, so we made plans and started the chat on July 2nd.

As Heidi would say, "Awesomesauce!" 

There is my six degrees of separation connection between Kelly Gallagher and Matt Miller.

I put myself out there. 
I tried new things. 
I took advantage of opportunities. 
I connected with other educators.  

When I think about all the awesome experiences I've had over the past few years, their roots can all be traced back to putting myself out there and connecting with educators via Twitter or Voxer.

My former colleague Laura Wagenman just started putting herself out there. She became more active on Twitter, presented her awesome math strategies at a summer teacher workshop, and recently started blogging. I'd encourage you to follow her journey @laura_wagenman 

I am excited for the year ahead and all of the amazing opportunities for me and for my students.
Many will be the subjects of future blog posts. I have to pinch myself sometimes when I think about all of the incredible educators, authors, leaders and friends in my PLN. 

Who knows who/what you're six degrees away from? 

Amazing things can happen when you put yourself out there. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

I'm a Bookaholic

My name is Sandy, and I'm a bookaholic. 

I love opening up the first page of a new book and discovering the creative way this author will draw me in to their story. I relish being in the middle of a book: far enough in to be completely lost in the characters and their dilemmas, yet quite a distance from the end that I know anything can still happen. Then, there are the final few chapters, when I simultaneously drag my feet (not wanting it to be over) and speed read to discover the plot's resolution. 

I enjoy watching my bookmark make its way through the pages of a mammoth novel, traveling through the story's highs and lows with beloved and despised characters. Yet, I stick a shorter one in there from time to time so I can devour it in one sitting. My favorite genre is science fiction, but I love an emotional YA realistic fiction filled with drama and teenage angst. Granted, there was plenty of teenage angst and drama in most of the science fiction I've read this summer. 

I brought home a box of about 50 books from my classroom library to read over the summer. Books that I bought during the year that I haven't yet had a chance to read. Books that students raved about and were never on my library shelves. Books outside my preferred genre that I decided deserved a chance. Books I want to read so I can book talk them to my new students (channeling Donalyn Miller and Teri Lesesne). 

I'm such a book junkie, however, that I've hardly touched that box. Instead, I've engaged in my summer addiction at the public library. My heart races every time I head to the YA section to see which new titles are available. I'll spend time reading the book flaps to see which stories I want to dive into. I'll scan the shelves for books the librarian stood with covers facing out to entice us readers. I do the same in my classroom, so I know they are books worth checking out. I'll seek out authors I've read and loved since they're also solid choices. Then, there are the titles suggested via tweets or blog posts by respected book junkies like myself. Chats like #titletalk increase the likelihood of another huge stack at the public library checkout counter. I've read over 30 books this summer that I didn't even know existed at the end of last school year. I'm so glad I did, but that original box of 50 is still waiting.

Today, I am driving ten hours home from a wonderful visit with family. After finishing a book, I Am Shadow, last night, I had a slight case of withdrawals when I started driving this morning. I have no current book. No first pages read and no characters that I'm getting to know. No plot that's thickening. No twists or a-ha moments. No bookmark in any book. No worries since I have many books to choose from while my son takes over driving for a few hours. (I brought a large book bag full.) 

I'm excited as I consider which book to sink my teeth into next. I know there's another engaging plot and interesting characters to discover, all contained in its pages. Maybe it will be one of my favorites: science fiction or realistic fiction. Maybe that exciting new fantasy everyone's talking about. Maybe one of the books I brought home back in June. 

I love all of these feelings, and I want classes full of bookaholics next year. Students who enjoy reading for pleasure. Students who have and rely on either physical or online book stacks. Students who move their bookmarks as fast or slow as their lives allow. Students who have a favorite genre, but give other books a chance when a peer (or teacher) recommends them. Students who are addicted to reading and might even experience similar "I'm in between books" withdrawal. Students who don't need an incentive or reading log for motivation. 

If I do my job well, I'll create or stimulate students' book additions. When that happens, consider my ELA class one big self-help group.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Who I Read For

Every summer, I read lots of books. I mean lots! Yes, I read for pleasure because I truly love reading. However, I also read for my students. Students I haven't met. Lives I know nothing about. Struggles I have yet to hear. Joys I have yet to share. Children whose lives will soon become intertwined with mine. Names, faces, and hearts that will become part of my world. So, yes, I read books in the hope that I can find titles and stories that my students need. Books that I can put in their hands at just the right time. So far this summer, here's who I read for.

I read We All Looked Up for students who need to appreciate the little moments in life. Those who enjoy stories of the "what ifs" of catastrophic events. Those who have read books like Life as We Know it

I read Shooter for students who may have questions about gun control laws or who struggle with feelings of isolation. Those who like books written in a different format. Those who liked Nineteen Minutes.

I read Memory Key for fans of science fiction. Those who find government control of people's minds creepy, yet alluring. Fans of Bar Code Tattoo and Unwind.

I read Make Lemonade for students who like down-on-your-luck stories with a plucky main character. Those who need an "I can overcome obstacles" tale, especially one with a female lead.

I read Between the Lines for students who like Jodi Picoult books with teen main characters, like My Sister's Keeper and The Pact. Those who are interested in the idea of characters from a book interacting (and falling in love) with their readers. Those who are intrigued by the idea that book characters lead a different life when the book is shut. (The companion book, Off the Page, is on my book stack. I'm sure my students and I will enjoy it as well.)

I read Ignite Me and Unravel Me for students who read and loved the first book in the trilogy, Shatter Me. Those who wonder what it would be like to never be able to touch anyone, for fear of killing them. Those who fear the idea of the wrong people harnessing that power for evil.

I read This World We Live In, The Dead and the Gone, and The Shade of the Moon for students who loved Life as We Knew It. Those who want to hear other perspectives of a world where a meteor pushes the moon off its axis, causing havoc. Those who need other points of view to help make sense of a tragedy.

I read Blood Wounds for students who like Susan Beth Pfeffer and realistic fiction stories with characters who are either hunted or on the run. Also, for those who like a back story that the main character didn't see coming.

I read Blood Will Tell for students who (like me) love April Henry "Point Last Seen" mysteries. Those who would like to put themselves in the shoes of a teenage search and rescue team, and who love trying to solve the crime before the main character does. Those who think adults don't give kids enough credit.

I read Claim to Fame and House on the Gulf for fans of Margaret Peterson Haddix books (like Game Changer, Double Identity, Turnabout and Full Ride). Those who liked the Among the Hidden and The Missing series and who sometimes want a little science fiction mixed in with their realistic fiction. Those who want science fiction books with female main characters and not much romance or violence.

I read The Bunker Diary for students who like a good kidnapping/adventure story. Those who revel in ambiguity: who are ok with all the loose ends not necessarily being tied up. Those who like to analyze a criminal's motives.

I read What Waits in the Woods for students who like to get a little scared when they read. Those who think hiking in the woods with the feeling like someone is watching you is exciting and terrifying. Those who like scary movies.

I read The Five Stages of Andrew Brawley for students who like to root for the misunderstood or isolated kids. Those who may have trouble fitting in, or those who like family and relationship drama.

I read Bruiser for fans of Neal Shusterman (like me). For those who like science fiction with the emotional pull of realistic fiction. Those who appreciate a loner they will care deeply about within the first few pages. Those who love a good story of friendship.

I read Grasshopper Jungle for students who like gory science fiction-the more unrealistic, the better. Those who like a story written the way teenagers think, like Winger. Relatable, raw and real. (Excited to read and introduce students to Andrew Smith's new book Stand-Off, due out in September.)

I read Boys Don't Knit (in Public) for students who feel they need to keep their hobbies and interests secret for fear of ridicule. Those who are intrigued by the title and maybe even those who want to learn the ins and outs of the knitting world.

I read Challenger Deep for students who are ready for a fabulous ride through the mind of someone with mental illness. Those who love Neal Shusterman's writing and wonder how he can blend an adventure tale on the high seas a la Pirates of the Caribbean with teenage life in a mental hospital.

I read Lost in the Sun for students who feel for characters who can't catch a break. Those who relate to small incidents that seem to magnify in the middle school setting. Those who loved Fish in a Tree and Absolutely Almost.

I read 13 Story Treehouse for students who like series books. Those who appreciate lots of pictures in their chapter books. Those who like wild stories and creativity. Fans of Timmy Failure, My Life as a _____, and The Creature From My Closet books.

I read None of the Above for students who feel disconnected with their gender, for whatever reason. Those who are misunderstood, or those who need to understand others' differences. Those who love a great story of friendship and acceptance.

I read Me Being Me is Exactly as Insane as You Being You for students as intrigued as I was about a story told only in lists. Those who have a gay parent, friend or family member. Those who struggle with who they are supposed to be. Those who like stories with characters on a journey of self-discovery.

I read Call Me By My Name for students who seek to understand a time when the color of one's  skin directly affected friendships and opportunities. Those who need to read about characters who are brave in the face of hatred. Fans of The Lions of Little Rock. Those who like a good football glory story.

I read Vanishing Girls for students who are fans of Lauren Oliver books like Panic, Before I Fall, and the Delirium trilogy. Those who like a great teenage rebellion drama. Those who like mysterious circumstances and twists. (I can't wait to introduce students to her new MG book, Curiosity House: The Shrunken Head, out in September)

I read Be Not Afraid for students who like horror movies. Fans of supernatural and creepy stories. Those who can handle being scared out of their wits.

I read Awkward for students who love graphic novels. Those who worry about fitting into middle school and wonder if they would be upstanders or bystanders. Those who liked Drama, Sisters, Smile and Roller Girl.

I read A Handful of Stars for students who like a good dog story. Those who enjoy stories of unlikely friendships and characters who challenge norms and expectations. those who liked Because of Winn Dixie.

I read Pivot Point for students who have a tough time making decisions and would jump at the opportunity to search into the futures of both choices. Those who wonder what would happen if we could harness more of our brain's potential. (I am excited to recommend the sequel, Split Second, out earlier this year.)

I read Cut for students who struggle with self-injury. Those who are trying to understand a peer who cuts to escape the pain. Those who want to root for a character to find a way to deal with her mental illness.

I read By the Time You Read This, I'll Be Dead for any student either contemplating suicide or with symptoms of depression. Those who have been bullied and need to read about a character like themselves. Or those who seek to understand what goes on inside the heads of teens who think death is the only option. Fans of Thirteen Reasons Why would like this story.

I read Circus Mirandus for students who love magic, the circus, mean old aunts, and wonderfully mysterious old grandfathers. Those who enjoy unlikely friendships and fantastical journeys. Those who hope for a happy ending right up until the last page. Those who loved The Real Boy.

I read Extraordinary Means for students who are intrigued by the possibility of previously eradicated plagues resurfacing. Those who wonder what they would do if infected with tuberculosis. Those who loved John Green's The Fault in Our Stars.
I read Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (graphic novel) for students who are not ready for the novels, but need a gateway. Those who like Greek mythology and/or other graphic novels.

Currently, I am reading I Become Shadow for students who love science fiction. Those who think the idea of people trained to be human weapons, protecting valuable citizens of the future, sounds right up their alley. Fans of Hunger Games and Divergent.

Next, I will read Tesla's Attic for students who love Neal Shusterman's books. (I guess I read a few books for these students. Yes, I am a Neal Shusterman fan.) Those who like the idea of a strange magnetic vortex in the attic, which causes objects to have extraordinary properties. Those interested in Nikola Tesla and a book with scientific details as explanations for wild occurrences.

I read for myself and my students. I'll keep reading on their behalf.

Maybe my next book will be the perfect one to recommend to a student who just hasn't found the right book. YET.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Multiple Personalities

The more books and blogs I read from my education mentors, the more confused I become.

I have found the best ideas from the brightest and most innovative educators, but they can't all fit inside my head.

Luckily, I found a solution. Take the best piece of each one and work to make it part of who I am as a teacher. Give in to the multiple personalities, so to speak.

Instead of trying to be Donalyn Miller, the book whisperer, I'll take her passion for helping students find the right books for them. I will talk about the books I read and give students time to read every day in my classroom because that's what I value. I won't bog students down with language arts and crafts. I will be nerdy.

Instead of trying to be Kelly Gallagher, I will take his passion for avoiding Readicide and guiding students through the six real-world writing purposes. I will write (sneeze) in front of my students and never teach a book to death. I will always consider what is in the best interest of my students.

Instead of trying to be Erik Palmer, I'll take his passion for teaching effective communication skills. I will teach PVLEGS from day 1, provide tons of practice and make speaking and listening an integral part of my ELA curriculum. I will also teach students how to build a speech and help them understand the difference between argument and persuasion.

Instead of trying to be Kyleen Beers and Bob Probst, I'll take their passion for finding signposts in fiction (and soon to be non-fiction) in order to help my students make connections to achieve better understanding. I'll help students ask questions to push their thinking.

Instead of trying to be Dave Burgess, I'll take his passion for creating experiences and hooking students into an excitement for learning. I'll look for ways to immerse my students in what we are doing and transform my lessons. I'll share my personal passion with students and build rapport with play-doh, Legos,  and the occasional teacher-flying-around-the-room-like-an-airplane experience.

Instead of trying to be Paul Solarz, I'll take his passion for students leading the classroom and I'll create a climate of mutual respect. I'll use "give me five" and allow all students to feel the responsibility for the way the classroom is run. I'll use peer feedback and eportfolio reflections to help students take ownership of their learning.

Instead of trying to be Matt Miller, I'll take his passion for creating a digital, paperless classroom and ditch my "textbook" ELA curriculum in favor of experiences that engage my students. I will look beyond textbooks and worksheets and give my students freedom to connect with the world outside our classroom.

Instead of trying to be the fabulous members of my PLN (you know who you are), I'll take their passionate ideas and find ways to incorporate them into my own. I'll continue to read their blog posts, scroll through their tweets, listen to their Voxes and scan their emails. I know that I can't be just like them, but I'm happy that even a little part of their brilliance can be shared with my students.

How lucky my students are to have a teacher with  multiple personalities.