Saturday, April 23, 2011

Are You Building a Classroom Library?

Last week on #engchat, a Monday evening twitter talk session on English topics, Teresa Bunner talked about ways to build your classroom library. I missed the chat, but reading the archive had me thinking about classroom libraries all week, so I thought I'd blog a few library building tips from my classroom.

Shop sales. If you live near a Scholastic Book Fair Warehouse you can shop at their bi-annual sales (December and May here in Central Florida). Ten years ago my principal gave me $1,000. to buy books at such a warehouse sale. That year our goal was to help social studies teachers build classroom libraries. We did the same thing in following years for 9th grade English and reading teachers. Then, books were typically marked 1/2 price, but now discounts run even deeper. Can you imagine how fun it was to shop for $2000 worth of young adult literature? The best year, the book fair was at our school the week prior to the sale and instead of hauling the books I'd found in my car (all 35 or so boxes of them) , the book fair folks delivered them on a pallet when they came to pick up the book fair inventory. If you live near a book fair, go! Even in lean budget years when I am only shopping for my own classroom, $50 is $100 or more dollars worth of books depending on sale prices.

Shop conferences. Do you attend national conferences?  Exhibit halls or give-aways at NCTE, ALAN, IRA can build your library. I collect enouch ARCs each year at NCTE to fill an entire book shelf. ALAN, the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents, is a must-attend. For your registration fee, you get a fantastic collection of just-out YA books (see the picture on right). Best part? Most of the authors of the books you receive  are schedule to speak and sign books over the 2-day event.

Shop or trade online.  Have you ever purchased books on eBay? Did you know several sellers will sell class sets or literature circle sets? If you're looking for a specific title you really, really want to teach or add to your library, don't forget about eBay. I discovered a lit-circle set of 6 copies of Hiaasen's Hoot for $14 in Martha's Attic Emporium, a top-rated bookseller and  room-mom for my son's 4th grade class. Used books on can also be heavily discounted and don't forget Paperback Swap. Consider weeding titles from your home or classroom library that students no longer read or that you've not re-read in some time. You can list those titles on Paperback Swap. You pay postage to other swap members when they request your books and members return the favor when you request their titles.

Just a few ways you can build or add to your classroom library. Wouldn't it be fun for a group of us to join Paperback Swap and trade amongst ourselves?

For more ideas on how to build your own classroom library, visit the Google Doc Teresa Bunner started during #engchat. Next up? Keeping track of that inventory! How do you check books in and out of your classroom library?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

You Can Only Teach 5 Scenes: Which Would You Choose?

Glenda Funk led an excellent English Chat a few weeks ago on performance and teaching Shakespeare. The archived chat is available here. Since and because I am teaching Romeo and Juliet to ninth graders this spring, I've been rethinking my approaches to the play in class.

Yesterday I ask folks on twitter what 1 scene from each of the acts they would teach if they could only teach 5 scenes. Sarah from The Reading Zone replied right away, saying she would teach the prologue, the party scene, the balcony scene and Romeo's last speech. I loved the immediacy of her reply and the excitement I can hear as she wonders about a last scene to choose:

Like Sarah, my first instinct is to teach the prologue. It summarizes the action of the play and captures the essence of the plot. In years past I've begun by teaching students how to paraphrase using the prologue. Like Texas English teacher, Carrie Ross, I might follow the prologue with Mercutio's Queen Mab speech.

Figuring out if students transfer reading comprehension strategies from accessible (independent) texts to challenging texts such as Shakespeare interests me. I do an activity with students where I ask them to visualize Queen Mab and her chariot. We read the passage together but I don't explicate or support students by paraphrasing it for them. Students draw and label their drawings with words and phrases from the text. Questions arise during the drawing, so students recognize when meaning breaks down. They ask literal level questions like "What's an atomie?" Students drawings reveal where meaning is breaking down. If Queen Mab is huge and floating in the air, obviously they've not connected the ideas between her and the sleeping men's noses. I get too much out of the activity to skip the Queen Mab speech, so that would be included in my 5 scenes.

What I enjoyed about the tweet exchanges, as usual, is the conversation. The opportunity to rethink, reframe and retool how I will teach students using Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. If you'd like to add to the conversation, send me a line on twitter  @spillarke.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Poetry Slam...Word!

Picture this: the smooth gloss of a well varnished stage, the slick slip of the wood floor, bright lights throwing heat, a heavy, red-velvet curtain, more than 300 of your peers snapping, clapping or stomping in their seats, 3 minutes on stage, 2 microphones. Could you do it? Could you stand up in front of that audience and speak your piece? That is slam poetry.

Last week was Cypress Creek High School's 4th Annual Poetry Slam and I'd like to invite you to meet the student poets I am honored to coach. Head over to our YouTube channel and check out the kids' poems. Prepare to be amazed. More on slam and how you can set up your own or grow a program that invests in youth voices soon! In the meantime, here's Bryan, student poet, video editor and YouTube channel master: