Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Nuts & Bolts

The Slice of Life Story Challenge, created and hosted by Two Writing Teachers,
Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres, starts March 1st.  Join us! Details here. 

Last week my students and I dipped into slicers' writings and we used a poem from Jennifer Mitchell to connect to our current unit and preview the Slice of Life Story Challenge. Below is a lesson snapshot from our week for this week's slice.

  • Cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text. 
  • Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. 
Students will be able to identify figurative language and use it to make inferences in order to analyze figurative language's effect on tone.

4 class periods
178 minutes

Common Texts:
Menu Mockery from Guy's American Kitchen & Bar
"As Not Seen in Classrooms" weekly Slice of Life from my blog
"All Summer in a Day" by Ray Bradbury (here or here)
"Wild Weather" by Jennifer Mitchell


Book Talks:
Ashfall by Mike McMullin
Life As We Knew It by Beth Pfieffer
First Light by Rebecca Stead
The Trap by John Smelcer

Read Aloud
Shared Reading
Independent Reading
Collaborative annotation
Word Study
Close reading
Socratic Seminar
Quick writing
Analysis frame

Chart paper
Poem text (1 per group)
Graphic organizer*: Lead/Description/Memorable Wording/Unique way of Crafting Writing/Ending

annotation charts (pictured)
analysis paragraph

* from Linda Rief printed on 11 x 17 paper

Monday, February 25, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 2/25/13

It's been a busy week, so I haven't gotten as much pleasure reading in as I would like. I've been re-reading my book, Reading Amplified to participating in the  in-book discussion and Facebook book club this week. 

This week I've enjoyed:


I'm going to use The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore to talk about the Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Two Writing Teachers. It starts March first. I've been priming the writing pump and students are excited to take on the challenge and connect to other slicers.  If you'd like to participate check out the nuts and bolts for getting starting in the classroom challenge here or the adult challenge here.

 Coming up:


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

As Not Seen in Classrooms

Serve up your  slice during The Slice of Story Challenge  in March and on Tuesdays
sponsored  by  Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres of Two Writing Teachers 

My students and I have been reading about fast food and writing. We read quite a few restaurant reviews as mentor texts for our own review writing. My favorite from the reviews we've read is Pete Well's review of Guy's American Kitchen and Bar, "As Not Seen on TV." Rhetorical questions make up the entire review. We read the piece as our article of the week last week. We discussed it in terms of writing style and content during our Thursday Socratic Seminar. Students were fascinated with the style. So much so that they asked to imitate it--some in their own reviews and others just to play. Of course, I ditched my post-Socratic plans and chased that happy.  To their request I replied, "Sure! Let's try it. Why don't you write about teachers, just in general no names, and I'll write about students." Students faces lit up.

*               *            *

Do we look like monkeys to you? Do you realize that you could take all of those papered assignments and design a boat, then sail off into the ocean? Do you think that would work? Would all of the red pen splotches fool the sharks into mistaking it for blood? Maybe your jokes about pencils and calculators would stop them from eating you? 

Do you like to hover over me like I'm a five year old? Does it make you feel motherly and nurturing? Can you not accuse me, of all people, of doing something wrong when I've been in my seat for the past 45 minutes? Don't you have papers to grade or a job to do? Do you expect us to do the work you assign even though it's as boring as watching paint dry? Are you willing to give up your holiday to work for us? 

Do you get scared when you're stopped by a police officer on the highway and he walks toward your window carrying his speeding ticket pad? Do you think showing me a pink referral form will scare me? Do you enjoy the look on everyone's faces when you say the words "pop quiz"? If you wanted to be a comedian why did you become a teacher? 

*          *          *

 I compiled the lines students liked best from many of their quick writes. What we noticed after we shared and read them was that we all have lots of experience complaining about things teachers do that aggravate us, but we'd have to draft and draft again to add the level of detail and comparison to our own questions that Wells uses. Sometimes we missed the humor mark and criticisms made students say, "Whoah!" They cringed a little and then checked my face as students read aloud. I wasn't bothered, but there were a few lines that made me sad--why are some teachers so ___ (insert critical adjective of choice)?  hen I shared the lines with my student poets they saw a slam piece in the making. We'll see.

One student noted, "It's hard to write like this." Indeed it is.

Do check out the New York Time's Common Core, Friday posts. In this one, teachers, Jonathan Olsen and Sarah Gross, share their ideas for using Pete Well's articles.

Monday, February 18, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 2/18/13

It's Monday! What Are You Reading  is hosted by Jen and Kellee of Teach Mentor Texts  and inspired by Shelia of Book Journey. Find reviews, titles and books to share all tagged IMWAYR. 

Last week I took a trip to the library after school instead of going to Camp Gladiator, a boot camp workout I love (shh...don't tell my trainer). I actually skipped the workout because I was still sick,  but not sick enough to stay home any longer and not sick enough to warrant an oxygen tent in a hospital.

The free afternoon presented a perfect mid-week library opportunity.  I've been wanting to read more picture books, so I settled into the children's section while my son took off for the teen and graphic shelves. Here are a few of the books I enjoyed.

 Roy Makes a Car written by Mary E. Lyons and illustrated by Terry Widener drew me to it first because the title reminded me of If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen, a book about a boy who dreams and builds a futuristic car. Second, the cover is absolutely gorgeous. Widener's art shines like chrome fenders and peals out like a hotrod showing off--the color and detail, just love it. I also love how the story is based on an urban legend captured by Zora Neal Hurston right here in Central Florida. I will definitely order this one and use it to connect to futures thinking and local history and myth and legend.

Lester's Dreadful Sweaters written and illustrated by K.G. Campbell made me laugh out loud! Outrageous these "sweaters" Cousin Clara creates. When Lester turned to devious destruction methods to destroy the sweaters and avoid embarrassment, I  heard echoes of  Edward Gorey's The Gashlie Crumb Tinies and laughed all the more. Loved Campbell's use of alliteration and how it lightened Lester's trials.

 I can't resist Audrey Wood and Mark Teague. Sweet Dream Pie was one of my son's favorites (as were Teague's illustration in all of Jane Yolen's Dinosaur books), so when I saw it on the shelf I had to reread it and think about what ingredients would go into making my dreams come true.

School Lunch by written and illustrated by True Kelley called to mind of Annie Lamott's "School Lunches" from Bird by Bird. Different audience, different purpose, same topic--there are lessons there.

I went on a bit of a horrible, terrible sweater jag in my reading choices. The Truly Terribly Horrible Sweater that Grandma Knit written by Debbie Macomber and Mary Lou Carney and illustrated by Vincent Ngyuen delighted me with its family and relationships. I love the learning and change of heart Cameron experiences. What power objects and images have on memory. There are even directions for how to knit written for kids (and another for adults) in the back of the book. 

Little Night written and illustrated by Yuyi Morales inspired me with color and shape. Whimsy and love fill each page and I delighted in the mother-daughter relationship. A gorgeous book, I can see using it to connect to creation myths. 

I also read several young adult titles, the best of which was the sequel to Unwind, Unwholly by Neal Shusterman. 

Up Next? 

I'm participating in an online book club discussion on Facebook and in my first book, Reading Amplified this week, so I'm rereading what I wrote to anticipate and participate in the conversation. 
These are my next up titles for fun and to recommend to students: 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Students Will

The Slice of Life Story Challenge is hosted by Stacey and Ruth at
Two Writing Teachers
during the month of March and on Tuesdays.

Today I'm thinking about my students and the daily grind of working in a classroom. So much of what we do each day seems like routine, but when I think about the big picture--or even try to imagine it--I'm inspired. I'd like to work this draft into a poetry slam piece. It needs work, but here's a rough cut for today's slice.
*    *     *
My students will graduate from college. They will make As and Bs in high school. My students GPAs will soar. Some may slide by with a few grades or SAT scores below the mean, but they will mean well and try their best and work to please their teacher, mother, father, aunt, uncle, next door neighbor, pastor, rabbi, priest, cousin, brother, sister or best friend. My students will work hard in school.

Even when I might think they are not. My students are working to maintain the facade of teenage normalcy that brooks no disrespect or calls no attention. My students will survive. They bounce back from illness and injury. My students will break arms and legs and noggins and orbital bones. They will have diabetes and heart disease and spinal surgery. They are resilient. They will survive divorce or criminal charges or verbal abuse or rape or drunk drivers or a loved one's murder. My students will mourn classmates and grandparents and friends and step fathers. My students will learn how to put on the facade. They will fake it until they make it.  My students work hard at passing. Passing for fine for okay for normal for with-it for safe for unforgettable.

My students will go on to higher education or the military. They will graduate from college or community college or specialty training programs in five years or less. My students will learn about refrigeration or plumbing or mechanical engineering or waste management or set design.  My students will defend our nation from terrorists and drug dealers and child pornographers. My students will issue speeding tickets and conduct roadside sobriety tests. My students will go on to advanced degrees or law school or medical school or seminary. Or not. My students will draw blood. My students will frame their diplomas and certificates or tuck them onto top shelves in coat closets or corner book cases. My students will have proof of their educations. They will be well papered.

Will they be prepared? Will they read? Will they read for enjoyment and edification? Will they critically consume: blog posts, tumblr feeds and loan applications? Will they use their knowledge of figurative language? Will they write or post or tweet in the language appropriate to the purpose? Having witnessed the obesity epidemic will they make healthy food choices? Will they exercise? Having lost their homes to foreclosure and seen the collapse of the housing market will they save their money and spend it wisely? Will my students refinance?  Will my students  understand supply and demand or interest and penalties  Will they know how health insurance can make or break a family's financial future?

My students will work, ready or not. They will become sales people, doctors, lawyers, pharmaceutical reps, teachers, economists, chefs, cyber warriors, speech writers, marketing strategists, poets, servers and even Internetainerpreneurs. My students will paint the masterpieces that hang in the museums of the future. They will write the books that win awards, produce the films that bring home the Oscars, and broker the peace that bridges Noble divides.

My students will talk to Presidents and astronauts. They will tweet chairmen, and celebrities. My students will found communities, develop neighborhoods or networks and encourage hangouts.

My students will fall in love. They will marry someone of the opposite or the same sex. They will exchange rings and vows and promises or tattoos. They will connect and cherish and cohabitate. My students will have in-laws. They will care for the elderly and their own parents, step parents, grand parents, aunts, uncles or family friends. My students will a child or children of their own. They will have families and extended families. My students will have grandchildren!

I can't even imagine all that my students will do. But I can wonder... how what I teach today will affect their tomorrow.

*     *     *

I need an ending or a better ending, but this is a piece I can work with at poetry club in the next couple of weeks. It's the kind of thinking I've written about before here. We're in the third quarter and enthusiasm sometimes wanes. Dealing with that--students disengaged, students not performing, students' apathey-- on a day to day basis is something I work at both in the classroom and in my mind. Sara Holbrook's poem "Whooping it Up at the MTV Saloon" from Isn't She Ladylike helps me focus on the positive and imagine the hopeful futures of my students. Her poetry has saved me more than once. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Slice of Life A to Z

I'm not trying to ditch February, but the March Slice of Life Story Challenge hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres of  Two Writing Teachers is right around the corner. Essentially, to  meet the challenge you blog everyday for the month of March and link your blog "slices" to the challenge's main page on Two Writing Teachers. You can read more about it here. Last year I participated for the first time. Unlike other challenges (like the 365 photo challenge) I made it the month. It was so fun that I did a mini-challenge with students and have kept slicing on Tuesdays. 

Last week AmandaCornwell guest posted "Ten Tips for Creating an Electronic SOLSC for Students" on Two Writing Teachers and my friend,  Beth Scanlon, is drafting a guest post about slicing with students too. Others in the writing community (like Margaret's tips list at Reflections on the Teche and Terje's big list of topics at Just for a Month) are blogging tips to get started as well. All of this anticipation got me thinking.

So I played around with an A to Z list.  As I listed, I realized I was imagining how I can frame the challenge for my students. See what you think (It's a little long... that's what happens when you're home sick, but thankfully getting better and feeling bored). I may just use my list as part of our SOLSC kick off. 

A: anticipate, amaze, acknowledge, astound
Anticipate writing topics. Watch for what amazes and astounds you. Acknowledge it.

B: be, brave, broadcast
Be on the lookout for writing topics. Brave the challenge of writing every day. Think of it as a broadcast—what will your headlines say for the day?

C: create, comment, celebrate, community, color
Don’t let your inner-critic color your creative process. The Slice of Life Story Challenge is about celebrating life’s moments and commenting in order to connect and build community with fellow writers.

D: discover, deepen, draw, design, diagram
Writing is discovery. Drawing from your experience and beliefs, it deepens your connections to the world and helps you design and diagram your future self.

E: engage, envelope, elucidate
Engage in the process. Let it envelope you and elucidate your thinking.

F: flahoolick, fun, fierce, finger
Writing can be flahoolick—open-hearted, generous, fun—but it can also be fierce, close-to-the bone truths that you are driven to finger.

G: gift, give, generous, grateful, good
Think of the Slice of Life Story Challenge as a gift, a gift of community, a gift of generosity. There is a spirit of community good that develops as we work and write together. Enjoy that. Be grateful for the good writing days.

H: heed, hope, honest, heart
Heed the fleeting idea. When something comes to you, jot it down. Watch for hope. Write with honesty and an open heart.

I: imagine, illustrate, images
Imagine. Just do it. Picture your dream (car, job, classroom, trip, outfit, cell phone, you name it). Then illustrate it—use words to build images in readers’ imaginations.

J: juggle, jive, jilt
Life happens. People get sick. We all get busy. Saying you do not have time to write is a just jive talk. No excuses. Juggle what you need to do. Don’t jilt the writing.

K: know, knead
Knead your ideas. Work them over in your mind until they feel loose, warm and elastic like a loaf of bread ready to rise. Then you’ll know what to write.

L: learn, laugh, loathe, linger, love
We can’t help but learn from writing together. There will be slices you love, slices you linger over, slices that make you laugh and slices you loathe.

M: model, mentor, make
Find a model or a mentor text. It could be a poem, a short story lead, an opinion piece, a commercial script. Find what you like and try and make it your own.

N: narrate, noodle
When you noodle around you improvise. Often your slice writing will be first-draft noodling around. Narrate. Tell us your story and how you got there.

O: ogle, open, olio
Keep your eyes and hearts open. What do you ogle? Compile an olio—a miscellany—use that one day.

P: ponder, peruse, persuade, photograph, puzzle, paint, paragraphs
Writing is thinking made visible. Ponder, peruse, persuade, puzzle out what’s been taking up your thoughts lately. Paint pictures with your words or use photographs alongside your paragraphs.

Q: question, quicken
Questions quicken curiosity. Capitalize on that.

R: read, respond, revise, rewrite
Read your posts aloud before your publish them. That will help you see if there are places you need to revise or rewrite. It will also give you a sense of how readers will respond to the “sound” of the writing.

S: say, state, smile, suggest, sketch, sing
We all have something to say. State your piece. Your readers (or the slices you read) might also suggest topics you can sketch out. Make your writing sing and smile.

T: tinker, tip, toast
Tinker with something new: a new form, a new genre, a new word. You’ll find plenty of slicing tips in the writing community and we will all toast our success at the end of the challenge.

U: uncover, understand
Writing uncovers. It reveals and helps us understand the world and people in it. Use that power.

V: vent, vow, view, vociferous.
Occasionally you will find yourself wanting to vent. You will vow vociferously. View it as it is. Don’t veer too far from the course. Don’t get mired in negativity.

W: write, welcome, weave, wonder
Write, write and write some more. Weave welcome and wonder into your daily slices in order to grow as a writing and in community with others.

X: xray, Xerox
Use writing to xray a topic—dig beneath it’s surface and examine the structures beneath. Or Xerox it, copy it, imitate it, apprentice yourself to a writer you admire and try on their style or syntax.

Y: yawlp, yearn
Like Walt Whitman we have that barbaric yawlp within us that yearns to be heard. Let it out.

Z: zap, zing, zoom
Zap your inner-writer into action. Try out a few zinger endings. Zoom in on what matters in your life. Write away!

Monday, February 4, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? 2.4.13

Check out the It's Monday! What Are You Reading ?
meme at Teach Mentor Texts 
I don't take enough advantage of home delivery from my local library. It's as easy as going online to the card catalogue,  searching for a title, and clicking the "request home delivery" button. After seeing several picture books illustrated by Kadir Nelson on Monday reading posts, I requested a few titles from the library--sort of an illustrator, if not author, study.

Nelson's art plays with light and shadow in ways that make characters glow. Coretta Scott King shines, Henry is lit up with love when he meets his wife-to-be Nancy, in Moses When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom light leads. I enjoyed the different styles in the four books. In Change Has Come, Nelson is drawing,  squiggles and line make cheek and jaw, shadow and socket--the drawings, hardly simple, communicate much about Barack Obama's public presence. In Henry's Freedom Box, Nelson lays watercolor and oil paints onto crosshatched drawings of each scene--the lines adds depth and age, appropriate for the setting of Ellen Levine's story. I'm not a realistic painter. I tend toward abstract and whimsy. As I read I found myself wanting to imitate the art. I'd like to play around with crosshatched lines and color, see if I can work on shadowing. 

I finished the sequel to Monument 14, appropriately titled Monument 14: Sky on Fire by Emily Laybourne, The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth and Ashfall by Mike Mullin. 

In Monument 14 Sky on Fire, a biological  weapons spill left 14 children stuck in a super store to survive in the first book. In the second, the kids battle all manner of bad guys as they try to find a way out of the disaster zone. I don't want to spoil it, but I do want to praise bus drivers--Mrs. Wooly, the original bus driver, whose quick thinking got the kids to the store in the first place, just rocks. I have several students who look for series books to read, so this one will be a perfect hand-off later in the week.

After reading Ashfall by Mike Mullin, I now know what all the buzz has been about. It's scary. I'd never really thought about a super volcano in the States. I'm more familiar with hurricanes, sink holes and tropical storms. The supervolcano erupts from Yellowstone National Park and Alex, home alone, must fight his way across the state to find his family.  You can imagine the looting, the murder, the violence that erupts along with the volcano, but Alex is also blessed by good people who shelter, feed and heal him. The opening chapter begins with this line from Will Durant: "Civilization exists by geological consent, subject to change without notice." A haunting story, Ashfall put me on notice. As I read I couldn't help but think about The Day the World Exploded: The Earthshaking Catastrophe at Krakatoa written by Simon Winchester and illustrated by Jason Chin. Having read that made Ashfall all the more real to me. 

The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily Danforth deals sensitively with sexual questioning and "re-education" camps aimed at "curing" gay-minded teens. Danforth writes long. The story takes its time. Readers are served a full measure of drama, wonderings and angst. That familiar teenage song includes a new riff. Instead of lambasting the adults or the Christians that run God's Promise: Christian School & Center for Healing, Danforth writes her way through their humanity--broken as it is. When I finished the book I wanted to know more about it. I enjoyed the panel at ALAN that featured Danforth and other authors of LGBT fiction. This interview with Danforth from Slate drove home what I appreciated about the writing. Danforth does not use the story to judge. Instead she investigates complexity. In the Slate interview she admits that she wants "to see a more full picture, and I don’t think all of the people that would devote their lives to doing this kind of work can be so easily pigeon-holed as just monsters."  Danforth's telling walks in a different direction, toward. Admirable.

Next up?

I've got The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater and I'd really like to find something humorous or light (enough end of the world reading for me for a while!). I've also been toying with the idea of re-reading 1984. It was never a favorite. I may not have even finished reading it the first time I tried. It's  one of my book-gap books as Donalyn Miller describes. It's on my radar. I need to mine my gap and see what's lurking there. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Planning for a Substitute

Hot honey-lemon made with fresh squeezed lemon,
fresh grated ginger, and honey
in the cheeriest of all mugs.
I am grateful to my substitutes. I am thankful that they arrive on time or early and take care opening my classroom for students. I am often lucky in the substitute department. The folks that cover my classes follow the plans I leave, organize student work and often leave the classroom cleaner than how they found it. Substitutes do hard duty in high schools. Can you imagine?

My students are kind, wonderful kids. I tell substitutes that right up front. I believe they need to know they are stepping into a classroom where students are cared for, where students will make their day, if they let them. One of my eleventh graders, for instance, baked cupcakes for a substitute I had in November. Seriously. It was the substitute's birthday, so she celebrated her. Those are the kinds of students I have this year. They amaze me every day.

Figuring out what students can do without me feels like a balancing act. Much of it tends toward practice of things we've already done together: annotating, questioning text, collecting vocabulary, reading, responding. We've been investigating elements of argument (appeals, fallacies, propaganda techniques) in my ninth grade classes and analyzing those same elements in my eleventh grade class. We've been working around a fast food, nutrition theme, so students have done quite a bit of reading, annotating, and response writing since I've been out.

How do you keep students working forward while you are out of the classroom? What sorts of assignments or activities keep students engaged in meaningful work? Do you leave the substitute instructions for using technology that's in your room? I've been wondering about how to enable a substitute's use of the document camera, laptop and LCD.

I'm hoping to have my voice back and be well enough to get back to class on Tuesday. Today,  I have a frog-ghost voice, a voice that implies football fanaticism, a voice I'm trying to bring back with hot lemon juice and honey. I'm grateful that this kind of sick only happens every five years or so.

Here's what my students are doing tomorrow.