Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Book Fairies Spotted

I had a parent conference 
and missed the group picture! 
It's Spirit Week. I stopped at the gas station this morning wearing a black mini-skirt with a crinoline underneath it, a sparkly bathing-suit cover-up top over a hot pink tank and glitter. Luckily I couldn't drive with my wings on and I remembered to leave my crown in the car.

Tuesday is character/author day. My costume: a Book Fairy. Several English and reading teachers created the costume last year and we did again! This year, teachers were invited to make wings with Beth Scanlon after school and rumor has it student assistants even made wings for teachers out of upcycled dictionaries. We had many, many Book Fairies on campus today. We are made of awesome, after all.

I wrote last year about our Book Fairy adventures here and here and even posted a wing making tutorial here (if you're looking for an easy Halloween costume with a literary theme). It's a fun costume to make and wear. I made new wings this year--smaller spanned, were easier to manage. Last year's wing spanned six feet and got ruined when they sat all summer in the portable classroom with no air conditioning (mold).

I gave away some books last year, but not as many as I thought a Book Fairy should. So, this year I made an effort to gather titles I could give away. I spent my lunch period gifting books to students. I had several ARCs and duplicate titles I gave as gifts today--next year I need to plan ahead more and see if I can generate donations so that I have more to give away than I can carry.

I book talked books in my basket to former and current students as well as to a few kids I've never met. I saw a few kids play fighting in a group and happened to have McDonald's Swallowing Stones in my basekt so I talked up the story line to the boys involved and then both went for the book. Kids grin when you walk into the lunch area or cafeteria in costume.

They smile. They hoot. They love it.

I had several specific books I wanted to give to particular students. A student recently wrote about depression. I talked to him, referred him to our school counselor and also tucked Vizzini's It's Kind of a Funny Story into my basket to deliver to him during lunch. I didn't say too much, but I watched him read the back of the book. He knows I'm listening.

I found the other students I was looking for and completed that part of my mission, but I also brought ARCs I could talk up and gift to students I don't know. Approaching a student, I said, "The Book Fairy noticed ...[fill in with an interest or observation]. And she wants to gift you with [insert book talk here]. You may keep the book, enjoy it and or pass it along as you wish. Happy reading!

Some students reacted with grins and smiles that reminded me of the embarrassment of being on the receiving end of a singing telegram. Others were spontaneously appreciative. One even said, "I love you, Book Fairy!" as he flashed his gift title to friends who then crowded around to question Mrs. Spillane (me) about Poetry Club.

It was an amazing lunch. Students clutched their books and tucked them into back packs and said, " Thank you." Such power the simple act of participation has.

Today's joy, complete.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

How Old Is Your Ironman?

Ironman's first story here
Ironman stopped by for a visit after school. He's a sophomore this year. Yes, my Ironman is not yet sixteen.

My Ironman amazes me with his inventiveness. He is part engineer, part artist, part pioneer, part explorer. He is a problem solver and a visionary. His imagination is bigger than Africa.

Last year he sculpted an Ironman suit out of foam and cardboard and glue. He is a maker.

My Ironman stopped by after school to say hello and tell me about his current project. Did he know I worked until ten o'clock last night, grading left over summer reading projects and painstakingly putting grades into the computer? Did he know that I've proctored two mandatory assessments in the last five instructional days? Did he know that today was my day to holistically score 125 "on demand" essays--a monthly writing assessment mandated by the county?

I think Ironman knew I need a lift. Someone sure did.

My Ironmnan has grown. He's a sophomore now and boys fill out between ninth and tenth grade. He smiles the same though. He's working on a Patriot Suit. His creation process fascinates me.

He described what he's learned about cutting, coating and painting the foam and cardboard. He experiments with silicone molds. He made a mold for his boots this time, so that his feet are more comfortable. My Ironman doesn't need Dr. Scholl's he's figured out his own orthotics.

Did he know that today I learned we are are farming out six sections of English to teachers willing to take on an additional class because we can't afford to hire anyone? Did he know that I need to figure out how to coach a foreign language teacher through teaching English to English language learners? Did he know that the supply cabinet ran out of hall passes? Maybe he heard teachers clamoring.

He came by my classroom to visit. I asked a couple of questions. And I learned. I learned about pouring silicon and rotational casting and articulated abdomens. I learned about the improvements he discovered after making that first suit. My Ironman is engineering a costume that will move as he moves.

Best faculty meeting ever, written by the drama department and
performed in full costume by administration and support.
Did he know that negotiations for teachers' contracts are not moving. They stalled and are being dragged through the media mud. Superman is supposed to be on our side negotiating raises with the union. Raises for teachers that seem slim in comparison to dollars spent on [you choose]. Can you remember teachers last got a raise?
Things aren't looking good for the Justice League.

Elastigirl may  be smiling, but she worries sometimes. Moms do that. Teachers too.
2005 Mission: Incredible Year 

Ironman must know.

My Ironman took pictures of the Mini-Maker Faire show dates I called up on the computer. I assured him; his people are there. His people might also design sets for film and television. I plan to ask Batman to send up a signal. We need to make contact with professionals.

I shared how the Makers inspired my foam carving and epoxy explorations. He described silicone mold making two ways down to the thickness of the pour and the resulting plastics problems.

My Ironman is a problem solver. He seeks solutions. He's going to build is own vacuum forming machine. He can wire portable circuits and by Homecoming week will have a working palm repulser. I think I need one of those.

When he appears in public, he is now fearless. He said realizes it is not about him. It's about the suit and the doing and the learning. I think it's courage and passion and joy. Score one for the good guys, Ironman.

Do you have an Ironman? I bet you do. I bet you can call your Ironman (or woman)  to mind as I write. Think about him or her. Think about those "Supers:" the kids lift you up and carry you through.

They, and the ones they fight for, befriend and protect are why we teachers do what do every day.

Focus on the kids and find your joy.

Then ask for the jet pack because sometimes a little swoop in to save the day is a good thing.

Speak up for good this week. I'll listen.

Visit Two Writing Teachers for another helping
or share your slice of life and link up. 

Monday, September 9, 2013

Read the Day Away

I loved the letters from the future that Leonard Peacock wrote in Quick's Forgive Me Leonard Peacock. They made a dark, dystopian world view bearable. I could imagine that future and the watery outpost and the single bright light of the lighthouse. It was a good read.


Reading Antigone this week made the death of a friend's father all the more poignant. I found myself thinking about what we believe when life ends. And I compared Antigone's primal need to bury Polyneices so that he could share in eternal life and not be condemned to the Place of Ashes to Christian beliefs about baptism and Catholics' ideation of Limbo or Purgatory. Events of the week made the reading rich for me.

I spent Saturday reading the day away. I devoured Herman Koch's The Dinner. Set in the Netherlands, two teenager cousins are caught on survellience video beating and harassing a homeless women. When they throw a gas can at her and a lit Zippo she is engulfed in flames. The boys parents recognize them in the video that is shown on the news, but keep their discovery secret. The parents meet for dinner to discuss their "children" but each couple goes to the meeting unaware of what the others know or believe. Suspenseful and supremely structured through the dinner's courses, Koch's book calls to mind issues of responsibility, duty and loyalty. I read the book in one sitting and then wished I had it in hand to pass off to students today--several wanted it after my book talk.

Up Next

My son recently read, Obrien's Z for Zachariah and recommended it, so I'll be reading that this week among other titles yet discovered. If you know of additional titles that frame the story around a meal, could you leave me the title in comments? Thanks!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Assessment Race

In order to be a better a runner I need to run. I need an experienced runner or coach to give me
feedback about things like my stride or pace. I dislike running so having people around me that enjoy it and will cheer me on, helps me stick with it. It helps to have a plan like the Couch to 5K podcast or" Running 101" from Runner's World.

There are a host of lessons I imagine I need in order to grow as a runner, but I know one thing for sure: I won't learn to run by competing in races.

An initial assessment would help me track my progress and celebrate my developing skill, but I also know that I will be able to feel my own growth over time in how I breathe and perform during a run. I know when I've run well; I don't need anyone to tell me that and sometimes, frankly, it gets in the way of wanting to do better.

Running local 5K races serves as an assessment of my training and practice. In such runs there is an official clock and the course tests my ability to translate what I've learned to a novel situation. The Reindeer Run held each December at Sea World will be a summative assessment for me. It's a one-shot , "big event" that will capture what I am able to do as a runner. Likewise, the Neon Run and the Gingerbread Run will also serve as assessments of my running skill (or lack there of). I could use each of these runs to form or inform my training routines. If I did that they would also serve as a formative assessments for my trainers and me.
With my assessments in mind, how do I learn to become a better runner. What are the standards of running I need to master in order to improve? Could running standards be grouped into strands: pace, form, dress, nutrition and the like? What instructional activities would enable me to reach beyond the nestling or fledgling level on my running performance scale? What if I want to really fly? What do I need to do?


I am able to run like the wind without stopping for as long as I need or want to run.
I am able to run.
I am able to run but may have to stop in order to catch my breath or rest my muscles.

With help, I am able to run a short course. I may need encouragement to keep going.
Even with help, I need more support and time to run more than a few yards.

These are the questions I wondered as I thought about my running needs and performance--actually I was thinking about lesson planning and instructional calendars but I will get to that in a minute. As a runner or a student-runner I would not be learning "the 40 yard dash" that is not the how to lesson I  need. Doing the activity may develop my skill, but what skill or skills is it developing?

The dash is an instructional activity, just as running a mile could be, or practicing different strides or running through traveling exercises. The standards, or what my trainers are trying to teach me may change with each activity.  At Camp Gladiator, campers learn how to activate fast-twitch muscle groups by practicing a specific set of exercises. We learn how to strengthen our core muscles and develop balance with another set. Each routine, each activity, each practice or workout session helps us increase our fitness levels and in my case, my stamina for running.

Camp Gladiator tells me that it's okay to go at my pace. My trainer labeled a recent photo with, "It's about being better than you were yesterday." Isn't that what it's about in our classrooms too?

Practice for those learning and attention to practice by those teaching grows skill. 

Teachers at my school have been charged with creating year-long instructional focus calendars in curriculum-alike groups. Our calendars are works in progress. English teachers often think about what they teach in terms of the work: Death of a Salesman or Romeo and Juliet or____ (name your favorite, not-to-be-missed piece of literature here). But we don't teach works. We teach students how to analyze complex characters or how to decipher what the text says explicitly or how to infer. We teach processes and content. In language arts those processes are familiar strands found in Common Core Standards: reading, writing,speaking, listening and language. The works are the vehicles we use to teach them.

Our calendars will be living documents, not pacing charts. Our calendars are instruction focused with assessments in mind (think Heidi Hayes Jacobs and "plan with the end in mind"). Our calendars will change with each "race" our students run. If we notice one day that students need more time or that we need to reteach or build in additional practice, we will. We may have to adapt our training plans in order to flex to the needs we notice during a training session. 

If you'd like to see my calendar for Pre-IB, tenth grade English click here. You'll notice that even though I understand that the standards are the "what" I'm teaching, I still think in terms of works. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor of Love: Monday Titles 9/2

Happy Labor Day! I hope you are enjoying unscheduled time today to do what you want to do. I read Matthew Quick's amazing Silver Linings Playbook Friday night. A student said I "HAD TO READ IT", so I purchased the Kindle edition and dove in. Another student recommended Brom's The Child Thief, but after reading the preview, I just couldn't stomach the abuse.  I don't mind a dark plot, but some days I can't take the vivid description of such horrors. I'll have to tell her and see if I can come back to it another time. There is too much of it in the world as it is. For me, books  hold out hope--when I get a sense of that in the opening pages, this reader is hooked.

As I'm sure most of you know, because you've either read the book or seen the movie or both, The Sliver Linings Play Book is hope-filled. I love Pat Peoples. I love how he struggles to regain his life after a traumatic brain injury and I love how Quick writes the character. I love how realistically Quick captures mental illness and recovery. Cloaked in a clumsy grace, Pat Peoples came alive for me.  I love his optimism. I can hear it when he first meets his therapist and says, "I tell him I like the room, and we talk about my love of clouds and how most people lose the ability to see silver linings even though they are always there above us almost every day."  Pat Peoples reminds me to look for the good. Know the happy ending is coming. Run the race. Loved it.

I don't know how I missed the book when it came out. I enjoyed Sorta Like a Rock Star and Boy 21 which both came in my ALAN box in recent years . I was inspired when I heard Quick speak at ALAN in Chicago in 2011.  Maybe I'll luck out and he'll be in Boston at ALAN again this year. I think I could hang on that author's every word. I pre-ordered The Good Luck of Right Now and just downloaded Forgive Me Leonard Peacock.
It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Shelia at Book Journeys. Jen Vincent at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee Moye at Unleashing Readers give the meme a kidlit spin. Open your Amazon wish list or your "to be read" list in GoodReads as you visit participating blogs. You'll find some great titles to keep you reading.
If you haven't read Johnston's Opening Minds or Choice Words, both are available online at Stenhouse. Johnston reminds me to speak to students with intention. Just today as I was inputing marks for who turned in what (parent information forms, notes, initial assessments) I found myself writing not turned in yet instead of did not do. A small difference, but the change in tone seems significant to me. Johnston reminds me of the child  in front of me--and while he writes of elementary school children, my high schoolers need the same kindness. Johnston uses words to encourage not punish, belittle or shut down. Johnston notes, "When you make a mistake, it means nothing more than that. Fix it. Learn from it. It does not mean you are incompetent, stupid or not a good person (3)." There are so many things to help teachers reflect in his work.I'm savoring the reading and re-reading.

Up Next
I think I'm going to have to stay up late and read this one to the end!

Preview the book here.

I love Buckner's  Notebook Know How and Notebook Connections, so I am sure I will find interesting resources in her third title in the notebooks series. My students keep what academic journals sort of a cross between an interactive notebook and a writer's reader's notebook as envisioned by Linda Rief. Every year though I tweak my process and students teach me something.