Monday, May 19, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (5.20.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

The Daring Nellie Bly: America's Star Reporter, by Bonnie Christensen
(Dragonfly Books, Reprint 2009)
     In this picture book biography, readers learn the story of Elizabeth Jane Cochran, known best as Nellie Bly. This is the story of Bly's break into the world of journalism during a time period when being opinionated, motivated, and driven were uncommon characteristics of women.
     I was mostly interested in this book because it is the story of a journalist, a career I am trying to make more tangible for students. Nellie Bly would easily find herself at home in my classroom library alongside other like-picture book biographies about daring women who chased after their dreams.

Extraordinary Jane, by Hannah E. Harrison
(Dial, February, 2014)
     A beautiful picture book about Jane, an ordinary dog in a family of circus dogs with extraordinary talents. Through inferences drawn from the illustrations and what is not said explicitly in the text, readers can find implications of what is appreciated about Jane and why who she is is much more than ordinary. This is a wonderful first book by Harrison, who studied in Maine and interned with Kevin Hawkes.

Dogs of War, by Sheila Keenan, illustrated by Nathan Fox
(GRAPHIX, 2013)

     This graphic novel is actually three short stories of dogs in service, one each from World War I, World War II, and Vietnam. The combined efforts of Keenan and Fox allow readers to synthesize information from the images, speech bubbles, and still more that is left unsaid to gain a deeper respect for war veterans and the dogs who served at their sides. 
      Once I book talk this with my students, it will not return to my shelf until the end of the year, and that is only if it isn't pilfered first. For my students who have shown a preference for historical fiction and informational books featuring dogs and war--think Saving Zasha (Barrow), Duke (Larson), Dogs on Duty (Patent)--this will be one more genre in a set of related reading experiences. I'm anxious to see if my graphic novel fanatics will take to Dogs of War as quickly, because I felt it required more reading work than many other graphic novels I have loved.

Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
(Scholastic, 2013)
     I found this book as I have continued to read titles from the Maine Student Book Award list. Serafina's Promise provides readers with a look into the life of Serafina, a young Haitian girl, and her family. Her mother and father and grandmother are hardworking, using fruits of the earth to survive and to live. Serafina, having already experienced the immense loss of a baby brother to malnutrition, has become inspired to become a doctor to help her people. Driven by her strong family values and cultural identity, Serafina is determined to do whatever is within her power to succeed.
     The book is a novel in verse, which will appeal to many readers in the classroom. Personally, I also loved the incorporation of lines of both Creole and French, not only because of my familiarity with the languages, but also because they strengthened the development of the characters and their pride. However, student readers may not be as attentive to text that is not easily understood. The end of the book came rather abruptly, and I found I was still turning the last page expecting the resolution to be coming. Don't be surprised if readers come running upon completion, insisting that there wasn't enough information about how the story ended!

The Julian Chapter, by R. J. Palacio
(Knopf Books for Young Readers, May 2014)
     When I learned that R. J. Palacio would be releasing an additional section to compliment the best-selling Wonder by sharing the perspective of the bully, Julian, I knew I wouldn't be able to delay gratification. Not only did I preorder the e-novella, but I read it the day it was released.
      I admit that I had to do a little bit of work as a reader to get back in sync with Julian as a character, trying to read the text with his voice and his perspective, but it didn't take long, and I actually felt that I appreciated this additional chapter more having distance from Wonder than I might have if I had been able to read his story in sequence with the other characters' parts. There is no question, after Palacio gifts us with insights and evidence of how multiple accounts of incidents build a multi-dimensional story, readers naturally wonder about the "villan's" point of view. This chapter does not disappoint. It will satisfy that curiosity, and will continue to prompt the development of empathy for others. Last year's students who heard Wonder as our first read aloud last fall are asking to come back for lunchtime read alouds--and I just might indulge.

What I am Currently Reading:
Read, Write, Teach, by Linda Rief
(Heinemann, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson
Every Day After, by Laura Golden
The Ghost of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage

Saturday, May 10, 2014

On Mentorship, For Teacher Appreciation Week

[The Celebrate Link-up is hosted by Ruth Ayres on her blog. Join in each Saturday with your own post about celebrations.]

This Teacher Appreciation Week, I'm thinking about my own teachers. I smile as memories come back to mind from primary classrooms, through middle school and high school and college.
Playing Sarah Josepha Hale in my 2nd grade play.
Begging to print banners in PrintShop during 4th grade computer club.
Interviewing a local farmer for my 8th grade speech about potatoes. (Yes, potatoes. Don't ask.)

But then, when I traced my story along its line to the present, I reached a place where conditions of the road changed, and the images of my "teachers" were those of my colleagues, those who mentored me and guided me towards the teacher I am today.

In August 2001, I started my first teaching job. I was so very green. I was lucky to be given a chance to stand on my own with a very real (in every sense) classroom of 5th graders. Sure, I was an attentive undergrad student, and some might say I have teaching in my blood, but I'm not sure any number of credit hours or characteristic in my blood would have prepared me for for all I encountered in my first year of teaching. I was enthusiastic, hopeful, optimistic, be truthful...naive.

I found the company of a more seasoned teacher as my neighbor and teaching partner when I began working with Gail. Though never formally designated as such, Gail quickly and naturally became my mentor. The hours of time she gave to me and will never see again would make for a stark infographic. She embraced me from day one, offering that anything that was hers was also mine. She quite literally equipped me with what I needed to get started: books and materials. She guided me through the important things I wouldn't have known were important when I was still learning how to evaluate and prioritize.

In collaborative work, Gail would pose a question to introduce a topic. And then she would listen to my thinking. And even though I'm sure she always spotted the holes or glitches in what I was saying, she was patient and thoughtful about leading me to find them for myself. She was careful about offering advice or about informing me of how things were to be done. If she didn't agree with the direction I was going or knew better, she didn't let on. Rather, she'd encourage me to try, and then would be there again with another chance to talk it out when I came back wondering aloud about what didn't work and what I could do differently.

When she wasn't listening to me and reflecting back my thinking, Gail mentored me by example. In her likeness, I learned that it's ok to build relationships with students, and you do so by respecting who they are as individuals. I learned kids need more than what is in the curriculum, and typically those needs are more important. I learned that even on my worst days, my kids depend on me and look forward to the consistency I offer. I learned it was ok to disagree with a colleague, and respect them still. I learned to seek first for understanding, then to be understood (particularly in relation to parent contact, but really, isn't this just good practice all around?).

Eventually I grew up from that baby-teacher I once was. I gained courage, perspective, experience, and maybe a little respect. Yet, Gail continued to mentor me as the years passed, in and out of the classroom. When I began to take risks in the greater school community--Drama Club, whole-school initiatives, committees and book studies--Gail was always there to back me up. She rallied behind my causes and supported my contributions. In doing so, she gave me confidence. Her actions said, "Go for it, You can do it, and I'm going to do what you need me to do, even if that's just to listen." This was always true. Through the last two years while I labored through my pursuit of National Board Certification, Gail spent a number of afternoons or evenings putting aside her work or piling my work on top of her own to assist, even though she had nothing to gain through my achievement. She would help me sort out my thinking, reflect, process, and gain and new or improved vantage point. She could help me to strip down all the frustrations and emotions around my entries and help me set back to it with hope and confidence. She would gently dig around inside what I was saying and coax those inner assets to the surface after they were sunk.

Gail retired from teaching last summer. In preparation for the inevitable, I had always trusted that I would be ready when the time came for our professional lives to part ways, and I was. It was ok. That's not to say I don't miss Gail (I most certainly do) or that her absence isn't felt (it most certainly is). But it was a gift to have Gail as a mentor for twelve years. I will always be appreciative of the way Gail walked with me to a place where I stand more assuredly; she was significant in my professional journey.

It was time for a new phase. The vacancy of Gail's position necessitated the hiring of a new teacher. Our school has rarely seen the opportunity to hire, with positions often filled through transfers. However, Gail's position was filled by a first-year teacher, fresh out of college and new as could be. And now guess what I get to do?


In August 2013, Katie joined our staff. And throughout the year, I've been given a special opportunity to repay the profession for the mentorship Gail offered me. Though I haven't been able to give the same quantity of time Gail always gave selflessly, I hope I reflect a likeness to the compassion, kindness, and patience Gail always showed. Her influence courses through me in many exchanges I have with my new neighbor. The beauty of this new phase is: by slowing down and listening to Katie, by talking with her and responding to her wonderings, I am deepening and strengthening my own practice. In her early career development, Katie is keeping me thinking and reflecting...and learning.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, I'm thinking about my own teachers. I smile as memories come back to mind. I appreciate the great fortune of a generous and talented mentor. And I celebrate the opportunities to return the favor, and to continue to learn in the process of mentorship.

Monday, May 5, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (5.5.14)

Every Monday bloggers all over the web participate in an effort to share books we have read and what we are excited about digging into. Thanks to Jen at Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee & Ricki at Unleashing Readers for hosting us all!

What I Read this Week:

Locomotive, by Brian Floca
(Antheneum/Richard Jackson Books, September 2013)
     Winner of the Caldecott Medal and recipient of a Sibert Honor Medal, this book is a work of art. Floca relays the history of the transcontinental railroad. The illustrations of trains and well-known sites and landmarks are striking. The deliberate choices about font/text style and word choice communicate the feel of riding the rails. The end pages are gorgeous. There is not a bit of unused space in Floca's masterpiece! There is so much to take in on the pages of this text; readers will be captivated.

This is the Rope, by Jacqueline Woodson, illustrated by James Ransome
(Nancy Paulsen Books, 2013)

     This picture book is a beautiful look at the story of families of the Great Migration who wanted a better life. By tracing an old rope and the ways it was used by women of three generations (skipping rope, tying luggage to a car, hanging as a line for drying diapers) Woodson highlights the choices and decisions made, steeped in hope for the future. Be sure not to skip the author's note either. Woodson connects the story to stories from her own family, making the history of the book more tangible for readers.

This Journal Belongs to Ratchet, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2013)
     I am so glad this title appeared on the new Maine Student Book Award list. It had caught my attention when it was first published, but fell to the wayside as my TBR list grew steadily. The MSBA list brought it back to my consciousness, and now I'm aware of how "on to it" I was in the first place.
     Ratchet/Rachel is a character you root for. Homeschooled and the daughter of an environmentally-oriented mechanic, readers quickly discover Ratchet's self-perception is impacted by her longing for friends and a wish to know more about her mom (who died when she was young). The whole book is Ratchet's journal, or her Language Arts work, where she has a wide variety of writing assignments to accomplish ranging from poetry (cinquain, list, sonnet) to essay (persuasive, narrative) to freewriting. Cavanaugh weaves Ratchet's story and her strong emotions throughout the ever-changing writing form in a way that will draw admiration from other writers. This is a great story of acceptance and finding value in self and unique circumstances.

The Boy on the Porch, by Sharon Creech
(HarperCollins, September 2013)
     When a John and Marta unexpectedly find a young boy on their porch, their world becomes changed in ways they cannot anticipate. The older couple takes in and cares for this mysterious boy who does not speak. John and Marta come to love and appreciate the boy for who he IS--unusual, artistic, and musical--all the while worrying about when/if he might be reclaimed. The capacity to love that John and Marta discover lead them to bring many more children into their home.
     Sharon Creech is masterful at writing books that reach deep into readers' hearts, grab hold, and sit for a good long while. The Boy on the Porch is in keeping with her other works. The writing is accessible, but the characters and story are charged with emotional conflict that will engulf readers, inviting them into the story, until suddenly they are invested without realization.

What I am Currently Reading:
What Readers Really Do, by Dorothy Barnhouse and Vicki Vinton
(Heinemann, 2012)
Serafina's Promise, by Ann E. Burg
(Scholastic Press, 2013)

What I am Reading Next:
Read, Write, Teach, by Linda Rief
The Joy of Planning, by Franki Sibberson
The Ghost of Tupelo Landing, by Sheila Turnage

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Everyone Should Get a "Day" - #celebratelu

[The Celebrate Link-up is hosted by Ruth Ayres on her blog. Join in each Saturday with your own post about celebrations.]

Yesterday, schools across the country celebrated School Lunch Hero Day. The event was established in recent years by Jarrett J. Krosoczka, author of the notable Lunch Lady graphic novel series. Inspired by his own relationships with lunchroom personnel, Krosoczka dreamed of a day when schools would pause to show gratitude and recognition for the individuals who serve breakfast and lunch to our students.

Scanning through tweets one day, I caught sight of a reminder that the holiday was fast approaching, and I knew it was worth bringing the information about School Lunch Hero Day with our PTA. We are incredibly lucky to have a PTA president who is an open person and a super go-getter. She took my page-long list of ideas to their meeting, and the small, but mighty group didn't hesitate to jump on board to make a special day happen.

Before students went on vacation two weeks ago, we introduced School Lunch Hero Day and launched a Graphic Novel Contest. Every student and family was provided with information about the day and a template for participating. Students could choose to complete the page started by Krosoczka or use the back side, which had a blank template for creating their own Lunch Lady episode.

Earlier in the week, I painted a large thank you banner, and all of the students signed their
names to it during their art classes this week. A first grade class made adorable thank you notes on paper plates with some of their favorite foods, and the decorating committee hung them on the wall. The Arts & Crafts Club and their teacher advisor blitzed the cafeteria with streamers and other decorations on Thursday night to surprise our unsuspecting lunch ladies.

Yesterday, students, staff, and (most importantly) the lunch ladies arrived to find Krosoczka's School Lunch Hero Day posters greeting them at the entrances. There were balloons expressing thanks waiting at the serving window, and the banner was hanging with a loud and clear sentiment. The PTA presented our ladies with School Lunch Hero t-shirts, and they modeled them for the students at all three lunches yesterday. During yesterday's lunch period, the PTA also showed videos from Krosoczka's YouTube playlist and projected some of the submitted graphic novel pages. The complete ten-book set of Lunch Lady graphic novels is also being donated to our school library in the ladies' honor. 

When all three lunches were finished, the lunch ladies were treated to a special lunch that the teaching staff had pulled together with salad, rolls, homemade macaroni and cheese, and-of course-dessert.

To say the ladies were touched is an understatement. 

The ladies' faces beamed as the students' roar of clapping and cheering filled the room. Often shy, reserved, and preferring to be behind the scenes, they came out of the kitchen more willingly with each lunch. I know the recognition and thanks they received was unexpected, and it gratifying to see the way it made them feel for our students and staff to say "you matter." School Lunch Hero Day prompted us with an opportunity to let our lunch ladies know they are noticed and important to our greater school community.

Everyone should get a "day." Everyone needs to know they matter.

Today I celebrate this:
  • I celebrate a PTA of parents and staff who are open to hear suggestions and collaborate on ideas that contribute to a better school experience
  • I celebrate the unassuming support staff in our school communities who don't always get the recognition and thanks they deserve
  • I celebrate the small, but important things we can do to let others know that they matter.