Monday, January 13, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (1.13.14)

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:

Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner
(Walker Childrens, 2013)
     Admittedly, I am picky about my science fiction. To be more accurate, I rarely choose the genre. This book, however, was the perfect blend of adventure and sci-fi thriller. It kept me page turning with eagerness through the whole text. There is enough possibility of such a mastermind project involving genetic engineering in today's world of bigger-better-faster-smarter that the text is edgy. The characters are ones you choose to root for, and the villains the kind you plot against. The depth of Kate's research and informational base is incredible and well-utilized to create an engulfing literate world you can't help but feel a part of.

Waiting for the Magic, by Patricia MacLachlan
(Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2012)
     Having digested a lot of Patricia MacLachlan's books in the fall, this was one that I had not yet read. In keeping with many of her other books, this will be a good story to offer transitional readers who need less complex story lines and something of shorter length. The feelings of the children in this book are identifiable for most students, as is the connection between the characters and their pets. I'm looking forward to book talking with my students and hearing their feedback.

Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord
(Scholastic Press, February 25, 2014)
     I was delighted to hear something new was coming from Cynthia Lord. After loving Rules and Touch Blue, I knew something good was in store with Half a Chance, and that proved true. I wanted to be Lucy's friend from the first pages, sensing her discomfort around change and her pursuit of pleasing those nearest to her. Cynthia gets so much right in this book, particularly the emotions of friendship (and maybe a little more?) and angst that comes in watching a loved ones memories slip away. There were so many lovely and astute quotes from this book that were cause for further reflection. I look forward to sharing with students--both the book and the discussions that this story will prompt. (P.S. I'm ready to go on my own mission to fulfill the scavenger hunt photo list!)

A Hundred Horses, by Sarah Lean
(Katherine Tegen Books, 2014, based on Advanced Reader's Copy)
     This book wasn't atop my TBR pile, but I bumped it up when a student returned it to me and said, "I think you should read this now. I want you to read it because I'm anxious to talk to someone about it." What further compliment is there for a book, right? A fan of A Dog Called Homeless, I leaped into this book willingly. I think I like it better. The main character, Nell, is down-to-earth and real, which I think matters to students. She has a strong desire to make things right, which I think is also important to students. Angel, a character of mystery who helps keep the line of suspense running through the end of the book, resembles for many of us the misunderstood friend. Within a rural, farm backdrop enriched with a tale of a hundred horses this book addresses the themes of honoring one's true self and finding friendship in a time of loneliness.

What I am Currently Reading:
A Snicker of Magic, Natalie Lloyd
(Scholastic Press, February 25, 2014)

What I am Reading Next:
The Boy on the Wooden Box, Leon Leyson
The Shadow Throne, Jennifer Nielsen
The Riverman, Aaron Starmer

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Kasey's Story

Today was a crazy day. My drive home was clouded with self-doubt. I was tangled up in wondering about how be more successful at engaging and motivating my 26 students, many of whom seem uninterested or not invested. I worried for the students who could be getting more, and for the ones who are getting--what feels like--all my attention. I was caught up in what I could do to feel I'm having more of an impact. How can I be making a difference? There needed to be an answer tucked away somewhere, and I willed it to surface for me. 

The sound of my stomach growling distracted me from perseverating. My thoughts shifted to dinner, which reminded me that I was out of milk. Milk took me to the grocery store for a quick in-and-out trip. And there, entering the store from the doors opposite me was Kasey.

I love serendipity, and for more of a reason than just because it's fun to say.

Kasey was in my 5th grade class three years ago. She's in eighth grade now. Kasey was a beautiful girl, tall for her age, mature in her style of dress. She still is. Kasey was an identified student with a learning disability in reading. Kasey was dealing with more adversity and loss in her personal life than most students I've had a chance to work with.

Kasey may well have been the first in the more recent string of students to teach me what teaching is about.

Kasey was part of a challenging class, much like the one I am responsible for now. Kasey had a strong influence among her peers, and I suspect over the adults in her life also.

See, Kasey had a rough exterior. She was edgy, smart-mouthed, and quick to unleash her tongue if she felt any reason to protect or defend herself or her position of influence. I suspect she had a history of this behavior serving as a coping mechanism for her learning differences. She had a mean bark and an effective bite--enough that she convinced most peers and adults to keep a distance. The truth is, underneath it all, Kasey was wishing to be like everyone else. She needed a way to overcome the embarrassment she felt and to begin to find peace with the heaps in her life that felt unfair. Kasey had my heart. 

The day finally came when I asked her to be vulnerable by talking to her about her personal goals. She acknowledged she felt embarrassed about needing individual attention. She expressed that she felt dumb when attending classes in the resource room. She was overwhelmed that everyone knew she couldn't read as well as they could.

I made her a promise that day. I looked her in the eye and told her I would help her. I told her I would work as hard as she would. She slid down low in her chair, trying to shrink. She let her hair fall over her face, shading her eyes. She cried.

And long after she left that day, I cried, too. Not just for the part of my heart she had crawled into, but because she was just one story of many--kids who were hardened to help because they hurt too much from built up perceptions of negative self-worth.

I think what mattered most for Kasey is that I never backed down from my word. I worked tirelessly until I found a series that matched her interests and was in striking range for her. We conferred daily. I advocated for in-class support as much as possible and included her in reading groups with her peers. We had chats to touch base when she was discouraged or angry about her situation or her progress.

That spring, Kasey cleared our district benchmark for the end of grade 5. She made two years' growth and remains one of my biggest reading success stories.

There were tears when she went on to 6th grade, and the old Kasey seemed to protectively live just below the surface throughout her 6th grade year. I worried about her in middle school and still do, but ultimately, the confidence she gained by pursuing her goal for improvement and achieving it has prevented her from returning to the hard encasement she wore as religiously as her eyeliner, torn jeans, and huge hoop earrings.

I know, because I saw Kasey tonight. She was the same sarcastic personality who "can't wait for high school." But her smile and her hug said what her voice could not: I'm still doing alright.

When I promised her I'd help, Kasey believed me. She accepted the help, accepted the challenge. Why? She's never told me, and I never asked, but I think it had a lot to do with the way I met her where she was. I didn't judge her, or remind her of what she wasn't able to do. I didn't try to change her, and I reminded her--however I could--that I cared about her.

That was three years ago, but my students today bear resemblance to Kasey. Their stories are different, their needs each unique. But there are similarities to what Kasey needed. 
They need high expectations, 
consistent consequences, 
reminders of how much I care,
and a promise that I'll work as hard as they do to achieve what they want.

Thanks for refocusing me, Kasey. I guess I'd better get some rest. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

It's Monday, What Are You Reading? (1.6.14)

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:

Lifetime: The Amazing Numbers in Animal's Lives, by Lola M. Schafer, illustrated by Christopher Silas Neal
(Chronicle Books, 2013)
     This book may become one of my most recommended. In a time where literacy and STEM are becoming increasingly separate from one another, this book shows us exactly how science, math, and literacy can be interrelated. The scientific research conducted and the mathematical curiosities explored are laid out and modeled in the last pages of this beautiful book. The artwork is attractive and appealing, and the information is limited and not overwhelming to readers. This text could lend itself to introducing a unit, jumpstarting interest in learning about animals and their lifetimes, and could be used as a model for science/math writing in the classroom.

One Word Pearl, by Nicole Groeneweg, illustrated by Hazel Mitchell
(Charlesbridge, 2013)
     Here's another book I read this week that I found could be versatile in purpose in the classroom. Groeneweg has a whimsical picture book devoted to word consciousness. You can't help but be more thoughtful about words and word choice after reading this book. Pearl has a love for words and is selective about how and when she uses them. The book also conveys a message about the power of stringing words together. I anticipate using this word with students during an instructional sequence about word choice, but it could also be used in the introduction of our annual vocabulary parade. Regardless, One Word Pearl would be a quick read and worth sharing with students.

14 Cows for America, by Carmen Agra Deedy with Wilson Kimeli Naiyomah, illustrated by Thomas Gonzalez
(Peachtree Publishers, 2009)
     I don't think there is much left to be said about this book. It seems that everyone has known about this gem, and I'm behind in finding out about the treasure in this book. I had often heard it mentioned, but I finally slowed down and took time to read this work. The story of the 14 cows is the story of sacrifice and a gift from a village in Kenya as a show of solidarity with the U.S. after the attacks of September 11, 2001. This book offers a remarkable glimpse at the good in humanity, and provides readers with a tangible example of kindness and support from people at a great distance. One cannot help fall into self-examination about what we do to show support, kindness, solidarity with others in times of need. This book is a winner for helping students visualize the concepts of compassion and empathy.

Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
(St. Martin's Griffin, 2013)
     I will read anything Rainbow Rowell writes. I know that with certainty after finishing Fangirl overnight. Rowell's characters are compelling and real. I suspect other readers, like me, find themselves within the characters' relationships and conflicts of her novels. Though the story of Cather, Wren, Reagan, and Levi is set during their college experience as young adults, it reconnects us immediately to days pushed aside. I love the escape Rowell's novels provide me, and the way her books make me think about and remember my own stories of my heart.

Tommysaurus Rex, by Doug Tennapel
(Graphix, 2013)
     I knew I had to beat my students to this new acquisition if I was going to get my hands on it before June. They are big fans of Doug Tennapel after reading and passing on Cardboard. I'm curious to have them read this graphic novel and respond-both about this text alone and in comparison to Cardboard. When Ely loses his dog, Tommy, in an accident, he has a hole in his heart. Losing a pet is a common experience for students, and this imaginary story of Tommy returning to life as a Tyrannosaurus Rex may be just the inspiration needed for readers/writers who prefer to stretch the truth around their real experiences.

The Spy Catchers of Maple Hill, by Megan Frazer Blakemore
(Bloomsbury USA Childrens, May 6, 2014, based on an Advanced Reader Copy)
     As a reader who loved The Water Castle and a supporter of Maine writers, I was elated to have acquired the ARC of this book at NCTE '13. Hazel Kaplansky is an underdog. The only child of cemetery keepers and unpopular among her peers, students will find Hazel easy to befriend. Hazel is, like many intermediate-aged students, quick to assume excitement-enough that she may materialize a mystery where one doesn't exist. The text is historical fiction and set in the era of McCarthyism, a great backdrop for rumor spreading and suspicion. Beautifully woven into the novel are bits of wisdom that could breed thoughtful reflections from readers.

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton, by Matt Phelan
(Candlewick, 2013)
     In the style of a graphic novel, Phelan gives us an alternative narrative biography of Buster Keaton. The story of the young vaudevillian is told from the perspective of Henry, another young boy in the Bluffton area of Michigan. The fact of Buster Keaton's life is shared through soft, inviting illustrations that impeccably capture the intricacies of characters' emotions, offering strength and depth to the story. This book swallowed me into it's pages and the story, and I wanted to drag out the book like the summer days it described. Students will be intrigued by this book that blurs genre lines, and-I suspect-some will have an interest in learning more about Keaton and the vaudeville life.

What I am Currently Reading:
Wake Up Missing, by Kate Messner
(Walker Childrens, 2013)

What I am Reading Next:
Half a Chance, by Cynthia Lord
The Boy on the Wooden Box, Leon Leyson
Waiting for the Magic, Patricia MacLachlan