Tuesday, April 28, 2009

picture books and teen readers

I've been thinking a lot lately about how to make more inroads with my students in my reading workshop. I consider all of them to be reluctant readers, with some being downright hellbent against reading anything that's not explicitly part of their deal to get out of lockup. It occurred to me, after a few months of teaching in DYS, that not only do my kids lack literacy-rich backgrounds, but they also lack exposure to art. Maybe I could bring more picture books into the fold, I mused. Would they think these to be too "babyish?"

Little by little, I've been testing the picture book waters by bringing in books that have sparked my interest. At first, I don't say anything about the book, but I display it in a prominent place in my classroom and wait to see who picks it up. It's kind of like fishing. So far I think I've used some good lures: Mordicai Gerstein's The Man Who Walked Between The Towers, which tells the fascinating story of Philippe Petit's 1974 highwire walk between the World Trade Center towers in New York; and Brian Selznick's The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which is such an artful, literary gem of a work (see my review in an earlier post). Both books have succeeded at getting the attention of all of my students. Doors that were once shut tight are now opening, shedding light on new ideas, new thinking. It's exciting to see - and I realize I have to keep a steady flow of these books coming.

My latest discovery, thanks to Barbara Lindsay, my Literacy Learning For Older Children instructor, is Eve Bunting's Riding The Tiger. Barbara read this book aloud last Thursday night to a class of twenty or so teachers, and it was as if the words themselves came to life and rose up off the pages. Bunting, along with David Frampton's distinctive woodcut illustrations, tells the story of young Danny, new to town and eager to belong. She uses the vivid allegory of the tiger, who befriends an impressionable Danny, to represent the allure of gang culture. Danny believes in the tiger's promise of respect and power, until he realizes that fear is at the core of the tiger's prowess. Riding The Tiger offers a powerful message about temptation, submission and loss of control that comes when we accept a ride on any kind of tiger.

Thematically, I don't know how much more relevant I can get than this. Tomorrow I plan to go fishing with a tiger in my classroom. I wonder who I'll catch?

Friday, April 24, 2009

i heart vacation

Well, another vacation week comes to a close. I should be spending some time on my Reading Specialist licensure coursework, but the day is so beautiful and the weekend promises even better weather. Girls, we know what this means: it's pedicure season! I had to invest some time today in my feet. I chose this robin's egg blue for my set of ten.

As much as I love my job, I also love the necessary battery-charging time away from it. I had a great week off. Time for a weekend full of baseball, fun and flip flops. Somehow I'm going to have to make time for my classwork. I'll put it off as long as I can.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Walter Dean Myers is on my wish list...

Saw this article today via a tweet from Adlit. How I would LOVE to get Walter Dean Myers to speak at the program where I work!


I now have to read Monster, his book about a 16 year old who goes on trial for homicide...the pile on my nightstand grows taller and taller...

Friday, April 17, 2009

light a fire

I get a daily e-mail from someone named Barbara J. Feldman, who distributes, among other electronic educational material, "Light A Fire: Education Quote of the Day." I'm as likely to actually open these e-mails as I am to just send them to the trash folder, unviewed. Today, for some reason, I decided to see what nugget of wisdom ol' Babs had to share:

"We all need someone who inspires us to do better than we know how."
- anonymous

Isn't this the truth? It's a magnificent feeling of empowerment when we find that person who inspires us, but it's even more impactful when that person recognizes their role as S/he Who Inspires Others. I hope that I can be that inspirational someone to my students. Even to just one kid. That's what I really, really hope.

I know who my big inspirational someone is. I'm married to him. And I'm going to make sure he knows this, too--by telling him, not just by forcing him to read my blog.

Here's the link to those educational quotes, for anyone interested:


Thursday, April 16, 2009

a reprieve for grief

first period, under the din
of singular staccato oral reading,
into my left ear
the husky, supervisory voice
carefully murmurs
the tragic news
nearly inaudibly.

I make this much out:
next period.
bad day.
best friend.

our eyes meet,
a brief transaction of significance:
prepare yourself
a seventeen year old world
got shaken to the core
is probably not in the cards
for him

I hear a familiar shuffling,
a pace slower than usual.
Good morning Melvin, I say
to an ashen face.
tight braids, once exact
now transformed
into a wild afro,
a soundless scream of grief.

with radical compassion
I become his accomplice,
conspiring with the youthful offender
to grant him freedom
(the kind I keep in my classroom)
We escape
for a while
with a young French wire walker
dancing in the clouds
between tall twin towers

That dude coulda fallen
he finally says,
and I nod.
But he just didn't,
he says, looking up.
And I nod.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Ill Colors

Sometimes the best things come in the smallest packages. Over the weekend I invested in a 4 pack of neon dry erase markers. I came in a tad early today and washed my white board 'til it squeaked. Let me tell you, every one of my students has commented on how bright and springy my board looks. "Yo, K-Bizzle, those day-glo colors are ILL," remarked one. I take that as the highest possible compliment.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

April is Poetry Month

In a nod to Poetry Month...

ready to learn

I always hear them before I see them
the unmistakable shuffling
the slow, methodic pace
State-issued plastic sandals

scuffing on concrete
sliding down the hallway

Making their morning commute

to my classroom.

pausing at the doorway, we greet each other
gaze to gaze
silently asking permission
to enter the room.
Good Morning, Augustin
comes out of my mouth
and nothing comes out of his,
but I know
he is glad to be welcomed
somewhere. Here.

ready to learn looks like this:
loose, khaki pants
suspended--by some miracle--
below the hips,
dark green, poly/cotton

illogical golf shirt
and those (hideous) sandals.

perfectly patterned
beautiful cornrows,
sparkling smile
eyes the color of dark chocolate
making brave contact with mine.

in spite of everything,
is standing at attention
at my classroom door
for today's lesson
to begin.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I finally bought The Invention of Hugo Cabret for my classroom. I attended a Title I conference last fall where Megan Lambert, Instructor of Children's Literature Programs at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, conducted a great workshop on using picture books in the older grades to develop visual thinking. Someone mentioned this book, and she remarked that it was an "essential" book for struggling teen readers. I returned from the conference, got it at the library and read it aloud with two of my students. Instant hit.

Brian Selznick's artful words and charcoal sketches combine to tell the unforgettable story of Hugo, a French orphan boy who lives in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930's. Hugo lives a lonely life maintaining the station's clocks and repairing the automaton, a strange mechanical man he rescues from a burned out museum. When he repairs the automaton, Hugo believes it will write a note that will save his life. Hugo's world is disrupted when the old man who runs the train station's toy shop confiscates his precious notebook--the one in which Hugo records notes on the automaton. Without it, he can't repair the mechanical man, upon whose existence Hugo's life now depends.

Hugo Cabret is a story of magic, survival, hope and triumph. Because it is equal parts novel, old movie, graphic novel and flip book, Hugo is a one of a kind experience that is sure to hook even the most reluctant reader.

I had planned on bringing Hugo into the classroom tomorrow, but when my sons, who are eleven and six, saw me tucking it into my school bag, they both cried out, "HUGO!" The pleading looks that followed said it all. There's no way I can refuse. Classics are meant to be read again and again, aren't they?

Friday, April 3, 2009

Just A Schema Dreama

I love alliteration. In fact, I recently created the first Alliteration Poetry Slam in the program in which I teach, which was pretty enthusiastically received by students and staff. So when I read Debbie Miller’s nugget of wisdom related to explicit modeling in Reading With Meaning (Stenhouse, 2002)—“proper planning prevents poor performance”—it pressed the on-button of my schema, my background knowledge, to make a meaningful connection. “Explicit modeling requires thoughtful planning,” she writes. We’ve all winged it at times in our storied teaching careers, but do not attempt this approach when it comes to modeling our thinking for our very impressionable students. She couldn’t be more right on the money. These are the years during which we as teachers have a fantastic opportunity to imprint our kids with thinking strategies that will last a lifetime. We’ve got the chance before us to mold their pathways of thought by modeling ours. Is this wing-it time? Heck no.

I love Miller’s comparison of book shopping to clothes shopping. Talk about tapping into my glorified schema of retail therapy. If we don’t select books intelligently – meaning yes, we’ve got to try them on to be sure we can make authentic connections with them – then they’re sure to remain the books that sit on our shelves with stiff, intact spines and pristine pages. Unopened, unused, undiscovered, unloved. I'm describing the books, but we might also use these words to describe the minds of the children we’re being paid to shape. Interesting.

In my current teaching setting, I am working with students who generally have a hard time using schema. They have weak literacy backgrounds, combined with a lack of enriching life experiences that we hope teenagers would have at this point in their lives. There’s less with which to connect. As a teacher, I realize that I have two choices: give it my best shot and model authentic questions, connections and inferences, using texts my students are more likely to relate to; or not. I have to go with the first option. After all, time spent in lock-up counts as gaining personal experience. We can start preparing them for future connections by building schema right here, right now.

rhymes with college

When asked to spell the word "knowledge," the majority of my students write "nollege." Makes sense phonetically, but seeing it misspelled again and again is making me cross-eyed. Hence, the above impromptu wall display. It's like I've created an ad campaign for a single word. A sort of Sesame Street-esque tack, no? But it's a smart approach, I think. The more they see it spelled correctly, the more it will sink in. And, hopefully, the more of it they will actually possess.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

she has a pulse

Hello, blogosphere. I knew I had to post something today, if only to reassure all you gentle readers that I did, in fact, survive April Fool's Day in jail. No surprises. Just another day in the salt mines.

No more to post today. Just got home from Literacy Learning For Older Children & Adolescents. Great class, always interesting topics...but my brain is full. Going to watch a little baseball on the MLB network and turn in.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool's Day In Jail

As I drove into work this morning, I realized that April Fool's Day in juvie might not be the same experience as it has been in my previous years as a teacher. Getting punked by kids in elementary school = harmless fun. Getting punked by hardcore gangbangers = I might not be physically able to laugh. If you don't see a post tomorrow, feel free to assume that it got ugly and I'm on workman's comp.