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Slice of Life 2013

Independent Reading: Choice Matters

Today was the last day of the semester at our high school and I asked my students to reflect on their independent reading experience. I wanted to know if the time we devote, ten minutes at the start of every class period, is worth it (in their eyes). I teach on the block schedule (85 minute classes) and I strongly believe that offering students ten minutes of uninterrupted reading with books of their choice is key to helping them to become better readers and it is essential to helping them develop a love of reading.

This past semester I taught two honors level English 1 classes. I assumed that most of these students liked (if not loved) reading, but I found out that was not the case. Yes, they could read well but they didn’t like reading, and only a few would admit to loving it. It honestly broke my heart.

Over the course of the semester I did my best to help match reader to book. I spent a small fortune updating  my classroom library and tried to get the latest hot titles in my students’ hands. Matching students to the right books was key; knowing my students and knowing books was essential to this matchmaking process. I eagerly passed new titles on to the right students and they eagerly devoured them.

So today I was anxious to see what they would have to say.

Here’s the question I asked and some of the responses I received follow:

In this class, we have spent ten minutes nearly every day on independent reading of choice books. How has this practice had an impact on you as a reader? How important is it for teachers to allow time for independent reading?

“It has helped me build empathy towards others as well as reminding me that we are all not the same.”

“It is important for teachers to allow independent reading because it gives students a chance to step into another person’s shoes in life.”

“When we first started the class I would never read because reading is not my thing and I felt as if I can’t understand so why push myself harder? Now since the first day my reading is better and I feel better and confident in my reading.”

“…it has helped me to become a more fluent reader and it showed me that you can really have a love for reading.”

“Hopefully the next teacher I have will allow independent reading because it is very important to me.”

“Reading a book for ten minutes every day has exposed me to so much vocabulary…”

“Reading for ten minutes every day has made me a better and stronger reader.”

“This class helped me learn to like reading once I actually find a book I like and actually get into the book.”

“Before taking this class, I read books that were interesting from the very beginning, now I can read books that have a slower pace as well.”

“I also believe ideals/morals can be created through books, thus students in the future years should read books like To Kill a Mockingbird for a better future.”

“The first ten minutes of class are the best part of class.”

“The consistent 10 minutes of reading has made me a much stronger reader. I believe I can tackle much harder books than before.”

“Not only is reading good for me emotionally but mentally, reading puts me in a calm state.”

“…it gets students into a literature mindset.”

“I think the time has given me more patience for books and to enjoy the parts with not a lot of action. Now I also enjoy books that are slower (paced).”

“I believe it is extremely important for teachers to allow time for reading because it might give the students a love for reading they didn’t have before.”

Overwhelmingly, the student responses from both classes were very positive with most students admitting that they had either discovered a love of reading or rediscovered a love of reading they thought they had lost. All students said they needed their teachers to provide this time and choice to help them continue to develop as readers.

I share this feedback about the importance of student choice and time for independent reading in our classrooms to encourage those teachers who might want to do this in their own classrooms but they’re afraid they “don’t have time.”

When teachers tell me they can’t fit independent reading into their curriculum because there’s not enough time I  remind them of this simple truth: If you don’t give your students time to read in your classroom, they won’t read outside of your classroom.

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Counting by 11’s Blogger Challenge

Rhonda over at Mardie’s Muse invited me to participate in a meme that is circulating in the blogosphere and Twitter. Not entirely sure what the purpose is but it sure reminds me of a chain letter…you know, one of those that says “if you don’t follow these steps exactly and pass it on to X number of people, bad luck with strike!” Just kidding (sort of) but in an effort to play along (as well avoid the school work that is waiting for me), I will give it my best shot.
As Rhonda explained in her blog, the process is as follows:
• Acknowledge the nominating blogger.
• Share 11 random facts about yourself.
• Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.
• List 11 bloggers that you’d like to nominate.
• Post 11 questions for the bloggers you nominate to answer, and let the bloggers you’ve nominated know that they’ve been nominated.

11 Random Facts about Me
1. I grew up in Jersey City, New Jersey and my Jersey accent rears its ugly head whenever I am around people from the NJ/NY area (especially family members). Although I haven’t lived there in 30 years, you can take the girl out of Jersey, but you can’t take the Jersey out of the girl (hence my twitter name jerseygirl_1021).
2. Both of my parents were deaf. Although I know some sign-language, my parents did lip-read and we were not encouraged to learn to sign. It is one of my deepest regrets.
3. I don’t eat chocolate. (I am considered a freak by most of my women friends for this fact).
4. I am 6 ft. 1” tall and I have never played basketball or volleyball (although I was heavily pressured in high school to join the teams). At the time, most girls did not play sports and I was definitely not “sporty” by any stretch of the imagination. I do wish that I had, as I had a definite height advantage back then (kids are bigger today!), and a basketball or volleyball scholarship would have been sweet.
5. I met my husband on the telephone. At the time I worked for a sister company of his (me in New York and he in Los Angeles) and we began chatting at work and eventually at home and the rest is history.
6. I weigh less now than I did when I was 12 years old. I lost 100 pounds between the middle of 7th grade and the start of 8th grade. I have spent the better part of my life keeping it off.
7. This is my 14th year of teaching. I taught for one year after I graduated college and left the teaching world. I re-entered it 18 years later (translated: major culture shock).
8. Although I grew up in the 60’s and early 70’s, I did not participate in my first protest until this past summer. Anyone familiar with what’s going on in my state of North Carolina has heard about “Moral Monday” protests. At the end of July, I marched with other educators from my state to protest the ongoing cuts to education in our state. Truth be told, I liked it.
9. Although I was born and raised in a city, I have become quite a “country mouse.” I live in an outlying suburb and I have grown to love the peace and quiet here. Whenever I visit the big city, I am amazed that at one time I actually worked there and enjoyed it. I like to visit the city but couldn’t live there anymore.
10. I have taught at the same middle school for the past 13 years and I have taught all three grade levels (ten years in 6th, three years in 7th, and now I am in 8th grade). I LOVE 8th Grade! I recently covered a class for a colleague who teaches 6th and I vowed “never again!”
11. I am considering getting my certification to teach high school English…just in case.

Answer the 11 questions the nominating blogger has created for you.

1. What 1-3 pieces of advice would you give to a newbie teacher?
1) Join Twitter and follow as many great educators you can find. 2) Never stop learning— great teachers are lifelong learners and realize that they can never know everything 3) Find a great mentor teacher and learn as much from this person as you can to apply to your own teaching.
2. You’ll be spending the afternoon outdoors. Where will you be and what will you be doing there? I will be either at the lake, taking my dog, Rosie, for a long walk OR at the dog park with her. Nothing brings me more joy than being outside on a beautiful day, watching Rosie and her dog friends play at the park.
3. Which 2-5 professional books were the most influential in molding you as a teacher? Explain.
Nancie Atwell’s In the Middle was the first professional book that helped shape who I am as a teacher. Her workshop model is one that I have tried to emulate over the years (sometimes successfully, sometimes not), but her thoughts on teaching and learning make sense to me. The 2nd most influential book has to be The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller. This book absolutely transformed my approach to independent reading in the classroom and helped me to build even stronger relationships with my students through shared books. Donalyn’s 40 Book Challenge has been a staple in my classroom ever since, and I have been able to share this with many other teachers and have seen its transformative power. Kelly Gallagher’s Write Like This and Deeper Reading have helped shaped my approaches to reading and writing with students, especially the concept of using mentor texts. Currently, I am reading Ariel Sack’s Whole Novels for the Whole Classroom, and although I have just started it I can tell it contains a wealth of practical ideas that I can use in my classroom. I could go on as I am reading a few others, but you only asked for 2-5.
4. You are writing. Describe the scene. Where do you write? Paper and pen, journal, notebook, or computer? Music or quiet? Office, den, living room? Desk or couch?
Depends on what I am writing. I have been journaling for around 20+ years. I write every morning using a pen, spiral notebook, at my kitchen table, with coffee in hand. For my blog, I use the computer. Although the computer is easier to use in terms of editing, I truly love the act of writing by hand. There is something about writing out my thoughts that is completely different than typing them on a computer.
5. What are the top 3 things on your bucket list? Top bucket list items: I would love to go to Europe some day. I have never been there and have always thought it would be wonderful to go to Italy or possibly Greece; I would love to actually publish my writing someday; and I would love to become a grandparent.
6. Tell about a time when you had a particularly positive influence on a student (or class of students) OR tell about a time when a student had a particularly positive influence on you. (See question 11).
7. What is one new thing you want to try in the classroom in 2014? I would like to try doing the Slice of Life blogging challenge with my students this year. I did it myself last year to try it out, and I would really like to see how it would work with students. It was a wonderful experience and I think that students would get a lot out of it.
8. You have just received a blank cheque (unlimited funds from an anonymous donor) to be used for a class field trip. Where are you taking your students? What will they learn from this field trip? That’s an easy one since we are in the middle of planning a three-day trip to our nation’s capitol, Washington, DC, for our students. The trip is scheduled for the first week of June (after our state testing is complete), and we have about half of our students signed up. The other half really need help to pay the fees and this blank check would be an awesome way to make sure 100% of our students get to go on the trip. We want to go to DC with our students to show them the historic places that represent our nation’s history and culture. So many of our kids have never been outside of Raleigh.
9. You are off to dinner and a movie? What kind of restaurant will it be? What genre of movie will you see? Dinner would probably be at either an Italian or Mexican restaurant. I absolutely love all things Italian (bread, pasta, sauce, cheese) as well as most things Mexican (chips, salsa, guacamole, fajitas, tacos). The movie would be what my husband would call “art house” (aka a weird, character-driven movie that probably is sad and/or has an unhappy ending. Don’t know why but I love these types of films.
10. What literary character are you most similar to? Explain. This is probably not a good thing, but I can really relate to Olive, in Olive Kitteridge. Don’t ask.
11. Tell about a particularly proud moment in your teaching career. Since I’ve implemented the 40-Book Challenge in my classroom over five years ago, I have had the pleasure of seeing student who started with me as non-readers, and watched them blossom into readers by the end of the school year. One student I taught in both 6th and then 7th grade, Sarah, started the year with me in that situation. She had the lowest possible end of grade scores in reading and she saw herself as a non-reader. Over the course of her 6th grade year, I was able to introduce her to books that she actually liked and she started to read on her own. By the end of 7th grade, she scored at two points away from the highest level in reading on her end of grade test. End of grade test scores aside, I know that learning to read changed this child’s life. She comes from a very poor, dysfunctional family where few people graduated from high school. I am confident that with continued support from her teachers and her firmly established love of reading that Sarah will defy the odds and find success.

11 Questions for the Bloggers on my list who choose to participate:
1. Dog or cat person? Explain.
2. What is your favorite grade to teach? Why? Least favorite? Why?
3. Many people (in the blogosphere and on Twitter) are participating in the “One Little Word” at the start of this new year. If you are doing this, what is your word? If you aren’t, what word would you choose? Why?
4. What book have you failed to read that would be embarrassing for you to admit?
5. What book have you read that you consider a “guilty pleasure?”
5. Choose 2-3 titles on your TBR list and tell why you want to read them.
6. What keeps you energized and enthusiastic about teaching in this time of testing/accountability and lack of teacher support?
7. Book or Kindle? Why?
8. What is your favorite Twitter chat? Why?
9. Snow day or delayed opening? Why?
10. Who is your favorite adult fiction author? Why?
11. What are the benefits of being a teacher who blogs?
11 Invitations to participate in this meme:
1. Stephanie Shouldis http://stephanieshouldis.blogspot.com/
2. Sarah Anderson http://yaloveblog.com/
3. Bill Ferriter http://blog.williamferriter.com/
4. Jill Barnes http://kidblog.org/BarnesA2-2013/
5. Michelle Haseltine http://1gratefulteacher.blogspot.com/
6. Christopher Bronke http://mrbronkesrandomthoughts.blogspot.com/
7. Liz McKenna http://stufflizreads.wordpress.com/
8. Andrea Payan http://mrspayanreads.blogspot.com/
9. Ben Kuhlman http://writeach.blogspot.com/
10. Cindy Minnich http://chartingbythestars.wordpress.com/
11. Sonja Schulz http://thesassybibliophile.blogspot.com/

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Slice of Life: Thank You PLN!

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

On this last day of 2013 I have been busy writing most of the day, working on my Teacher of the Year portfolio that is due in early January. The portfolio consists of several different parts, with questions about my professional background, education, community involvement, philosophy of teaching, educational trends and issues, and what my message to teachers would be if I am chosen as the county teacher of the year. Working on this portfolio has made me think about the things that matter and make a difference for me as a teacher and in turn have an impact on the students in my classroom.

There has been a running theme in my responses —the importance of developing my Professional Learning Network (PLN) and taking responsibility for my own professional development.

My pre-Twitter days consisted of me reading as many professional books I could get my hands on and occasionally finding a blog or two to follow for recommendations. Through my discovery of the EC Ning I began to expand my network, and it was here that I was encouraged to try Twitter. I would have never guessed what an impact that decision would make on my professional life! Through Twitter I have been connected to smart, creative, passionate teachers and writers/readers from all over the world. Right at my fingertips I receive expert advice and suggestions on a daily basis. Twitter chats like #titletalk, #engchat, #mschat have been invaluable to me.

My goal is to try to help connect other teachers in my school and district through social media like Twitter. I have given workshops on how to use Twitter, find people to follow, participate in chats, and ultimately build your own PLN.

My online connections with other passionate teachers keep me energized and enthusiastic in the classroom. I am always reading about something that I want to try out for myself with my own students.

In fact, it was through Twitter that I first heard about the Slice of Life Challenge. This past March I participated in the daily slicing and really enjoyed it. I wanted to try it out on my own before trying it with my students. I hope to slice with students this year!

So on this last day of 2013, I would like to thank all of you who I’ve met in this space, on Twitter, in chats, blogs, and other social media spots, for your contributions to my professional development. I appreciate the ideas, suggestions, materials, and feedback that you offer, and for challenging me to be the best teacher I can be. I hope that my contributions have helped you as well.

I look forward to learning with you in 2014!

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Slice of Life Challenge: Reading Slump

Slice of Life

 I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

I’m in a reading slump right now and I need a good book to pull me out of it. For the past two months I have been busy reading lots of things—non-fiction professional books (Falling in Love with Close Reading, Reading in the Wild, Voice Lessons…to name a few), twitter/twitter chats, blogs, articles online. But sadly, no fiction.

Have you ever gone through a spell of reading really good books that leave you with a book hangover? Where the memory and the feel of the book linger way beyond the last page? To start a new book right away—especially one that might not measure up to the last one—would be sacrilege. So you wait for the feeling to pass and a new book to entice you.

Except that hasn’t happened.

To be honest, I have been immersed in the world of Edgar Allan Poe for the last two months. I am new to teaching 8th grade this year and we have been doing an intense author study of Poe and his work. Since this is all new to me I haven’t been reading much else since this study began. I am fascinated with Poe! His writing is so masterful and I have found the analysis of his writing to be exceptionally interesting to me and my students. (Not to mention the discovery of literary devices I never knew existed! Who knew anaphora and apostrophe were literary devices?) I am learning so much and I absolutely love it. But I am really missing being in the midst of a wonderful novel. It just doesn’t seem right, you know?

So we are wrapping up our last week before Christmas break and I would love to have a wonderful YA book to read in my downtime.

Any recommendations from my fellow ELA teachers?

Thanks for your help in pulling me out of my slump.

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Slice of Life 2013 November 12, 2013: Smartphones & Shallow Reading

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.

This week my students are working on their Article of the Week (AoW), an article I borrowed from Kelly Gallagher’s collection. They are reading about the use of smartphones affecting our ability to think deeply. In the article the author mentions Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. The information in the article spurred me on to pick up Carr’s book and dig a little deeper into this topic.

What I am reading is causing me great distress, both personally and professionally. Carr outlines the many ways that our nation’s obsession with our smartphones is costing us our ability to do the kind of deep reading and thinking required in most classrooms today. While we may be spending more time “reading” on the internet, this reading is more like “browsing” than the kind of reading that requires concentration and deep thought. We flip back and forth from one site to the next, clicking away on hyperlinks as we quickly skim and scan the content. This different type of reading and responding to text is re-wiring our brains.

Personally, I have begun to notice that my own obsession with my smartphone and its apps has had an effect on my concentration. I tend to be less willing to tackle longer articles and dense text when I can quickly scan my phone for the latest tweets. Of course I still engage in deeper reading, but I am noticing that I am often less motivated to tackle reading tasks that are challenging, long, or complicated.

Professionally, I am deeply concerned about the implications of Carr’s work. Our state curriculum is aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Students are expected to engage in “close reading” and analysis of text, text that is often very complicated and challenging to the average middle school student. Their willingness to tackle this kind of intellectually challenging task is going to be that much more difficult if they don’t have the brain power to do it. If students’ brains are being fed a consistent diet of “shallow” reading, how can we expect them to embrace the feast that is “close” reading and deep analysis of text?

I worry that our state end of grade reading comprehension test is designed to assess a student’s ability to read deeply and analyze text. With nine long passages to read, students are not apt to read that deeply. The test is three hours long and many students struggle to read each passage once, let alone the two to three times required to truly analyze the text. If students are not able to sustain attention for one long article, what is the likelihood they will for nine?

What about you? Are you seeing any of this in your own reading life? What about your students’ reading lives?

I don’t see us giving up our smartphones any time soon, so what’s a teacher to do?

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

smartphone

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