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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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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 Day 24: Life in a Shelter

 Slice of Life

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

I recently finished Blue Baillett’s latest novel, Hold Fast. It was a very moving story of a young family who ends up homeless and are forced to live in a city shelter. Life in a shelter is experienced through the eyes of our 11- year-old protagonist, Early Pearl.

As I mentioned in a previous post, several of my students this year are homeless. My heart goes out to them as they struggle to care about school and learning, when so much of their young lives are spent with worries and burdens no child should have to carry. Early’s story made me even more aware of what these kids deal with every day.

I wrote this found poem using a page from the novel because it deeply moved me and I think it best captured the reality of shelter life.

Life in a Shelter

A Found Poem

Unpredictable and

Bumpy

Blanket-heavy, round with

Shadows

Fast and sharp

A horizontal sting

Laced with ice

People get distracted by

Worries and sadness

Work hard to hold on to

Beauty

Hold fast to

Dreams and words

Grow more fragile with

Each passing day

Time to think about the

Hard choices

People make in life

Work hard to hold on to beauty,

To hold fast to dreams and

Words

So much beauty

Goes unseen

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 21: What Makes You Happy?

Slice of Life

I’m participating in the March Slice of Life Challenge, hosted by Stacey Shubitz and Ruth Ayres at Two Writing Teachers.
In my Thursday afternoon email, I received my NY Times weekly update and saw this What Makes You Happy?  It’s a student questionnaire, but I thought I would use it for my slice tonight.
From the article:
The United Nations declared March 20 the first International Day of Happiness, declaring that “the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal.”

What specifically makes you happy? How do you make others happy? If your nation had a Gross National Happiness Index, as the Kingdom of Bhutan does, how happy do you think people would be? Why?

All great questions, right?
I am going to share this with my students, as I would be interested to see their responses. Would they be family, friends, fun or my iPhone, X-box, and texting?
What makes me happy?

For me, I am happiest when my family is happy. Nothing warms my heart more than seeing my children smile and knowing that for them, all is right with the world.
I’m happy when my husband gets a chance to fly his remote control airplane (his “mistress”) on a beautiful, day with a Carolina-blue sky and no wind. His joy is contagious.
I’m happy when I watch my dog, Rosie, wrestle and play with her friends at the dog park. When I watch her play, I am in the moment and I can’t help but capture her sheer joy at the freedom and fun of playing with her friends.
I’m happy when I get together with a good friend to share a meal or a cup of coffee and we have a chance to catch up and really talk. These experiences “fill my cup” like no others. I treasure them.
I’m happy when my students are so engaged in learning that they lose track of time and are shocked when the bell rings (“What? The class is over?! But we were just getting started!”).
I’m happy when I find “that book” that changes a child’s life. Whether it’s the non-reader who becomes a reader or the book that’s read at the right time, it’s the same: life changing.
I’m happy when I spend time writing and I am able to craft a piece that perfectly expresses what I feel with precisely the right words.
I’m happy when I get my daily “slice” written and posted on time. Challenge met.
How do you make others happy?

I think I make others happy by being a good listener. I genuinely care about people and try to be sensitive to their needs. I enjoy being able to give to others and serve them when they are in need.
If your nation had a Gross National Happiness Index, how happy do you think people would be? Why?
Hmmm…that’s an interesting question. My guess is that the United States would probably not rank at the top of the happiness chart. I think it might even be a 60/40 split right now in our country, due to the economy, wars, gas prices, unemployment, stressful jobs, etc. I also think that being a materialistic nation that places such a high emphasis on acquisition of things puts us at greater risk for unhappiness, because if your happiness is based upon how much stuff you have, there is always going to be someone with more stuff than you.

So what about you? What makes you happy?Rosie 5 months

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Slice of Life 2013 Day 18: Hold Fast

Image 

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

Many of the bloggers that I follow reserve Mondays for “It’s Monday What Are Your Reading?”  so I thought I would share a bit about my reading life for today’s slice.

I’m currently reading Hold Fast by Blue Balliett.

 HOLDFAST

This is a beautifully written story about 11 year-old Early Pearl, and what happens to her family after her much loved father, Dash, mysteriously disappears. After a quick succession of disasters, Early and her mom, Summer (“Sum”), and younger brother, Jubie (“Jubilation”) find themselves in a homeless shelter, desperately trying to survive, while at the same time figure out what happened to Dash.

Dash is a lover of words, and works at the Chicago Public Library. This book-loving family shares his fascination and much of the story centers around words, and the magic and rhythm of words.

Dash is also a fan of Langston Hughes, hence the title of the story, and Hughes’ poetry plays a prominent role in the plot.

While I haven’t finished the book yet, I find myself completely absorbed in the life of the Pearl family and concerned for their plight. The author shines a bright light on the harsh realities of homelessness through 11-year-old Early’s eyes.

Hold Fast has made me think about and feel things I’d rather not.

Like, it wasn’t but a few years back that I had never had a student in my class that was homeless. For the past few years, though, that has no longer been the case. This year I started off with one or two homeless students, and as the year has progressed and the economy worsened, a few more have been added to that list, one just the other day.

I have always had a soft spot in my heart for my homeless students. I imagine that it is difficult for them to truly care about school when their lives are in such turmoil and they may not know where they might be sleeping that night or if anyone will be there to take care of them. Blue Baillett’s book has shown me exactly what it must be like to be a child who is forced to live in a homeless shelter.

It is heartbreaking.

For those who teach students who may be homeless and living in a shelter, this book should be required reading. Students who live under these conditions need our love and compassion more than anything else. Most of us wouldn’t last a day (or at least I know I wouldn’t) living under the conditions so many children and families are forced to endure in towns all over our country today.

Hold Fast is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time.

Dreams

by Langston Hughes

Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.

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