Monday, November 30, 2009

A Novel Idea: One Book For All

How do we promote literacy for all students and all teachers across ability levels and across content areas? One high school in New Jersey has found a model that has reached about 80% of its students and has engaged most of its teachers. As far as literacy initiatives go, this seems to be a successful venture. What did they do? They created a "One Book, One School" model where all students and all teachers are responsible for reading and talking about the same book.

I think that this is an awesome idea. I would worry about the funding of this project, but it seems that if enough players are invested, then this type of initiative could have some success. I remember that when I attended the University of Maine at Farmington for my undergraduate degree there was a "One Book, One Campus" program where students and faculty were encouraged to use and talk about one title per year. I don't know if this initiative was successful or not, but they seem to have a similar program going on now. Its name has changed, but it seems to have the same flavor as the original program.

Even if funding did not exist to buy enough books for every student to have a single copy, there could be an initiative to include as many people as possible lending library situation. There is even room to extend this initiative past the walls of the high school and to seek to include community members and younger students. This just might be a grant project in the making!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Books for Boys

One of the greatest challenges I face in teaching is finding good reads that male students can get excited about. Every young adult book I read feels like a bit of a search for a good plot, characters, and that extra little je ne sais quoi that will make the read a good read for the guys in my classroom.

Whether this sounds sexist or not, I don't know. When I'm selected reads that are going to be read by the whole class, I know that I need to make sure that the book will appeal to my male readers. In most of my classes, there are more guys than girls. Girls seem to be okay reading a book no matter who the main characters are or the plot. Male students, not so much. I also find that girls are better at supplementing their reading and will read more free reading titles if they're not as interested in our whole class book. It can be a struggle to get my male students into a pattern of keeping a free reading book.

Luckily, I stumbled across a site devoted to guys and what guys read. It's appropriately titled GUYS READ and offers a lot of information about books for guys of all ages, and even offers books for young boys. This site offers a wealth of information and seems like it could be helpful to both male and female teachers. I had a great time looking around this site and plan to use it when I think about purchasing good boy-approved titles this coming year.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

National Day of Listening

Please remember that this coming Friday is the National Day of Listening. In preparation for this important day, my practicum teacher and I have planned a project for our students to complete. The project is going to be titled "Rural Life 101" and will hopefully show viewers what it is like to grow up and live in Western Maine. This idea is based on the Ghetto Life 101 documentary that our students have been listening to in preparation for the novel Monster by Walter Dean Myers.

This celebration is nicely placed on the calendar because it falls right over Thanksgiving vacation. I plan to take some time to interview my father, a man that I deeply admire and respect. I hope to save this interview and share it with future generations. There is no substitute for the sound of a loved one's voice when you haven't seen them in a long time, and I see my father very rarely. I just know that I'll listen to this recording whenever I miss him!

Maybe there is someone in your life that you could interview. Maybe there's a way that you could adapt this project to use with your students. Even if they're not able to participate in the project this holiday week, there is may be some great interview opportunities in the upcoming weeks.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Book Review: Teaching With Fire

I've had the book Teaching With Fire: Poetry That Sustains the Courage to Teach by Sam Intrator and Megan Scribner on my amazon wishlist for some time now. I've passed this title over several times in favor of other collections of poems. Recently, I decided to go and clean up my wishlist. I bought some titles used for great prices and others I eliminated completely. I am happy to report that this title made the cut and landed in my mailbox just yesterday.

In this collection, selected poems are paired with an explanation written by the teachers who've chosen the poem. They explain why they selected the poem and how it represents their teaching or affected their teaching. This collection of poetry is as diverse as the nation of students we teach. There are selections from William Carlos Williams, Mary Oliver, Walt Whitman, Anne Sexton, Langston Hughes, Margaret Walker, and there are even a couple of Gary Snyder poems. And there's more. And, it all somehow comes together to form a powerful body of work.

I am planning to give this book to my practicum teacher as a thank you gift for working with my students. I've come across nothing better to help inspire a future or practicing teacher to include more poetry in lesson planning. Of course, right after I decided that my practicum teacher would love this book, I had to go online and order another copy of this collection for myself!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


There's a new bill before the United States House and Senate. This bill was written by six organizations who are dedicated to providing literacy instruction for all learners. This coalition consists of: the Alliance for Excellent Education, the International Reading Association (IRA), the National Association of Elementary School Principals, the National Association of Secondary School Principals, the National Middle School Association, and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).

I recently learned of this bill from the NCTE website. Here is a link to the NCTE site where you can read the PDF documents related to this initiative.

This news is pretty exciting. I've read the NCTE document and most of the Senate proposal. I am excited by the possibilities for funding state and nation-wide literacy programs. Finally, it seems as though the need for a national focus on literacy will be heard. Write your state senators to ask them to help support literacy instruction in our public schools!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

There's a Poet in the House

Apparently, President Obama is a fan of poetry. I am not surprised by this, as I have always been moved by his use of language in his speeches and his books. I don't know if this is a new idea or not, but President Obama has joined forces with several colleges to promote poetry. He even hosted a night of spoken-word poetry at the White House this past May.

President Obama has further celebrated the arts by declaring this past October National Arts and Humanities Month. Lady Obama has extended this campaign into November by hosting a series of music performances featuring talented young artists.

Here is a sample of the amazing poetry that the Obamas showcased this past May:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Getting the GIST of Tough Reading Materials

I love using the GIST with students because we can take all kinds of information and condense it rather quickly. Also, we can take reading materials that are difficult and work to create understanding as a group.

I recently used this strategy with a group of juniors who are moving into an immigration unit where we'll study Ishmael Beah's A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier as our primary text. This text is going to challenge a lot of the readers in my classroom because it is a more adult read than some are sued to. Also, the setting of the text is totally unfamiliar to this audience. Most of my students had no idea where Sierra Leone is located. Knowing that I needed to create a basic understanding of the issues and conflicts that are taking place in Sierra Leone before we read, I used the GIST to discuss a variety of issues with students.

This activity took most of one class, bit has proven to be a valuable tool in creating a large pool of knowledge about the issues facing Sierra Leone right now. All of our news sources are current and we discussed a variety of issues, from rape to agriculture, all within the space of an hour and a half of class time. There is no way that my students would have been able to enter this text without knowing anything about Sierra Leone.

Here's a link to my classroom blog post about the use of this strategy in connection with this text.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

NaNoWriMo is Here!

NaNoWriMo is the abbreviation for the National Novel Writing Month. This is designed to get those of us who've always wanted to write a novel to actually do so. In a month!

If you sign up with NaNoWriMo on their page, you can add-in your words to your novel every day in November. If you get over 50,000, you'll receive a "winner" badge. A surprising number of these books have actually been published, too, so you may also have a shot!

For my students, the important idea here is that November is an awesome time of the year to be writing. I hope to urge them to join this challenge, but even if they are unable to meet the 50,000 words, I know that seeing thousands of people around the globe engaged in writing will be a huge inspiration for them. I know that some of my students do not feel connected to the world at large, and this is one simple way for me to get them to think globally.
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