Friday, July 2, 2010

Celebrate Independents!

No, the title is not a typo. The "independents" I speak of are your local independent book sellers. Sure, I shop at Barnes and Noble and online. But, there is something special about walking into my local independent bookstore and getting a smile, a personal recommendation from someone who knows my tastes, and to just browse.

My local independent bookstore is called Devaney, Doak & Garrett Booksellers.  This past week, I stopped by to purchase a couple of books and the owner said, "Oh! I'm glad you came in. We have a poster for you." I was a bit confused because I had not ordered a poster, but the person working (a fellow English teacher) rushed out back and came out with a poster based on this book:

Awesome, huh? (For those of you who don't know this, my first name is Hattie. It's not common, except in children's books about pesky little girls : )

This experience just served to reinforce what I already know to be true: There is no online or "big box" replacement for a good, personal connection. Thanks, DD&G!

To find information about independent booksellers in your state, click of this interactive map from

Monday, June 14, 2010

Using Rubrics to Assess Student Blogs

Every time I talk about blogging with students, I am inevitably asked about the assessment process. I understand that some educators are wary of "grading" this new(er) medium for student writing, but I think that blogs are actually much easier to assess and to offer feedback on than are some other forms of traditional assessment.

First, most blogs have a comment section. I often leave comments for students in this space. I find that students are excited to see that I've commented (because I don't always do it) and I have found that they often will correct whatever I've suggested in a timely fashion.  Typing, for me, is easier and quicker than writing by hand. Students cannot lose their blog post, but they sure can lose a piece of paper that I've commented on!

Over the past three years, I have been working to develop rubrics to use with student blog posts. I have narrowed down my general criteria to the following six:

Evidence of Critical Thinking: Thoughtful observations, connections between readings and the larger world and/or your life, and growth in your thoughts/ observations from the beginning of the year.

Evidence of Critical Reading: Evidence of thorough readings, comprehension of reading materials, insightful reflections, and connections between readings materials.

Evidence of Creative Thinking: Inclusion of photographs, music, videos, or other media that enhances the presentation of the post; original ideas presented in readings are extended in a creative manner.

Evidence of the Ability to Write Clearly and Effectively: Grammar, spelling, capitalization errors do not interfere with audience understanding. The structure of your blog posts allows for understanding and is easy to follow.

Evidence of Awareness of Diverse Audience: Opinions, justifications, rationalizations, and summaries are written in a way that allows a diverse audience to understand your intent. Writings are not offensive, but engage audience members in your ideas and opinions in a creative manner.

Community of Practice: Wherever necessary, credit has been given to original source for photos and ideas. This is done through embedded hyperlinks.

Why these six? There are some specific challenges and opportunities that are presented in blogging. The challenge is that students cannot write a whole lot of text, because no audience wants to read on and on when they're reading on a computer. Blog posts need to be a lot more concise and quick. There are no five to ten page literary analysis papers on my students' blogs. This does not mean that we do not do this type of writing; it is just not appropriate for a blog format.

Another challenge that actually helps to build students' skills as writers is the unknown audience factor. A student who writes a post as if the audience is comprised only of me and his or her classmates has not prepared an unknown audience to be able to comprehend the meaning or significance of the post. This fact helps to create better student writers.

Something that blogging allows for that the traditional pen and paper routine does not is the ability to add-in images, videos, and songs. There are several students in my classes who do not think in a linear, linguistic fashion. Allowing students to add-in other types of media has helped those students who are not always able to completely express their thoughts through the use of language. I have absolutely found this feature to be invaluable in the blogging process.

Students are required to contribute to the blogging world with their thoughts, but also with their links. Just as plagiarism is not okay on a research paper, the same is true in a blog post. The more that students link to the outside blogosphere and web pages, the more that their writing will be picked up on google. This is just good practice for social responsibility. 

Finally, I wish that you could see students' faces when they look at their counters (cluster maps and flag counters). These counters allow students to see that their writing is being read by a huge, global audience. Once in a while, students will get a comment, but usually viewers will leave comments on my blog. Students love and cherish these comments; they are proof that the world cares about their thoughts and opinions.

I hope that this criteria helpful. I welcome feedback and suggestions for other items that I may have overlooked.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Poetic Commencements

As we approach the end of the school year, I am always thinking about how I am going to send off my seniors. I like to step back from the role of teacher during the last couple of classes that we have together and focus on their memories and allow them to say a proper goodbye to their public education.

Some of my students will go straight to college after high school, but others will leave education for good. With this in mind, I want to give students a little time to reflect on the past four years of their education, the high school years. To do this, we have:

Created Six Word Memoirs

Drafted Commencement Speeches (To be read for our final)

Completed an End-of-Year Survey

Finished the Sounds of Senior Year Soundtrack (Cover Art as Picture Insert)

And, there are other ways to say goodbye. has a whole section of their site devoted to graduation poems. On this list, there are a whole range of poets and poems represented, from William Shakespeare to Langston Hughes to Emily Dickinson.

I am glad that I've taken the time and put some effort into saying a formalized "goodbye" to my seniors. I think that they have benefited from having the opportunity to reflect on their public school years. It is amazing to think that thirteen years of their short lives have been spent with us. Congratulations, seniors. We will miss you and are proud of you!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Using Google Surveys to Gather Information

At the end of every quarter and at the beginning and end of every school year, I have distributed and collected surveys to my students. Often, these surveys helped me to better my instruction, plan for the variety of learners I have in my midst, and reflect on my teaching.

I have loved using surveys, but gathering hard copy surveys can be cumbersome. Plus, some students are not great writers and will choose to not write out a detailed answer because their fine motor skills are lacking or they just don't want to fill out another worksheet. Because of this obstacle, I decided at the beginning of this school year to offer all of my surveys online using google docs.

And what a difference it has made! I can store all of the results of my surveys in my google account, offer the same survey to multiple classes (or create class-specific surveys), create nifty graphs with the flick of my fingers, and project results onto my whiteboard using my LCD projector. This has become a tool for my reflective purposes and for students to reflect.

So far, I have asked all sorts of questions. Google docs offers many different types of questions, including: short text, long text, multiple choice, more than one choice (check boxes), ranking on a scale, and graphing. There are so many options that you can make your survey as complicated or simple as you choose.

Best of all, students have reported that they love the opportunity to offer feedback to me and to think about their learning. By offering surveys, I have allowed them to be active participants in their learning. When I make an instructional or planning decision based on their suggestions or feedback, I let them know. This way, they can see their feedback in action and they feel as if I've listened to them.

This is a simple, effective way to gather data from your students. You can use the same survey more than once. Results can easily be shared with students and colleagues. Also, you can compare answers from different sections of the same course or different age groups or particular students overt time. I have not run into any difficulties with this program and recommend it without any reservations.

Here are some screenshots of surveys I have used this year:

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Theater at Monmouth, Maine's greatest Shakespeare theater, has announced its 2010 summer and fall theater schedule. Every year, my mother, sister, and I go to the theater to see a play. It is an event that I look forward to all year. Ticket prices are reasonable and the acting is professional and experienced. Plus, the theater itself is gorgeous, with all sorts of beautiful paintings on the ceilings.

This year, we're planning to see Mark Twain's comedy Is He Dead? Here is the hilarious-looking promotional poster for this comedy:

Other plays featured during this summer and fall are: Shakespeare's The Comedy of Errors and Pericles, Prince of Tyre, George Bernard Shaw's Misalliance, The Canterville Ghost by Oscar Wilde, and the musical The Pirates of Penzance.

Whatever your choice of show, come out and support Maine's local theater!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Ideas for a Poetic Mother's Day

This Mother's Day, why not send your mother a poem? Chances are good that there's a poem that's already been written that will explain your inner most thoughts and feelings about your mother in a way that you simply cannot. Here are a couple of great resources to get you started.

-About My Mother: A collection of Mother's Day Poems from the Poetry Foundation. There are nine poems to choose from at this site. Topics and tones range from innocent to reflective to haunting. There's a poem for every mother/ child relationship here!

-Send a Coupon: offers a printable or email-able coupon allowing your favorite mother an hour of "undisturbed reading or writing time". It's super easy to get or send and even has a bar code. Best of all, it never expires!

-Make a Homemade Poetry Card: makes Mother's Day simple, inexpensive, and meaningful with their homemade card ideas. Don't know what to say? They offer preselected lines ready for use!

-Poetry Infusions: Decorate a gift of herbs and vinegar with a pre-made poetic label. Simply print and paste onto a gift of rosemary, lavender, or sage vinegar. Maybe this will inspire mom to do more cooking?

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Power of a Story

I've been a Storycorps fan for a long time now. I visit the site ever now and again and every time I do, I find that I uncover some sort of gem. On my most recent visit, I watched a powerful animated video. This video is a Storycorps first--And I hope that there are many more to come!

This animated segment helps to represent the visually the range of topics covered when a preteen boy named Joshua interviewed his mother, Sarah. Joshua has Asperger's syndrome, which is an autism spectrum disorder. The range of topics covered in this short interview and the complete candor with which this mother and son talk is refreshing and heart-warming.

Here is the video:

With Mother's Day fast approaching, maybe you'd like to interview and record your mother or have a conversation with someone you care about? There is no time like the present to ask those simple or complex questions! And, think about having an interview like this to help preserve a child or an adult's voice? Priceless.

Monday, May 3, 2010

The Shirt Off Your Back: Give a T-Shirt to Someone in Need

One of the easiest ways to give is not to write a check or even donate your time, though these are valuable means of contributing to charitable organizations, is to send off a used t-shirt to someone who does not have one. A group called One Million T-Shirts is collecting your used shirts and giving them to children and adults in Africa who might otherwise go shirtless.

The group is also asking that you include a dollar, but this seems like a tiny donation given the fact that they're doing all of the shipping and distributing of the shirts. More than a way to save a life, this might just be a simple good deed that will show others that the world cares. I have seen a couple of negative reviews of this project, but I think it's brilliant in its simplicity. I don't think that organizers of this project think that giving away t-shirts will end poverty in Africa, but hope that organizing groups of people to do something and spreading awareness will encourage more charitable acts.

Send your shirt and spread the word on the group's facebook page!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Poem In Your Pocket Day, 2010

Today is Poem In Your Pocket Day. On this day, you are encouraged to keep a poem in your pocket, ready to share with someone special or to keep to yourself. Your poem can be an old favorite or a newly discovered gem. You can copy a poem out on paper or print one that's already in the shape of a pocket.

Here are some additional tips on how you can celebrate this day from

And, a promotional video for the Poem In Your Pocket Anthology, of which I am a huge fan:

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Book Review: The Book Whisperer

Donalyn Miller's The Book Whisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child is a total inspiration for any teacher who hopes to instill a intrinsic love and desire for reading in his or her students. In this book, Miller explains her philosophy and experiences in helping her middle school-aged students to become avid readers. She starts her school year with a lofty requirement of all students: Every student needs to read forty books during the school year. Forty. I bet that you can imagine the reaction of these seventh and eighth grade students when they hear this!

But, as any good reading or language arts teacher knows, Miller is not only setting a high standard for her students, she's setting it for herself as well. There is no way that a teacher will inspire all of her students to consume books at the rate that Miller's do without being a reader herself. There is no question in my mind that Miller is reading at least twice the amount that she expects of her students, if not more.

I have discussed my love for Silent Sustained Reading (SSR) in previous posts. I'll try not to rehash those opinions here, but I will say that as I was reading this book, I felt that the (considerable) time that I spend each week on SSR is verified in Miller's book. For me, SSR has become a daily staple in my classroom and when I dare to try and skip it (gasp!) students rebel. I've been collecting the amount of pages (my system differs from Miller's in this regard: I collect pages read and she counts whole books read) of all of my ninth and tenth grade students since the beginning of this school year. Almost every single student has either read more pages each quarter since the year began, or has started to select more challenging books since we started this year.

There are a few issues that I have with Miller's book, so I don't want to appear to be blindly cheering for it. Miller contends in several places of her book that she does not assign whole-class reads and does not assign classics. I do not have this option (or this desire), as I have a curriculum that needs to be followed and it includes several whole-class texts and classics. To me, this is much more a middle school stance and makes sense in that setting. But, to never read a whole-class novel with a group of high school students? I'd think that this is impossible.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent resource and it's super encouraging. If you're feeling like you need to revamp your reading expectations or add a free reading program to your classroom, this text may help tremendously. Miller provides lots of examples and some of the materials that she uses in her classroom. She also provides proof in the form of research articles and statistics. And, how we love statistics!

If you are still not convinced, check out this video that I found on Something needs to change in our approach to instilling a love of reading in our students. Donalyn Miller gives us a great starting point.

Monday, April 19, 2010

No More Ning: What Does this Mean For Your Class?

Lately, the biggest buzz on the education front has been all about the announcement from the Ning people that they're cutting back on their free services and will start to charge money for those who have Nings. Almost immediately, I freaked out. Why? Well, I don't personally have a Ning that I use with students, but I do belong to about a dozen Nings and use them frequently. And, I don't know what I would do without the English Companion or Making Curriculum Pop Nings.

Luckily, I don't think that either of these sites are going to shut down. Jim Burke, founder of the ECN has already stated as such. I've not heard anything from Ryan Goble, founder of the MCP Ning, but I'm sure that he'll figure something out soon. How can a network thousands of educators simply fade away? I think that we're too used to this collaboration 2.0 to give it up too easily.

But, what does this mean for classroom teachers? Those of you who've worked hard to develop dynamic, student-friendly Ning spaces? I don't know. I've heard that educators may be exempt from paying for Ning services, but that's just rumor and has no foundation in the statement put out by the Ning people. Already, other blogs and sites I follow have put together lists of free sites where teachers can set up new digs.However, I feel like I might feel pretty defeated if I has to start over after blogging for three school years. That's a lot of work.

Maybe the only realistic option if you're totally in love with your Ning setup is to pay. In his email to ECN members explaining the Ning situation, Jim Burke told us that it only costs $24.95 per year to keep his Ning going. And, I can't imagine that it'd cost more if you used it with students. Maybe this just needs to become another of costs (in a huge list, I know) of operating a dynamic, creative, and collaborative online space for your students.

What does have me worried is this question: Are other sites going to follow this path? Once we're used to paying for Ning services, are wikis and blogs and other such technologies going to become pay-only? How will this affect our ability to collaborate and meet and discuss with others in a global sense? Is there a price worth paying to keep students in touch with others in their communities and around the world?

Lots and lots of questions. No answers. I guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Book Drop Rocked!

Today is the day! After months and months of waiting, Operation Teen Book Drop is in full effect! Our school's Chick Lit Book Club raised money and purchased six young adult novels to "drop" in our local, school, and classroom libraries. Here are a couple of the chicks "dropping" their books on our library shelves. Also included is a picture of the books that we purchased. It was super fun!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Need To Wake Up? Leave Your Sleep by Natalie Merchant

Natalie Merchant (of 10,000 Maniacs fame) is all the rage right now. Her most recent album, Leave Your Sleep Behind, is a stunning collection of 19th century poems set to original music. Merchant worked for years to turn these old poems into songs and to create the sounds that accompany them. The result of these efforts is absolutely amazing.

I first learned about this new collection on one of my favorite blogs, Middle School 101. But, as this sometimes happens, I've been hearing about this CD everywhere since then. Just this morning, I heard an interview with Merchant on NPR. And, I've seen the TED video recording profiled and written about on several of the blogs I follow (like MeArtsEd). After listening, I hope that you understand what this buzz is all about! Perfect for National Poetry Month!

Monday, April 12, 2010

A New Kind of Picnic: Shakespeare in the Park

I have always wanted to attend a Shakespeare in the Park play. I live nowhere near New York City, but have been to Broadway and Central Park and would love to see a Shakespeare play there. Unfortunately, I am not able to travel for entertainment this summer, but I'm sure that some of you out there are just looking for an excuse to go to NYC! Well, here's a perfect one!

There are two Shakespeare plays being performed this summer free of charge in Central Park. They are The Merchant of Venice (which is one of my all-time favorites) and The Winter's Tale (which I have not yet read). And, Al Pacino is going to be featured in The Merchant of Venice. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Plays run from June 9th to August 1st. For more information, check out the site for Shakespeare in the Park.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Celebrate National Library Week: April 11th Through 17th

Now more than ever, our local libraries need our support. Libraries have been hit hard by the downturn in the economy in two ways: There is less money for funding, but more patrons than ever. This year's theme for the American Library Association's National Library Week is "Communities Thrive @ Your Library". I can think of no statement more true than this one!

Our Chick Lit Book Club raised money this past February and March to donate six books to our local and school libraries. Please join us in supporting the efforts of our local librarians and patrons and support your library through donations, patronage, and/or volunteerism.

Feel free to grab either of the buttons I used in this post to help spread the word!

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Taylor Mali is Coming to Maine!

The title of this post says it all. Well, not all of it. Taylor Mali, who writes amazing poems about teaching and his experiences in the classroom, is coming to Bangor, Maine. If you're not busy or live anywhere near Bangor, you should check him out. He is brilliant. His poems and performances are passionate, funny, well-crafted, and are never boring. I can think of no better way to celebrate National Poetry Month than with a trip to see a master poet like Mali.

Here is a hilarious Mali classic, "The The Impotence of Proofreading":

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A Fresh Approach To Book-Clubbing: Hitting Up Classics Ten Chapters at a Time

This February, I found that I was traveling up to two or three hours a day for a couple of weeks in a row. Sick of music, tired of hearing the same NPR stories recycled, I had an idea: I should listen to audiobooks. I don't know why I am not swimming in audiobooks, because I absolutely love them. Honestly, I never ever think to buy or download them. Or, I should say that I never thought to do this. I now have a huge pile just waiting to be heard.

One audiobook that I started (I am on chapter thirty-one and have not yet finished listening) was Moby Dick by Herman Melville. I've never actually read this book, but after listening I absolutely want to. I don't know what I actually thought this book would be like, but I know that I didn't think that it would be as engaging and funny as it is. I am glad that I thought to download it off of LibriVox.

(But this is not the purpose of this post. It's just somewhat related. Here is what I really want to say!)

In my email inbox, I received an update about a blog I follow on the NPR site. It's called Monkey See. The authors of this blog, Linda Holmes and Marc Hirsch, are hosting an online book club called the "I Will If You Will Book Club". In this club, readers are given a time frame to read a short bit of a literary classic. This month's assignment: The first ten chapters of Moby Dick. The book club does not meet in person. They meet online and used CoverItLive to discuss the chapters they had read beforehand.

I did not have an opportunity to discuss this book with the others in this "club" online, but I did get to read their discussion and comments afterward. From what I read, this was a success. Everyone who participated seemed to think that they had discovered a classic text that they might have never read and were enjoying it. That's success.

So, what are the implications of this style of book club for classroom teaching and collaborative learning. It seems like students could easily use the same type of technology implemented in this club in the classroom setting. Or, maybe not in class but outside of class to collaborate on projects. Or to talk about a reading selection.

If this one blog project can get a bunch of people to read Moby Dick and this reading makes these people want to meet up online in the middle of the day, maybe there are some lessons to be learned about what motivates readers. Is it the actual process of reading or the idea that the reading/ insights/ information/ likes and dislikes are going to be shared with others? Given the fact that I belong to four book clubs, I'm guessing it's the later.

I can't wait to see what other books this club reads and follow the conversation. Feel free join in if you're interesting in having a little puch to read a classic text!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Another Maine Poet Profiled

Another Maine Poet has been chosen by one of my poem-a-day sites! The smart people at Knopf Poetry chose Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "Spring" as their poem for April 7th. Millay is one of my all-time favorite poets. I love "First Fig" the best, but "Renassance" is another favorite. Here is "Spring":

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death
But what does that signify?
Not only under the ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

This poem reminds me of Macbeth's soliloquy after he learns that Lady Macbeth has died. When I read this though, I love that Millay does not rely on typical spring-ish images and feelings. Maine winters are rough and spring does not come gently. The earth tends to look as though it's survived an assault of some sort and vegetation has to thrust itself out from piles of decay. Millay's poetry is not flowery, even when she's talking about spring. And I like that.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Guerrilla Poetry Attack: One Line at a Time

Later this month, I'm taking my mother to a Maya Angelou reading at the Augusta Civic Center. It's pretty darn exciting. Or, I'm excited. My mother doesn't know that we're going because it's an early Mother's Day gift to her.

To keep her in the dark but to get her thinking, I decided that I would send her a post card every day for the next few weeks with a line or two from Maya Angelou's famous poem "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". This way, she'll get all hyped up about our outing without knowing exactly what's happening. I've included a snaphsot of some of the postcards that I've written out in advance for this project.

I also sent a warning to her on a postcard. She called me the other to confirm that she had, in fact, received this warning. And, she's phoned me most days since with guesses about where we're going. So far, she's not even close. But, I bet she'll be paying closer attention to her mailbox for the next few weeks!

I'm thinking that this might be a cool way to get my students invested in National Poetry Month next year. I think I'll work to document this and offer up some postcards and stamps to my students. They can send friends and/or family members lines of poetry or entire poems on postcards and spread poetic cheer. Right now, students are mailing these postcards for me every morning and they're getting pretty excited about it. Some have mentioned that they want to do it, too. Guess I'll have to add this to my playlist for next April!

Giveaway: Facebook Fairytales by Emily Liebert

I follow lots and lots of blogs, but one that I read regularly is hosting a giveaway. The blog is Pop Culture Junkie and the giveaway is for a book called Facebook Fairytales: Modern-Day Miracles to Inspire the Human Spirit. I am a huge proponent of social networking within and outside of the classroom. I feel that my job as an English teacher is to prepare my students for the types and modes of writing that they'll encounter in their lives. Facebook is definitely one of the major sites for networking and writing.

I had planned to use facebook in my teaching this year, but it was blocked pretty soon after students received their laptops. Apparently, students misused this site so badly that there was no way to keep it open. I hope that we can try to unblock facebook next year and set expectations for proper use. And, I might just win this book and get some great teaching ideas!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Making Poetry Public

Recently, I learned that the British Council Arts division works to make poetry a public priority with their campaign called Poems on the Underground. As part of this project, the council selects six poems every season to post in their "tubes" (subways, in American English). This is no small dedication. There are 3,000 of these poem posters placed in London subways four times a year. And, this effort started in 1986, making this a more than two decade experience.

New York City also uses subway space to promote poetry on its Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) lines. This effort is called Poetry in Motion. It started in 1992 and has promoted many great American poets ever since.

Now, there are no subways or even public transportation here in rural Maine. But, are there ways to capture the essence and spirit of this project on a smaller scale? Are there ways to promote poetry in public spaces where children and adults may be surprised or inspired by some beautiful lines of poetry?

Last year, my students and I participated in a flickr group called Free Verse. This group, created by the Academy of American Poets, asks participants to recreate "lines from a favorite poem written off the page in an unexpected or ephemeral way." The collection of images in this group has grown since it first started. There are hundreds of lines of poetry recreated in these pictures, and most are beautiful and inspiring to see.

What's most important to me as a teacher and lover of poetry is that students and others see poetry as dynamic and not static. I want students to feel that they have the "right" to play with words, whether those words have been published or not. (Of course, they should cite the original work in their recreation.) I don't want poetry to get left behind in our digital age, so ideas like this flickr grop and London's Underground poetry series lets me think that poetry will survive quite well into the next millennium.

Featured Maine Poet

What a wonderful surprise I found in my email inbox this morning! The Writer's Almanac is featuring a Maine poet! Today's poem is titled "For My Wife" and it's by Wesley McNair. McNair teaches Creative Writing at the University of Maine at Farmington (my alma mater). Here is his poem:

How were we to know, leaving your two kids
behind in New Hampshire for our honeymoon
at twenty-one, that it was a trick of cheap
hotels in New York City to draw customers
like us inside by displaying a fancy lobby?
Arriving in our fourth-floor room, we found
a bed, a scarred bureau, and a bathroom door
with a cut on one side the exact shape
of the toilet bowl that was in its way
when I closed it. I opened and shut the door,
admiring the fit and despairing of it. You
discovered the initials of lovers carved
on the bureau's top in a zigzag, breaking heart.
How wrong the place was to us then,
unable to see the portents of our future
that seem so clear now in the naiveté
of the arrangements we made, the hotel's
disdain for those with little money,
the carving of pain and love. Yet in that room
we pulled the covers over ourselves and lay
our love down, and in this way began our unwise
and persistent and lucky life together.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Maine Reads!

I can think of no better way to spend my time than with a great book. I love to read and when I can't read, I listen to books on tape. Reading is a part of my day, plain and simple.

Because of this, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without the comfort and excitement of my daily dose of reading and language. When I read statistics like 42% of Maine adults are functioning at a level 1 or 2, while the workplace requires a level 3 to succeed in supporting employment, I wonder how it is that we are going to fight this epidemic and help those who need it. I know that a number of my current and former students have a difficult time completing job applications. I've started to assign resume and job application writing in class to help prepare my students for these tasks. But, with so many online applications for colleges and jobs, how will the other (nearly) half of Maine's adults achieve functional literacy?

This is not a rhetorical question, because there are no easy answers to this problem. There are, however, organizations and events like Maine Reads which promote fun, literacy-based programs and activities for the young and the not-so-young to enjoy. Through these events, the people who work and volunteer for this organizations raise funds so that they can offer support for adults and children who are not functionally literate.

There are several upcoming events planned for this month, like a reading with Anita Shreve and Tess Gerritsen. Tickets (purchased in advance) for this event are only $10. Amazing! Find out more information about this and other events (several are free) at this site. If you can't join in on the fun, maybe you can donate a few dollars or some of your time to support literacy in Maine?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Take a Poetry Tour

IN my poetry adventures this morning, one activity I participated in was a Chicago Poetry Tour. This tour, organized by the Poetry Foundation, leads the viewer/ listener through a photo and poem filled tour of the Windy City.

I've been to Chicago a couple of times, but not for any length of time. I was impressed at the quality of this tour and how well it captured the love and spirit of this city. This made me wonder: What would a poetry tour of Maine look like? There may be a poetry tour that could be produced about our largest city, Portland, but I think that Maine poetry is as diverse as its geography. I like the idea of a state tour.

The wonderful people at have put together a National Poetry Map, where you can search for poems by state. It is amazing hwo much information is pulled together about Maine, its poets, the history of poetry in this state, and its organizations that support poetry. This information could easily be used (and added to) by students seeking to create a poetry tour of their city or state. This just might become a lesson plan in the future!

Friday, April 2, 2010

Shakespeare: Authorship Debate & Resoures

I've read and watched some interesting debate/ proposals about the "real" man who penned the plays and sonnets attributed to William Shakespeare. I find this subject quite interesting, but not because I really care too much whether or not Shakespeare was a pen name or the real deal.

Recently, released an article that points to a man named Edward De Vere as the true author behind the Bard's genius. In this article, the former president of the Shakespeare Oxford Society, Matthew Cossolotto, was interviewed and asked why Edward De Vere is the most likely candidate. Here are some of the reasons that he pointed to as proof:

-William Shakespeare of Stratford's death was not mourned by the literati of London
-There is no proof that William Shakespeare of Stratford wrote as much as a letter
-The political climate of the time period made it dangerous for a playwright to speak openly

There are more reasons why there exists this notion of a cover-up conspiracy involving Shakespeare's true identity. But, as I said before, I am not going to wait around for scholars to prove that Shakespeare was a nom de plume for another genius writer. I am going to continue teaching Shakespeare's plays and poems because they are some of the most enduring, brilliant pieces of writing that I've ever read.

When I first started teaching, I exposed my senior students to the issue of the authorship debate. I found that their anger and concern over this issue was counterproductive. Students felt like they had been "duped" by teachers over the years. Why were they reading the work of an imposter? After trying to quell their upset feelings, I can to my own conclusion. I love Shakespeare because I love the words, the characters, the rhythm, the themes, and the problems of his plays. I love getting lost in a script or a performance of a Shakespeare play. Whether or not I actually know the name or the identity of the person who created these amazing works does not matter to me. I think that the authorship debate takes away from the beauty of the work. And, didn't Juliet address this very topic when she said:

Some resources I've used in the classroom when teaching Shakespeare plays/ sonnets:

The Shakespeare Standard

The Folger Shakespeare Library

Hip-Hop Shakespeare

BardCast: The Shakespeare Podcast

Shakespeare in the City

60 Second Shakespeare

Shakespearean Insult Generator

A Mosaic of Poems

One of the interesting aspects of receiving five or six poems a day in my email inbox is the variety of subject matter, poets, and themes. For instance, these are the poems I woke up to this morning:

A poem about that unique color, spring green: "My Daughter Laughted" by Katrin Talbot

A poem about a bear from a Native American poet: "Bear Path" by Joseph Bruchac

A passionate soliloquy: "Molly Bloom's Soliloquy" by James Joyce

My favorite poem of the day. It's by Marge Piercy and it's called "Seven Horses". I love the imagery, the structure of the stanzas, and can relate to the yearning that Piercy expresses in the last stanza. Brilliant.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The First Day: Poems for April 1st

Today, I'm going to post links to the poems I received in my email in box this morning. I will (try to) post the poems I find every day for the entire month of April. (Key word=try!) I'll also post updates about the poetic activities happening in my classroom this month. Without further ado, here are the poems!

"Mineral Expectations" by Bruce Dethlefsen (from Your Daily Poem)

"A Story" by Phillip Levine (from

"The Saints of April" by Todd Davis (from The Writer's Almanac)

"Self-portrait" by Edward Hirsch (from Knopf Poetry)

"Tiolets That Trouble My Sleep" by Alice Schertle (from GottaBook)

Also, I was able to hang up my new National Poetry Month poster from Thanks!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Real Inspiration

Jaime Escalante, the inspirational mathematics teacher on whom the movie Stand and Deliver is based, died yesterday at the age of 79 years old.

Though Jaime lived in a totally different part of the country from me and taught a totally different subject matter, I could not help but be moved every time I watched Stand and Deliver. I think that this movie and Jaime's real-life story was so powerful because of his absolute faith and certainty that his students could achieve and would achieve if given the time and attention that true learning requires. I'm sure that the movie version of his story is dramatized, but the essence of his story is what's inspirational to me. We can never give up on our students. We cannot doubt their ability or their potential. We are not judges, we are teachers. Our students can learn, we need to teach. And reteach. This is what I take from this story. Thanks, Jaime Escalante, for sharing your life and your story!

Why I Love April: Every Day is a Poem

National Poetry month is finally here. Now, along with the rest of the world, I am able to celebrate the true miracle of life--A well written poem. I love, love, love poetry. I love it in all shapes and sizes and colors and forms. I love all sorts of poets and poems, from the classical to the revolutionary to the simple to the modern to the childish to the American to the otherworldly. It's all good.

One amazing benefit of having a month dedicated to poetry is that there are a number of folks who are willing to send you a poem every day of this month for nothing. All you need to do is provide your email address and you'll get a poem in your inbox every single day. It's brilliant.

Here are some services to think about taking advantage of during this month (and year round, in some cases):

Thirty Days/ Thirty Poets

The Writer's Almanac with Garrison Keillor

Poem a Day from

Poetry Daily

Poem-a-Day from Knopf Doubleday Publishing

Poem of the Day from the Poetry Foundation

Your Daily Poem

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Perfect Birthday Poem

Maybe this poem speaks louder to me than it normally would because today is my birthday, but I thought it fitting nevertheless. I look forward to reading the poems that I receive every day in my email inbox. Some days they are more relevant than on others, but they are always a pleasure to read and share. Here is the poem I received today, which is doubly perfect because it comes from a Maine author:

How true is that? I've gone from wishing I'd be old and mature to dreading going to bed after ten at night! Oh, how we change!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Censorship: Protection through Silence?

Of all the nonviolent crimes in the world, censorship is the worst. I understand that reading materials and artwork evoke strong emotions, some of which can disturb the reader/ viewer to the point of discomfort. I don't like being uncomfortable any more than the next person, but I do know that stepping out of my comfort zone can lead to productive, valuable thoughts and experiences.

I am not a parent, but every year I am in the position of selecting and purchasing thousands of dollars of reading materials for teens whom I care about deeply. I don't want to offend or hurt or damage my students through a reading experience. However, I don't want to prevent them from connecting with books and poems and plays that could open their mind to the realities that others experience around the world.

When I read that "Paint Me Like I Am", a collection of poems from the WriterCorps organization has been challenged by a concerned parent, I was saddened beyond belief. I can understand a parent not wanting their particular child to read a certain book, but to prevent others from reading a book is unconscionable. And, the irony of this case is that the poems that are being challenged by this parent are written by actual teens. These poems, which I have used for years in my own classroom, are written by teens who are dealing with real issues.

Apparently, this is not the first time that this particular collection of poems has come under fire. Last year, a principal from New Jersey cut an "offensive" poem out of the book and returned it to the school library shelves. The poem in question is written about an abusive stepfather.

The problem that the parent and the principal are not seeing is that abuse happens and that poems have the ability to make abused teens feel like they are not alone. Poetry can move students to action, to talk about their experiences, to find help, to talk. Censorship of poetry (and other art forms) does not protect, it takes away a potential connection for someone who needs it. And no one person has the right to decide to take that connection away from a person who needs or enjoys it.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Poetry: It's More Than One Unit

When I first started teaching, poetry reading and writing was an "activity" that I saved for the end of the year. I would "do" a unit on poetry, which usually included a mixture of classic and modern poets and attempt to have students engage in these select poems. I would also use a multi-genre project to inspire students to write poems, providing specific poetic forms for them to imitate.

Now, poetry is a year-long fascination for me. I have come to see that poetry is all at once the easiest and most complex way to integrate a love of language and playfulness into the curriculum. It is no longer an afterthought for me; rather, it has become the inspiration for entire courses of study within my classroom.

Like most secondary education English teachers, I love National Poetry Month. Also, like most secondary education English teachers, I am overwhelmed by National Poetry Month. There is so much that I hope to do, hope to accomplish, wish I could try and do with my students during this one short month. Fortunately, there are all sorts of suggestions and poems and lessons available to teachers in my predicament. Unfortunately, these ideas are amazing and add to my want to "do" more during April, a month that includes a week-long vacation.

I've decided that I need to breathe deeply. I've incorporated more poetry than ever in my regular classroom teaching. Poetry is taught/ discussed/ shared/ written/ created at least once per week in my classroom now. Gone are the days when I teach a poetry unit to my students and call it "good". Poetry is a focal point, not a byline.

I plan to write a series of posts related to this topic for late March and throughout April. In these posts, I hope to share some of the resources (which I may or may not have time to use) in hopes that you and your colleagues may be inspired to incorporate poetry into your teaching or to add to existing poetry ideas/ lesson plans.

Here is my first item. I just discovered the Poetry Everywhere project, which is port of the Poetry Foundation. On this site, you can find videos narrated by poets reading their work. It's pretty darn incredible. Be sure to click the picture I've provided in this post. It's linked to an inspiring poem titled "Weighing In" by Rhina Espaillat. Check back for more throughout late March and all of April.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Controversy in Texas: My Case Against Textbooks

Lately, I've read a whole lot, more, and even more and about the controversial efforts of the Texas Board of Education to include a greater emphasis on the Christianity of our founding father and exclude "negative" words like capitalism, in favor of friendlier terms like "free enterprise system". I understand that people are aghast and upset about this issue because as Texas goes, so goes the nation. Well, this is true in terms of textbooks sales at least. The textbooks created for little Texans are bought and sold to many, many other states.

I'm going to use this issue as proof for my anti-textbook philosophy. I used a textbook in my first year of teaching and have not picked up one since. I find them to be a bit useless and off-putting. I think that textbooks are designed to meet the needs of a general population. I like to believe that my teaching and my lesson planning seeks to go beyond the usual. I think that even when textbooks are created with the best of intentions, censorship still exists. I vividly remember teaching a shortened version of Romeo and Juliet out of a textbook that first year of teaching. Of course, all of the parts that were excluded involved the "good stuff": The intimate scenes between the young lovers.

No matter how hard a textbook company tries to be unbiased and inclusive, there are materials and authors left out. I'd rather compile the poems, plays, excerpts, essays, and other such materials as I see fit. I don't need a textbook to lead my teaching. Plus, I worry that textbooks are sometimes used in place of a larger work, which alienates the reader from the reading experience. I've never curled up in bed with a great textbook. I don't envision my students becoming life-long readers because of a well-crafted textbook.

Plus, the internet allows for a huge variety of reading options. A stock collection of fifteen to twenty poems in an American Lit textbook is no longer the only resource available to students and teachers. Of course, pulling together a wide variety of materials and resources online takes time. We're used to this, though, right? Perhaps this Texas textbook scandal will finally make us all realize that the best way to teach is with authentic materials that are pulled together from a variety of sources. Maybe the days of a one-book curriculum are finally over. Outside of Texas, that is!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Using Documentaries To Discuss Social Issues with Teenagers

Lately, there have been a number of memorable and professional documentary series created for teenagers. I am a huge fan of documentaries and find them appealing for a number of reasons. My students, however, are less impressed with docs that I find fascinating. They are not as patient with the slow, PBS-style format that I have come to love (but probably would've found boring when I was a teen too).

Now, I'm making an assumption here that many of you are looking for ways to talk with your teen students about serious and controversial social issues. I know that it can be easier to gloss over issues of drug use, teen pregnancy, abuse, homelessness, suicide, immigration, and racism rather than face them head-on with students. Most of my philosophy of education is dedicated to talking about real issues with students. I feel that these conversations will help students to become more connected to their learning in my classroom and involved in the realities of their world. For me, I want to be real because the real world is out there and will not slow just because you happen to be only eighteen and a recent high school grad.

I know that many teachers/ adults/ people with brains are not fond of MTV. Because I have seen the debauchery and wanton recklessness of such series as Jersey Shore and The Real World, I can understand this sentiment. In the recent past, though, there have been a number of documentaries aired on MTV that could be of use in the classroom. Here are some that I've enjoyed and would use in the classroom:

True Life: This is a great series that has been on MTV for a long, long time. I've seen every single episode and have to admit that the featured topics have helped me to stay in touch with issues facing today's teens and twenty-somethings. From dealing with drug addiction to being deaf to hating your parents to eating disorders, this series covers it all. Don't have MTV? You can view full episodes directly from this site. You can share a clip or a full episode with students to inform your lesson plan. I know that this show has helped me to show students cultural events and experiences that my students may not otherwise be aware of. We live in a rural environment, but that does not mean that students don't need to be prepared for a global world when they graduate.

16 and Pregnant: This is a newer series from MTV. I am currently watching season two, which is a bit different from season one. Season two profiles one teen girl per week, devoting a full hour to their story. Season one showed five or six girls every week, giving each girl a portion of an hour. I do love seeing a full hour of each teen's pregnancy experience, but I felt a bit more connected to the teens with season one's format. I've not yet used this program in my teaching, but I plan to when we read The First Part Last by Angela Johnson. This young adult title follows the story of a teen boy who is raising his infant daughter without the baby's mother. It is a powerful story, but I feel that there are so many different types of teen pregnancy stories that it could use the help of 16 and Pregnant to highlight some of the other types of choices teen parents can make.

30 Days: This show is created and hosted by Morgan Spurlock, famous for his McDonald's documentary called Super Size Me, where he ate only cheeseburgers and fries for 30 days. The 30 Days television show is developed along the same lines, but with a variety of themes and topics. I've used the Life on an Indian Reservation episode in teaching Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Students loved it and made references back to it throughout the unit. It really helped to show students what a reservation looks like and it shows how Spurlock changes as a result of living on a reservation for a month. There are many other subjects that are explored in interesting ways through the three seasons of this series: Immigration, guns, animal rights, homosexuality, living on minimum wage, and others. You can find full episodes of this show for free on hulu.

Of course, there are other documentaries available online for free through PBS and other such reliable sources. I use those sources as well, but these options are also thoughtful and provocative. They just happen to be aimed at a slightly less mature audience!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Questions, Questions, Questions

I am in the middle of reading Jim Burke's new book What's the Big Idea?: Question-Driven Units to Motivate Reading, Writing, and Thinking. I've decided that I need to complete multiple posts about this book rather than just one. I don't want to read and review this text; I want to use it. Also, I'm taking my time in reading this one. I'm finding that there is no reason or way to rush through this book. The writing is too thoughtful, too right-on. Every chapter is filled with my notes, connections to units I teach, and it's full of huge exclamations. I totally recommend reading this book (even though I haven't finished it)!

Throughout this text, Burke talks about the importance of asking questions. He gives tons of ways to integrate question-driven units and lesson into the classroom, but it's really the philosophy of developing a questioning classroom that intrigues me. I have known for a long time that student choice helps to promote ownership and excitement in the learning process. It is now clear to me that students need to have some control over the development of the questions that will guide the selection of material--not just the materials themselves.

I recently spotted a cool spot on the New York Times website. It's called "6 Q's About the News". Here, students are encouraged to look at a daily photograph, read the corresponding article or information that goes with it, and answer six basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, how. I could see this becoming a regular feature in my classroom. I know that one of my goals in teaching students is for them to be curious and ask questions about the world around them and this idea would help to accomplish this goal. The photo and the article could be about anything. And, choosing the photo would allow students to have their own take on the way that they answer the six basic questions.

I will post more about this amazing book and the resources I'm finding that connect with it. I also hope to implement some of Burke's ideas into my teaching soon, so stay tuned!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Problem With Fiction

In the last few years, I've consistently heard of, read about, and experienced many situations where high school students have not been able to read and report out on nonfiction pieces that they're assigned or choose to read. This problem has become more and more interesting and pressing due to the current importance that is placed on standardized test scores. Our state (Maine) uses the SAT as the standardized test measurement for all high school juniors. There is no fiction on the SAT, yet the majority of our high school English curriculum is made up of fiction.

Rather than point the fingers at English teachers, who tend to harbor most of the 'blame' when our students are not achieving at reading, this issue seems to be one that can be shouldered most effectively by every high school teacher. Maybe I'm forgetting some subject, but it seems that all contents teach nonfiction in high school. Right? From art to math to science to social studies and world languages, nonfiction is the preferred genre. So, if this is the predominant source of reading material for high school students, why are they lacking the skills to read nonfiction?

My idea for writing this post came from a recent New York Times Idea of the Day segment titled "Schools Nonfiction Problem (True Story)". I was intrigued by this article because it aligned with what I've been hearing at staff meetings, in professional development sessions, and with what I've seen in my own classroom. I feel that this article brushes the surface of this problem but does not touch the underlying issue at hand: How do we best equip students to understand nonfiction materials, while allowing for choice and required readings in English courses?

Tom Kuntz, the article of this piece, refers to a Renaissance Learning study that concluded that only two of the top twenty reading choices of high school students were Night by Elie Wiesel and A Child Called It by Dave Pelzer. What's interesting to me is that on that same list are several fiction choices that are obviously assigned readings for English classrooms. Fahrenheit 451? The Great Gatsby? Of Mice and Men? These are not student selected readings for most students. These books were assigned for homework.

To me, this study showed more about what books were assigned for class reading and less about what students are actually ready for choice books. (I mention this because Kuntz picks on the Twilight phenomenon. Twilight, I'm sure, is not assigned reading for most, if any, high schooler.) In my classroom, I encourage choice reading during our Silent Sustained Reading time, which we have every class period. During this time, students may read whatever book they like, and I keep track of their accumulated book titles. Relatively few students choose nonfiction titles for SSR books, but those who do tend to be boys and they often choose adventure/ biography titles.

The real answer to this problem, in my opinion, is not by attacking students for their free reading options, but by including more nonfiction in the regular curriculum. I would not be the prolific reader I am today if not for all of the trashy, subversive fiction I read as a teen. Somewhere, somehow I also developed an interest in nonfiction. I feel like that interest and ability to process nonfiction stemmed from some of the fiction I was reading as well as a keen interest in the world. How do we cultivate curious and adventurous readers? It's great that kids are reading vampire stories. How do we get them to want to read about the history of vampire mythology? How do we get them to read about the controversy over whether or not Twilight is appropriate reading material in the New York Times?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On My Wishlist: Magnetic Poetry

I had forgotten how fun magnetic poetry could be. I have played around with it in the past and knew that it existed, but it took a group of excited freshmen to remind me of the sheer thrill that some random words glued onto magnets can offer. Magnetic Poetry is great in possibilities, but some students have a difficult time limiting their word choice. They want the exact word that they're looking for. On the other hand, some students are frustrated because they just can't start. They have a hard time in coming up with a poem without any direction.

One solution for the latter is the Magnetic Poetry Game. It comes with thematic cards that require the writer to stick to a particular theme or mood. This focus allows students to use their imaginations as to how they're going to express the abstract word written on their card, but it gives them a place to start. This alleviates some of the pressure of coming up with a brilliant poem on one's own. Some students are self-conscious about their writing (or, in this case, arrangement of magnets) and have a hard time playing around and working with meaning and form. It seems that one of the best lessons for this type of student is that there is no right answer or correct usage of a word when it comes to Magnetic Poetry. I think that if this approach is used more often in the classroom, then students may feel more comfortable playing with words in their writing, whether it be verse or prose.

Play is important. Every kindergarten teacher knows this to be true. Somewhere along the line though, teachers and students start to think that play is silly and that rules are serious. I work hard to break the notion that words are stiff and boring and unmovable. Magnetic Poetry allows me to illustrate this point in my classroom. I started this lesson as an option for students. There was other work going on in the room, but if they chose, they could come and play the Magnetic Poetry Game. Two students volunteered right away. Soon, there were five or six students playing. They were laughing and joking and showing their poems around and helping one another to switch out words. It was awesome. Next time a student is stuck in his or her writing, I know that I can refer back to this experience as a reminder that poetry is not a right/ wrong or yes/ no enterprise.

Thanks to my practicum teacher for being hip and cool enough to bring this in for us! Now, I just need to buy it for my classroom.

Also on my wishlist is Magnetic Shakespeare. I'll talk about my thoughts on playing with Shakespeare's words in a later post.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Reading Rituals: All About Book Clubs

My recent reading of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows has prompted me to write this post. In this piece of historical fiction, you are invited into the world of post-WWII Guernsey, an island centered in the English Channel off the coasts of France and England. Frankly, before reading this novel, I'd never really thought about Guernsey. But, while reading this book and after finishing it, I'm wondering if I'll ever get the opportunity to visit this magical-seeming spot.

I initially bought this book as the March read for a local book club that I belong to. This book club is comprised of about eleven or twelve women who are currently teaching in our school district or who have retired from teaching in it. We've been "together" for about six years and have read a whole host of titles in that time. This book was not one that I proposed, as I thought it sounded a bit cheesy. However, it seemed like a bit of a fun read and also met the criteria for the Bibliophilic Book Challenge, so I ordered the book and read it over my February vacation.

As quaint as the title sounds, there is a whole lot of meat in this novel. I loved the structure of it--completely told in letters written back and forth between the main character, Juliet, and her friends and strangers. With this structure, I felt truly transported to another place in time, where "snail" mail was the only true way to communicate with people and waiting on letters in the mailbox meant more than watching your email inbox for a quick memo or something.

In this novel, Juliet is a writer during and after the Nazi occupation of Europe. She lives in a bombed-but-not-broken London, but is lucky enough to receive a letter from a man living on the island of Guernsey who's looking for a book. This connection leads to all sorts of other threads, but primarily serves to lead Juliet to discover the subject of her next book. I won't talk too much about the subject, but I will remind you that I now having a huge desire to visit Guernsey and meet all sorts of fictional characters who I've grown to love.

More than just satisfying a requirement for a challenge or for my book club, reading this book made me think about the many book clubs I belong to and have created. Hearing about all of the mismatched personalities who made up the roster of the Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society made me think about the people I've met and the books I've read that I never would have been acquainted with if not for the book club. I truly don't think that I would've read this title had it not been the title for March 2010. What else would I not have read over the past six years?

A list of books I've loved but don't think I would've read if not for this book club:

A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell
Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

Loving Frank: A Novel by Nancy Horan

These four titles are the first that come to mind. I'm sure that there are others that I've read and enjoyed only because they were assigned to me. Now, I belong to several book clubs, all with different themes. So, what is the lesson that I've learned in all book club-ery? I've learned that it's important to talk about books I'm reading. I understand more about plot and character when I have the opportunity to listen to others who've read the same book. I've learned that time spent reading a book that I don't necessarily like is not time wasted. I've also learned that it is okay to put down a book that I hate and not feel pressure to read it all the way through. I read 100 or so pages and if it's not for me, I still go to the meeting and listen and share, but there's no guilt!

More importantly, this one six-year-and-counting book club has bonded me to people whom I would have never met if not for the club. My life has been forever changed by these amazing women and I am excited every month when we all carve out a small space in our busy schedules to make time to chat about a book and whatever else happens to come up in conversation. Thanks, ladies!

I'll post about other book clubs and implications for classroom practice in future posts. Stay tuned!
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