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!
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