Tag Archives: Reading

Notable YA Books of 2016

It’s that time of year again when people begin reflecting and recounting the best, the top, or the most of one thing or another. So many great books were at the forefront of 2016 but these are the books that have left a lasting impression on me. Stories that I shared with my graduate students and read with my middle school students. I wanted to share the best young adult books that I have read this past year as I look forward to many interesting titles being published in the year ahead.

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The Reader is set in Kelanna,  a place where written words do not exist and there is no written language, except for the few protectors of “the book.” Some believe that the book has magic and can “turn salt into gold.” Sefia is a orphan after her father is murdered and her aunt is kidnapped. Sefia seeks to find her aunt and understand more about the mysterious book that was her father’s. With the help of a stranger, Sefia goes on an adventure to seek revenge,  find her aunt, and learn more about the powers of the book.

I cannot rave enough about this book. The play on words and double meanings of this adventure tale evolves into a story about the power of literacy and learning to read. Traci Chee has hidden a series of secret puzzles and mysteries to solve. This is a book that once you get to the end, you want to go back to the beginning and start reading again.

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Another debut author, this book is a story of friendship and love. It is also about not letting your parents define you or who you can become.  This story is about three teenage outcasts who lean on each other in good and bad times. There is love, death, secrets are revealed, and although there is no happy ending, Dill and Lydia learn to move on from their pain. This is a great book for someone who has exhausted John Green and Rainbow Rowell’s novels.

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THIS IS NOT A YOUNG ADULT BOOK, but I am going to include it anyway because it was fascinating. Most high school students are reading Holocaust historical fiction and I would consider using parts of this book for a select group of high school students studying the Holocaust. Pearl and Stasha are twin sisters brought to Aushwitz with their mother and grandparents during WWII. Due to the fact that these sisters are identical twins they are taken by Dr. Mengele, a physician who was known to experiment upon concentration camp prisoners. Stasha and Pearl are tortured by Mengele and meet other children who are part of his zoo. Told in the sister’s alternating voices there are elements of strength, hope, resistance, and deep pain.

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I can tell you exactly where I was on 9.11: riding a train into New York City for work that stopped short of the city to let out passengers due to the circumstances after the first plane hit. My brother had just started his first year of college at George Washington University, two and half miles from the Pentagon and was walking to class. My sister was flying in from California on the red eye. Game Polisner, author of Summer of Letting Go, writes another heart wrenching tale about two teens and an unlikely friendship. Kyle was in school when the planes hit the towers and walks home across the Brooklyn Bridge where he finds a young girl covered in ash. Kyle brings her home to help her and the two watch the tragedy of the day unfold.

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So many young adult books tell the story of young people who feel alone, are considered outcasts, or ostracized by their families. In David Arnold’s Kids of Appetite, five individuals find each other and help each other each with their own personal struggles. Vic’s father died after battling cancer and now his mother has a boyfriend who is moving in with his family. Vic finds list of places where his father wanted his ashes spread and the Kids of Appetite help him on his quest to fulfill his father’s last wishes. This quest helps him to make friends, fall in love, honor the kindness of strangers, and open up to the possibility of living a full life without his father.

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Fans of The One and Only Ivan, will fall in love with Pax. Told in alternating voices between Pax, a pet fox and Peter, Pax’s owner. Peter has raised and domesticated Pax since the fox was a small pup. Now that his father has been called to duty he makes Peter get rid of Pax by setting him out into the wild. Peter runs away in order to find Pax. This is the story of both their journeys in the wild until they find each other.

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The highly anticipated sequel to The Red Queen; my students and I were in love with Aveyard’s first novel last year and couldn’t wait for book 2 to hit print. In this fast paced dystopian novel the demise of this crooked kingdom raises more questions than answers between the silvers and the reds. King Maven is a bad character who no one can trust. There are new characters with new special powers and tension between between Mare and Cal feelings for each other is not even close to being resolved. Mark you calendars now for King’s Cage February 2017.

What books would you include? Share your titles in the comments section below.

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5 Professional Books to Strengthen Student Learning

I have spent the past two weeks binge reading professional books published this year. Reading professional books about teaching allows me to reflect on my own teaching practices and look into new ways to support the learners in my classroom. All of the books   inform my thinking about literacy in order to strengthen students’ reading and writing.

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Let’s begin by throwing out everything you know and teach about the literary essay in secondary school. The formula for teaching essays in schools is not really an “essay.” Katherine Bomer’s The Journey is Everything: Teaching Essays That Students Want to Write for People Who Want to Read Them (Heinemann, 2016) shares some of the most beautifully crafted essays throughout her book as she calls for the need to revise what we think we already know about teaching and writing essays. Each chapter of her book takes the reader through the “essaying” process from reading closely to crafting powerful essays. Bomer defines essays as “nonfiction prose, whose author unveils a central idea about the world and its occupants and invites – with bold, sometimes lyrical exposition and interesting kaleidoscope of facts, observations, memories, anecdotes, and quotes from others – readers to watch him or her think about that idea for a few pages.” (p.22) She argues the problems with standardized essays forms and supports utilizing the essay for the practice of “writing to think.” Bomer offers strategies to help get ideas down on paper and hones in on the craft moves of great essayists. The book includes powerful essays and essay excerpts from Brian Doyle, LeBron James, Roxane Gay, and dozens more.

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Fisher, Frey, and Lapp’s, Text Complexity: Stretching Readers With Texts and Tasks, 2nd Edition (Corwin & ILA, 2016) addresses the quantitative and qualitative measures of text complexity so teachers can make instructional and assessment decisions to support students as readers. The authors discuss all the characteristics of the reader and a text to consider.  For example, when considering the reader teachers cannot ignore background knowledge, fluency, cultural knowledge, and vocabulary knowledge for text selection and teaching. When choosing a text, teachers must analyze the text for levels of meaning or purpose, structure, language and knowledge demands. These considerations allow teachers to “plan appropriate instruction and strategically guide the development of their learners.” (p. 67) The book contains a number of checklists and tables that highlight the strategies and skills needed to build students’ knowledge. Fisher, Fray and Lapp describe teacher led tasks like Think Alouds, Close Reading, Scaffolding, and Collaborative Conversations as examples of strategies to help students read more, read widely, and read deeply, in order to develop life long readers.

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Years ago I read a book by Robyn R. Jackson titled Never Work Harder Than Your Students (ACSD, 2009) which addressed having students do the difficult work of learning to build stamina and knowledge. Jan Burkins and Kim Yaris’ book Who’s Doing the Work? How to Say Less So Readers Can Do More (Stenhouse, 2016) takes a similar vein to Jackson’s work and looks specifically at Read Alouds, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, and Independent Reading in order for teachers to push students towards leading the conversations about books and reading. By asking students, “What could you try?” puts students in the driver seat instead of scaffolding, front loading, or telling students the answers. We want students be in the driver seat rather than autopilot in our classrooms to thinking deeply and construct meaning versus teachers constructing meaning for students. Constructing meaning should be done by our students and Burkins and Yaris offer strategies and prompts that make stronger readers. Looking to maximize our students’ roles, teachers become facilitators so that students can apply what they know and think.
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Both Who’s Doing All the Work? and Text Complexity address a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). As Dweck states in an article for EdWeek, “Students who believed their intelligence could be developed (a growth mindset) outperformed those who believed their intelligence was fixed (a fixed mindset). And when students learned through a structured program that they could “grow their brains” and increase their intellectual abilities, they did better. Finally, we found that having children focus on the process that leads to learning (like hard work or trying new strategies) could foster a growth mindset and its benefits.”

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Struggle is natural and learning can be challenging, it’s how students respond to challenge, struggle, and the hard parts is what really matters.  Gravity Goldberg’s Mindsets & Moves: Strategies That Help Readers Take Charge (Corwin, 2016) is an ode to growth mindset in the classroom. Building on the works of Dweck, Angela Duckwork’s Grit and Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly, Goldberg describes the new role of teachers as miners, mirror, models, and mentors to encourage a “stronger appetite for learning” among our students. Teachers must first admire their students, give detailed and effective feedback, show students what we do as readers, and then guide students towards ways of reading that work for them. Goldberg offers a visual tour of effective classrooms through pictures, descriptions, charts, and lessons.

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Kate Roberts & Maggie Beattie Robert’s DIY Literacy: Teaching Tools for Differentiation, Rigor, and Independence (Heinemann, 2016) offered four teaching tools to bring into the classroom as scaffolds and supports for student learning. Teaching charts, Bookmarks, Micro Progression Charts, and Demonstration Notebooks are four visual tools that explain ideas, clarify, and illustrate skills and techniques so students can turn around and recall key ideas taught.  As a teacher who already uses charts and demonstration notebooks, the micro progression charts and bookmarks were two artifacts that I plan on bringing back to my classroom and utilizing with my students. The micro-progressions of skills chart articulates criteria for students the different levels of that skill and creates a model for each level. Below is a picture of an example of a micro progression chart.

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image from https://i.vimeocdn.com/video/565312636_295x166.jpg

We all have our favorite professional texts for teaching reading and writing. The books mentioned here offer great insight and teaching moves to support students as critical thinkers, readers, and writers.

If you have any professional books you recently read and find helpful with teaching literacy, please share in the Comments section on this blog.

 

 

 

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#ILA16 Take Aways

In her essay “Beyond Bread and Cheese: The Artisanal Approach to Teaching and Learning” (2016, Moffly Media) author and Head of School at The Ethel Walker School in Connecticut, Meera Viswanathan describes a trend in education away from “industrialized learning” towards something that more personalized, relational, and authentic.

Good teaching is not mass produced and neither are best practices. Engaged learning is artisinally-produced. Viswanathan writes, “Rather than following dicta set by others without reconsideration, the craftsman aspires to something more ideal, a transcendent possibility in both small and large ways.” Hence, good teachers are personal, relational, embrace possibility, and are always perfecting their craft – “that each endeavor is not a replica of what came before, but rather creative experimentation within a limited framework towards some new possibility, something better, something approaching the ideal.”

Attending the International Literacy Association Annual Conference this past weekend encouraged introspection, self-reflection, and critique of artisanal teaching practices and intentions.

  1. The classroom is a place to introduce students to new worlds, worlds that we could not have imagined and imagine for the better. Key note speakers, Adora Svitak and Kwame Alexander emphasized the need for teachers and students to work on understanding suffering that is going on in our communities as well as the suffering happening around the world in order to help imagine a better world. Literature is a catalyst to transform the world. Teachers need to teach diverse books and tackle tough topics. We gain so much when we read and write.IMG_6720
  2. The classroom should introduce students to the possibility of deep sustained engagement and wonder with ideas, the world, and life around us. Students are more invested when they are engaged. The theme of the conference was “Transforming Lives Through Literacy 2.0” – Students have the power of technology to search and seek what they want to know. Learning in the classroom is not about the acquisition of information anymore. Our classrooms need to be places where students have VOICE and CHOICE to discover, explore, wonder about the world and their own interests. Reading and Writing Workshop, Genius Hour, and Passion Projects are all teaching practices that allow students to personalize learning and transcend what is. Technology has the power to expand the walls of our classrooms around the world and across the universe.IMG_6718
  3. Teachers and students must learn to question their own assumptions and recognize the limitations of their thoughts, thereby expanding horizons. Critique and self reflection are for the cultivation of alternative viewpoints and perspectives. Compassion and empathy are based on opening oneself up to others, ideas, and experiences. Students need to hear, read, and see diverse texts, genres, to learn about the world and what is possible. Engaging in conversations about the world and the recent events in our community can help empower young people. This can also help transform our classrooms into authentic, active, and relevant learning spaces all students want to participate and be a part of.
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Reading and Writing Workshop is Relevant in the Digital Age

When I first began teaching in New York City many years ago, I utilized the reading and writing workshop during the 90 minute literacy blocks I taught daily. Today, I still welcome the reading and writing workshop into my middle school English classroom, although my schedule limits class time to 40 minute periods. I offer gradual release into the reading and writing workshop as we dive into book clubs, independent reading, and whole class novels throughout the school year. My students maintain reader’s notebooks and write about about the texts they read as well as the topics that are important to them.

Below are a few ideas and technology tools that I utilize in my Reading and Writing Workshop to help deepen my students’ comprehension, maintain accountable talk, and build writing portfolios.

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Reader’s Notebooks Still Matter – Even in the digital age where many teachers have moved into Google Classroom, I use interactive reader’s notebooks — Yes, a marble composition notebook. Inside the notebook students maintain data about their reading life (Reading Timeline, information about themselves as readers, and their reading goals), interactive foldables on what they are learning, including mini-lessons and read alouds. The notebook also contains graphic organizers, sketch notes, and written reflections that highlight student’s application of independent reading in written form. The notebook is a space for students to process information and reflect on their reading.

Face to Face Conversations are just as important as Digital Collaboration – Students need to practice talking to one another face to face, read body language, and cues. Verbal communication is a necessary skill both in and out of school. Students need to get in the habit of meeting with partners and small groups to interact face to face and share their thinking about the texts.

Digital Collaboration is Beneficial – Students can collaborate digitally on a wikipage, blog,  or Google Doc to help them capture their thinking about reading and highlight the conversations and accountable talk that is happening about text. Students can use digital applications to record the conversations using tools like @Recapthat or @Vine to showcase insights, questions, and new thinking.

Google Classroom as a Digital Writing Portfolio – Students can utilize Google Docs to create a portfolio of their writing about their reading. When we ask students to write long or write literary essays about their reading, it can be showcased online and shared with QR Codes or even create a digital Flip Book of student’s best writing.

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Flip The Reader’s and Writing Workshop – After reading Dana Johansen and Sonja Cherry-Paul’s Flip Your Writing Workshop: A Blended Learning Approach (2016) I gained so many ideas to to create digital lessons that allow students to work at their own pace and target instruction to small groups and individuals. Creating a digital library of online lessons modeling writing strategies and setting reading goals help to free up more time for individualized instruction.

Here are a few trustworthy tech tools for Accountable Talk in Book Clubs and Reading Partnerships:

Backchannels:

Twitter

Vine

Today’s Meet

Socrative

Reflection Tools:

Recapthat (iPad and Laptops Only)

Polleverywhere – Utilize the new word cloud feature

Voicethread

Padlet

Do Ink

Collaborate Ideas in Written Format:

Google Docs

Wikis

Participate Learning

Blogs

 

 

 

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Do You Have GRIT?

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Angela Duckworth’s Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance (2016) is filled with resourceful information for educators and parents regarding passion, hard work, and determination.

As the genius hour movement and passion projects storm through classrooms around the world, teachers like myself ask what is genius and how it is different from talent and mastery.

Teacher and parents emphasize talent is the deciding factor in a person’s success, but Duckworth argues that work ethic and effort is ranked higher than talent in measuring a person’s grittiness. Duckworth writes, “A preoccupation with talent can be harmful . . .by shining our spotlight on taken, we risk leaving everything else in the shadows. We inadvertently send the message that these other factors – including grit – don’t matter as much as they really do.” (p. 31)

In fact, Duckworth’s formula for success is

2(Effort) + Talent = Success 

Talent x Effort = Skill

Skill x Effort = Achievement 

So, one “becomes a genius” and “acquires greatness.” She taps into Malcolm Gladwell’s concept of 10,000 hours described in his book Outliers. “Consistency of effort over the long run is everything.” (p. 50) Duckworth describes “strivers as “improving in skill, employing skill, through hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.” (p. 51) Yes, to do anything really well, you have to overextend yourself, as the writer John Irving points out.

Grit is loyalty and dedication and “there are no shortcuts to excellence.” (p. 54)

Grit has two components, “passion and perseverance.” (p. 56)

Passion is a “compass – that thing that takes you some time to build, tinker with, and finally get right, and that then guides you on your long and winding road to where, ultimately you want to be.” (p. 60).

To find one’s passion or tap into one’s passion the question to ask is What is your life philosophy? What are you trying to get out of life? 

To help answer these questions, Duckworth borrows a three step strategy from self made millionaire, Warren Buffett.

  1. Write down a list of 25 career goals.
  2. Circle the five highest priority goals.
  3. Look at the 20 goals you didn’t circle. These are your distractors. Avoid them at all costs.

Then, ask yourself, “To what extent do these goals serve a common purpose?” (p. 68)

Grit grows and it begins with an interest, then practice – working daily and the discipline to skill driven practice. Then comes purpose and finally hope. Duckworth writes, “passion for your work is a little bit of discovery, followed by a lot of development and then  lifetime of deepening.” (p. 103) Play is necessary during the discovery phase. Once a passion or discovery is made, then comes development or “continuous improvement or deliberate practice” (p. 118) until mastery.

Purpose is also key, “the idea that what we do matters to people other than ourselves.” (p. 145) NO matter one’s age, one can always cultivate a sense of purpose. Find inspiration in role models, think about how your current work enhances your core values, and reflect on how the work you are doing makes a positive contribution to society (p. 166).

“Growth mindset and grit go together.” (p. 181) Yes, the power of positive thinking. As Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t – you are right.”

Growth  mindset >> optimistic self talk >> perseverance over adversity

So what does this all mean for parents and teachers?

Demand high standards

Language is everything – What you say and how you say it matters

Offer Loving support and Trust

You are models

Allow children to cultivate interests

Failures are going to happen, how we respond makes all the difference

“Always reach for your best.” (p. 266)

Character is necessary to grow and flourish. Grit isn’t everything.

Genius is “working towards excellence, ceaselessly with every element of your being.”

Everyone has the ability to grow genius.

 

 

 

 

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Close Reading, Common Core, and State Assessments

Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey define three phases of close reading and the aligned Common Core Standards in their text, Text Dependent Questions: Pathways to Close and Critical Reading (Corwin, 2015):

I. What does the text say?

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Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
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Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas.
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Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text.
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Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.1
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

 

How does the text work?

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Interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone.
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Analyze the structure of texts, including how specific sentences, paragraphs, and larger portions of the text (e.g., a section, chapter, scene, or stanza) relate to each other and the whole.
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Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.4
Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words or phrases based on grade 8 reading and content, choosing flexibly from a range of strategies.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.5
Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.

What does the text mean?

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.7
Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.1
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Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.9
Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.R.10
Read and comprehend complex literary and informational texts independently and proficiently.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.1
Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.3
Use knowledge of language and its conventions when writing, speaking, reading, or listening.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.L.8.6
Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate general academic and domain-specific words and phrases; gather vocabulary knowledge when considering a word or phrase important to comprehension or expression.
If we look at the most recent test questions on the New York State Exam (ELA Grade 7), the questions asked on the reading comprehension section fit seamlessly into these three phases of close reading.
What does the text say?
What does _______ mainly represent to ______?
Which detail would be most important to include in a summary of the article?
Which line best reveals the change in attitude towards . . . ?
Which claim can be supported by evidence from the article?
Which evidence from the article best supports the author’s claims in these lines?
How does the text work?
What does the word ______ suggest about _______?
Why does the author most likely include lines X through X?
How do lines X most affect the meaning of the story?
Which quotation best supports the author’s claim?
How do lines X  through X develop the central idea of the article?
How des the setting affect the plot of the story?
How do lines X through X mostly contribute to the story? (By describing, revealing, suggesting, showing)
How does the author organize the ideas in the article? (By explaining, showing, relating, describing)
Why are lines X important to the article? (they explain, emphasize)
What does the text mean?
Which question best expresses a theme developed throughout the story?
Based on lines X, readers can conclude . . . ?
What is the main significance of the ______ in the story?
Which inference do these sentences best support?
What does the phrase _____ suggest?
These questions represent the New York State’s interpretation of the Common Core Standards and can be used to inform teachers and students of how the state portrays close reading. I am not going to address the ambiguity of many of the questions asked nor include the uninteresting reading passages that went along with the reading comprehension questions. Rather, I wanted to make public the questions that students are being asked on these standardized tests for teachers to utilize.
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For Evan: Speak Up, Speak Out, Know the Signs to Prevent Teenage Suicide

Disclaimer –  This article addresses the topic of teen suicide and includes some sensitive information.

Evan Hyman was the class president of his high school. He was a solid student with lots of friends. He started an initiative in elementary school called “Cupcakes for a Cause” to raise awareness and money for hospice care after his father had passed away from brain cancer. He liked to go hiking and was active in his Temple Youth Group.

But on January 31, 2016, Evan committed suicide. He left no note and no signs that he was putting this thought into action.

Over 1,000 people attended his funeral in shock, despair, awe, grief, that this sixteen year old took his own life.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined as reported by the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit organization for the awareness and prevention of youth suicide. The organization also reports that four of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

But what about the one who shows no clear warning signs? The one who was seemingly happy, gregarious, friendly, caring, family oriented and then hanged himself in his bedroom.

I recently read All the Bright Places, a young adult novel by Jennifer Niven (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015) about two teens who develop a friendship over suicidal thoughts. Both characters are battling inner demons and throughout the story the warning signs were like bread crumbs dropped along the pages insinuating what is to come. Yet, in the book there were no adults, parents, siblings, friends, teachers who were keen enough to help these two teens. The book ends tragically.

In a twitter book chat with the author I asked Ms. Niven why she did not have anyone help these two teens when it was clear that they were struggling with suicidal thoughts from the beginning of the novel. Her response to me was she receives hundreds of tweets and letters from teenagers telling her that they do not have an adult who cares or they can turn to. I was shocked by her response. I thought how can that be possible.

And two weeks later the news that Evan committed suicide rocked my community. His mom found him. The fire department had to come to the house and remove the body. I thought it was an accident. I told everyone there had to be a sign. Or it was a mistake. Why would this seemingly smart, popular, and all around good kid do something like this? How could no one not notice anything. His friends were as dumbfounded as I was, maybe even more so compounded by heartbreak and mourning.

The Youth Suicide Prevention Program lists the following signs that may indicate that someone is thinking of suicide:

  • Talking or joking about suicide
  • Current talk of suicide or making a plan
  • Strong wish to die or a preoccupation with or romanticizing death
  • Writing stories or poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Hinting at not being around in the future or saying good-bye
  • Seeking out pills, firearms, or other ways to kill themselves

So, if a friend or child or sibling or student mentions suicide or shows one (even many) of the warning signs take it seriously. Get help immediately. Do not leave the person alone.  At the same time, show the person you care by sharing your concerns and listening carefully to their feelings.

Maybe Evan’s suicide could have been prevented. Maybe there were signs that people missed or he hid his pain. We will never know. What we do know is the hole that he has left in so many by ending his life so unexpectedly is deep. Evan’s death has made me more aware and vocal about this “silent epidemic.”

For more information how to talk to a person with has suicidal thoughts and shows signs of depression and despair check out the resources below:

Helpguide.org — This non profit organization offers extensive information about ways to talk to a person about suicide or suicidal person as well additional preventative tips

The Jason Foundation — This organization is dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide through educational programs, an app, and informative information on its website.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1 (800) 273-8255

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call this number immediately.

A few Young Adult Novels That Address Suicide:

411mjmptsel-_sy344_bo1204203200_13 Reasons by by Jay Asher

41r-skjj61lLooking for Alaska by John Green

18460392All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

the-pact-06-lgThe Pact by Jodi Picoult
18075234Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman

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Using Social Justice to Teach Reading/Writing in the ELA/SS Classroom #Engsschat 2/29 7 PM EST

This upcoming Monday 2/29/2016 7 PM EST I will be guest moderating #engsschat. The topic is one that I am passionate about and a theme that drives my teaching and curriculum. Our twitter conversation will address social justice as a catalyst to teach reading and writing in English and social studies classrooms. My objective is to engage in a dialogue with other educators about literacy and social responsibility.

Below are the questions for the chat

Here are a few excellent resources for teaching and learning more about social justice and social responsibility.

Facing History and Ourselves

On their website, Facing History states, “the lifeblood of democracy is the ability of every rising generation to be active, responsible decision-makers. And we believe that inspired teachers and innovative methods are the key.” Facing History words with educators around the world throughout to improve their effectiveness in the classroom, as well as their students’ academic performance, historical understanding, and civic learning. Facing History has a number of incredible curricula and resources for teachers and students to critically examine history and the moral choices we confront everyday.

Teaching Tolerance and the Southern Poverty Law Center

Teaching Tolerance offers a magazine, curriculum materials and lesson plans, webinars, and professional development on topics committed to diversity and inclusion of  all people.

Zinn Education Project

The Zinn Education Project promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country based on the lens of history highlighted in Howard Zinn’s best-selling book A People’s History of the United States The website offers free, downloadable lessons and articles. The Zinn Education Project is coordinated by two non-profit organizations, Rethinking Schools and Teaching for Change.

Two excellent resources about teaching social responsibility include:

caring-hearts-and-critical-minds                           9780325053592

 

Here is a middle school book list with titles that address social justice:

 

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Harnessing the Power of Picture Books in Middle School

Rundine Sims Bishop (1990) wrote, “Books are sometimes windows, offering views of the worlds that may be real or imagined, familiar or strange. These windows are also sliding glass doors, and readers have only to walk through in imagination to become part of whatever world has been created or recreated by the author.  When lighting conditions are just right, however, a window can also be a mirror. Literature transforms human experience and reflects it back to us, and in that reflection we can see our own lives and experiences as part of the larger human experience. Reading, then, becomes a means of self-affirmation, and readers often seek their mirrors in books.”

Because books have the power and potential to allow their readers to experience and see so many layers of ourselves and our world, teachers must select and read a wide variety of literature with diverse perspectives. As Sue Christian Parsons pointed out at ILA 2015,” [teachers must] work diligently to ensure that the books in our classrooms shine brightly as mirrors and, for readers to see themselves readily in book around them.

I am defining diverse books as books that honor the complexity of life and people. At the same time, diverse books go beyond just diverse characters, settings, and experiences. Diverse books can also include a wide range of genres and types of text. Whereas picture books are prevalent in elementary classrooms, they also have a place in middle school classrooms.

Pictures books offer stimulating artwork, accessible language, a smaller amount of text than a novel for. Picture books can be used for read alouds, introducing a complex idea, whole class modeling, enrich vocabulary and word development, and even creative writing prompts.

I have used the Mysteries of Harris Burdick as a read aloud and creative writing prompt to kick off a mystery unit.

To introduce complex ideas of communism and socialism during our dystopian unit I read aloud Click, Clack, Moo by Doreen Cronin and pair it with Farmer Duck by Martin Waddell.

While students are reading To Kill a Mockingbird and Melba Patillo Beals’ memoir, Warrior’s Don’s Cry I have read aloud Freedom Summer by Deborah Wiles, Teammates by Peter Golenblock, and Separate is Never Equal by Duncan Tonatiuh.

In my classroom have a bin filled with picture books and poetry anthologies about the Holocaust and Japanese Internment.

I kicked off Genius Hour this past year by reading aloud What Do You Do With an Idea? by Kobi Yamada and Mae Besom and also The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires.

Picture books are accessible books for students of all ages. They offer layers of stories told through words and images. They should not be left behind when students move up from elementary school.

I would love to know how you are using picture books with your middle grade students. Please share your ideas for picture book text pairings and how you are using pictures books in your middle school classroom in the comments section of this blog.

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Strategies to Boost Meaningful Conversations About Text

As we read, our minds can be activated in a variety of ways. Sometimes questions come up that might not be answered, a difference of opinion arises that isn’t cleared up or we want to say something. Our minds often linger on those questions, opinions, or ideas long after we have closed the book. Whether your students keep a Reader’s Notebook or you are looking for strategies that promote written conversations among students about books, here are some strategies for responding to text independently and with friends.

Responding to Reading with Journaling

  1. Focused Freewrite or Quickwriting – The idea is to simply write for 15 to 20 minutes. Don’t stop for anything. Go quickly without rushing. Never stop to look back, to cross something out, to wonder how to spell something, to wonder what word to use, or to think about what you are doing. Freewriting is an exercise in bringing together the process of producing words and putting them down on a page about a specific topic or subject. You can write about a particular character in the text or a specific chapter or conflict. You can respond to what surprises you, what intrigues or disturbs you in the text.
  2. Metacognition Reflection  – This response involves taking stock of where you are now, where you’ve come from, and analyzing what has happened to produce the discovered growth or change in yourself. In this response you are more self aware about yourself as a reader. Some guiding questions: What did you learn from what you read today and how did you feel about it? What is important to you about the book and what would you like to say about it? What connections did you make between your own life and experiences and what you read about today?

Writing With Friends

  1. Literature Letters – This response is a way for you to have a conversation with your teacher or another student about what you are reading. You will write a letter and will receive a letter back. All of the letters will record your thinking, learning, and reading. In your letters, talk about what you’ve read. Tell what you thought and felt and why. Tell what you liked and didn’t like and why. Tell what these books said to you and meant to you Ask questions or for help, and write back with your reactions, ideas, feelings, and questions.
  2. Dialogue Journals – Or written conversations are logs of reflections, reactions, and responses kept by a student and regularly exchanged with student partners in the class (Atwell, 1998). As you read the text, try to make connections between what you’ve read and what you already know. When you prepare to write a dialogue journal entry, think about how different parts of the text relate to your personal experiences, to things going on in the world, or to other parts of the book. For this entry you might pull out telling quotes from the text and respond to the quotes in your own words.
  3. Write Around (Daniels, 2007) – Form a group of four. Each person gets a large blank piece of paper and puts their initials in the upper left hand margin. As students work, request they follow the following: Use all the time for writing and don’t talk when passing papers. 1. Students write for one minute. Write your thoughts, reactions, questions or feelings about the topic. 2. Pass your papers clockwise. Students read through the entry on the page, and just beneath it, write for a minute. Write responses, reactions, or make a comment or ask a question. 3. Pass the papers again – repeat and continue four times total. You need to allow a little more time with each entry because students will have more to read with each successive exchange. 4. Now pass one last time and you should get back the paper that you began with. Now read the whole thing over and see the conversation you started. You won’t write the answer this time, feel free to continue the conversation out loud for a few minutes.
  4. Meaningful Discussions Talking Stems

I know what ________ is like because . . . . [Students make logical connections to their lives]

I agree/disagree because in the text . . . . [Students reference the text]

I wonder why . . . . [Students question why the author does something]

I’d like to add . . . [Students build on what others say]

I am confused by . . .  Could you explain . . . [Students ask for clarification]

Tell me more about . . .  Why do you think . . . .[Encourage readers to think deeper]

All these strategies are Writing to Learn activities which means students are utilizing writing as a tool to promote learning. Writing to learn allows students to think on paper and helps students clarify and organize their thoughts and improve their retention of content.

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