Wonder-ful

I enjoyed having Melissa talk to us in class on Tuesday. I miss having her in class. It sounds like she is struggling with certain things teaching on Redcloud reservation. However, she is dedicated to her students; that makes me hopeful that no matter what teaching situation we are put into, we can get through it as long as we have the kids’ interests at heart and a dedication to teaching the best we can. I’m sure it sometimes seems to Melissa that she is not doing any good for her students, but she has gotten her students to read and learn about the world. She may never be able to solve all the problems in education, and we probably won’t either. But, that doesn’t matter as long as we show up every day, keep our values in every lesson, and do everything we can to teach our students as much as possible.

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I finished Wonder by Raquel Jaramillo. I had been planning to read it for a while, and then I saw that a movie was coming out for it. Nothing prompts me to read a book quickly like a movie coming out. I do not want the movie to ruin the book for me. I really enjoyed Wonder. It is a feel-good book with a good lesson. Of course, there are times in the book where I was mad, and almost shouted at it, “WHY ARE PEOPLE SO MEAN TO LOVELY AUGGIE?” But, honestly, the story is pretty realistic. Middle school is a rough time. Middle school is a time where we learn to either embrace people’s differences or we stay resolute in the thought that people like us are the best.

Wonder teaches compassion, kindness, and sticking up for your friends. It’s a wonderful book for middle and high school students. I think compassion is one thing we are truly missing in this world; the more books, the more kinds of people, the more perspectives, and the more cultures I can introduce students to, even through books, the better. A generation of diverse readers equals a generation of kind, open-minded people. Also, I loved how every character’s perspective in the book was written different; I could hear the voice of each character between different points of view. Justin’s perspective never used capital letters which annoyed me, but I got used to it.

Space Oddity by David Bowie. 1. Because it is Auggie and Miranda’s song. 2. Because David Bowie is a beautiful and amazing human being R.I.P. 3. Because David Bowie was my first crush. 4. This is an amazing song. Listen to it!

 

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An Update on Some Stuff

I have been enjoying our unit creation project. Creating my unit on graphic novels has helped me with my future teaching career way more than the dozens of lesson plans I have created for other classes. I have had to ask questions while creating this graphic novel unit: do I want to do an entire unit just on graphic novels or do I want to supplement each unit with graphic novels? What are the pros and cons of starting off the year with a graphic novel unit? What kind of minilessons will be a part of my graphic novel unit? What kind of writing will I expect my class to produce? How can I use this unit to gauge students’ interests and to bring my students together as a reading and writing community? What kind of mentor texts do I need for this unit? How long will my class need/want for this unit? How does this unit align with my vision and values statements? Will this unit set the stage for my expectations of my students for the rest of the year? I never had to ask such important questions when I was creating my twenty some lesson plans for an Of Mice and Men unit, or when I was creating a lesson over the plot pyramid with pre and post assessments. I appreciate having to think about these things. I believe this unit design is preparing me for teaching; I have been asking myself for several years now So, when are they actually going to teach me how to teach a classroom?

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A lot of people may think that reading and writing workshops are hippie-dippie or too easy, but they require a lot more thought and planning than a traditional classroom. I remember reading in Atwell’s In the Middle (I am pretty sure it was in Atwell’s book) that her class often looked like chaos with a group of students writing, a group of students reading, some students conferencing, and some students researching. She established her classroom in a way that her students could work independently. Her students knew what they were doing and what was expected of them, so she did not have to have them all doing the exact same things at once. Her students were learning how to manage their time. They were learning how to learn without someone constantly looking over their shoulder.

Atwell said that her fellow teachers and her principal often told her that she lacked control and proper planning in her classroom…until they saw what her students produced, how much her students read, and how well her students did on testing. Every once in a while, it may seem like chaos and a lack of planning to run a writing and reading workshop, but it actually requires a lot of planning to give students the freedom to read and write what they want. To me, it is easier to teach traditionally. Teaching your students to sit down, shut up, and think in one defined way is easy; teaching your students to learn how to learn, to appreciate reading and writing, and to think critically and creatively is ten times harder.

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I am making some progress with my next “published” draft/ mentor text. Unfortunately when I have homework, I feel a little guilty for spending my time coloring. It’s getting there though! All I have left is to color! Also, I kind of broke my reading slump. I finished Anya’s Ghost in a couple of hours the other day. INCREDIBLE BOOK! I am starting to believe that my favorite graphic novel genre is horror. Anya’s Ghost messes with your mind a little. You are reading, and you are thinking well, this is a cute story about a friendly ghost helping an insecure girl. Cool, I like that. Then the book is like nope, everything you thought is wrong; this is about to get really creepy! I was so surprised by the end of the book. I loved how much Anya grew. She learned to love herself, and not do things she doesn’t want to do to get other people to like her. She learned to appreciate her family and her background. I recommend it! I am also still reading Turtles All the Way Down. I think I haven’t gotten caught up in the story because I am really stressed about homework for other classes. However, I am determined to make time to read it!

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Professional Development Book #2

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I already know I will not do Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide justice in this blog post. I learned an incredible amount from reading this book about how schools kill the love of reading, and what I can do about it as a future teacher. In the introduction, Gallagher lists the reasons that readicide has occurred in our school with the main factor being the emphasis on standardized tests in the U.S. Our schools have lost focus of what is important: creating lifelong learners and readers. Instead, teachers have been teaching to the test. Important time has been taken away from reading and deep thinking and been given to test prep.

Gallagher attributes four things to the cause of readicide: 1. Schools value the development of test-takers more than they value the development of readers. 2. Schools are limiting authentic reading experiences. 3. Teachers are overteaching books. 4. Teachers are underteaching books. The fact that people learn the most from reading is a simple thought that has been lost in the sea of tests. We learn the most about the world, about vocabulary and grammar, about ourselves, and about others from reading not from filling out multiple choice tests.

In chapter 1, Gallagher pursues an in-depth analysis of how the emphasis on tests in our country is killing students’ chance at loving reading. Teachers are responsible for teaching a massive amount of standards. Consequently, teachers teach each of these standards only on the surface level. Classes zoom through the surface of different content, but never can take an in-depth, critical look at one element of the class. Instead of critically and creatively thinking about each war within history, classes are speeding through the facts of each war without really having a deep understanding of any of it. This surface level look at an incredible amount of things does not allow students to gain an interest in any of it; they do not have time to gain interest in World War I when they are expected to learn about it in it’s entirety within a week.

Struggling students are taken away from authentic learning experiences to learn how to take tests. Instead of helping our struggling readers by giving them more time to read and by giving them strategies, we take them out of the classroom to try to teach them how to take tests (surprise, surprise this doesn’t work). The students who come into our class needing the most help (students who come from low income backgrounds without the chance to read or to be read to who come into school word poor, students with disabilities, and English language learners) are not given the most help; they are not given authentic learning experiences. It is almost like we give up on them, and that is heart-breaking. 

In chapter 2, Gallagher begins by talking about how two of his senior students told him they could not understand the assigned article about al Qaeda because “We don’t even know who this Al guy is.” This story alone illustrates that we have a problem in our schools. Students can leave high school with only a surface level understanding of the things that make up our world: of history, politics, economics, etc. Honestly, if you would’ve asked me my freshman year of high school who the vice president was, I probably couldn’t have told you. Our schools are not giving our students enough authentic reading experiences where students can learn about the world they live in. Gallagher’s solution to this problem was to assign an article each week from Newsweek which I think is an amazing idea. Students in Gallagher’s class are learning about the world through authentic reading experiences.

The next problem Gallagher tackles is the fact that there is a lack of interesting reading materials in our schools. Yes, most schools have libraries, but will students check out a book from the library without incentive? Gallagher tells a story that illustrates that bringing a book into the classroom and being excited about having read this book encourages our students to read that book; we have to put a little effort into changing our students’ thoughts on reading. Some students come into our school in word poverty. They were not given the experiences as a child that encourage the development of an expansive vocabulary; we have to give them the opportunity to catch up and thrive as a reading by giving them a huge amount of interesting reading material. Gallagher then argues for silent sustained reading (SSR). My school never had SSR; I had to find time to read. I would get in trouble for reading in class. After reading, I am a proponent for SSR!

I’m already almost at 800 words, and I only covered two chapter, sigh.

Gallagher talks about overteaching good books in chapter 3. Yes, classics are valuable. They have lasting life lessons in them, but we kill them by overteaching them. We ask students to stop every 5 minutes to analyze the text. No real reader stops every five minutes to analyze what they read; they immerse themselves in the story. Gallagher talks about the reading flow. The reading flow is why I have pursued a degree in teaching English. It is getting lost in a book. That moment while reading where you forget that you are reading and instead you are just absorbing the story; it’s that books that passes five hours of your time without you being aware of it. It is the ultimate reading experience. When we overteach books, we do not allow students to achieve this reading flow. I believe all we have to do as teachers to get students to love reading and to become lifelong readers is to give them the opportunity to find this place within a book where they lose themselves in the story; they will spend the rest of their lives pursuing books that give them the same experience.

In a weird shift, Gallagher then talks about underteaching books; both are a problem he says. We cannot give students difficult texts without giving them any help, and we want our students to challenge themselves with difficult texts. We want students to read a classic every once in a while that encourages them to be critical of the world. As teachers, we have to find a balance between chopping a text up in a way that makes it unenjoyable and leaving students to fend for themselves with a difficult text which results in zero comprehension of the text. Gallagher says that giving students reading strategies helps develop lifelong readers. While reading this, I thought about how no one ever taught me how to be a good reader. I was left to figure it out for myself. No one taught me to reread complicated passages or to figure out the meaning of a difficult word from it’s context within a sentence. We are doing our students a disservice by not giving them reading strategies for difficult texts. Of course, for recreational texts, we do not have to teach these things; we can allow students to simply enjoy these texts.

Chapter 5 is a simple encouragement to teachers to have the courage to step up and change the way we teach. We can help our students to love reading. We can fill our classroom with interesting books. We can find a balance when teaching classics. Gallagher promotes the 50/50 approach; students read half recreational, interesting books which, of course, can also challenge them, and students read half difficult, academic, classic books. I’m not sure I agree with the split, but I do agree that there has to be both recreational and academic reading within the classroom. However, I believe the academic reading in the classroom should not be limited to classic books; students can gain so much knowledge from articles, magazines, blogs, etc. I know I have missed so many important things in this books, but I encourage everyone to read it. We can be the generation that stops readicide.

My Next “Published” Draft

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It’s Monday. I’m at the tutoring center with all the homework I need done for most of the week completed. I tell myself that I am going to work on my next published draft for Special Methods because I am excited about it. I start planning out every page of my graphic novel. Then I decide suddenly that I don’t think it’s going to be a graphic novel because there isn’t going to be individual boxes with dialogue and plot. So, I’m like shoot, what is it going to be then. I decide maybe it could be a children’s book type of thing or just writing with pictures that go along with the words. So, I go about planning, and I thing about drawing my sister and myself because the beginning of my writing has to do with my mom reading to my sister and I. And….I realize I suck at drawing people. So, I’m pretty downhearted about the project now. I feel like maybe I should just do something easier even though I was genuinely excited about doing this project. When I get home, I think what if each page just represented the book in my life. I google and save a bunch of images, and before long I have spent 2 hours drawing and planning.

I was worried that it wasn’t great. Special methods changed my mind. I was pretty nervous to show Dr. Ellington and other people my drawings and plans. But everyone was so encouraging that I am SUPER excited about creating this book again. I feel like everyone is going to be so blown away by how awesome it looks after I have colored it and spent some time on it. I was so excited that I spent most of block class drawing like 10 more pages (I may not have paid enough attention to the class, oops!) I think this project will be a really great way to introduce the literate lives unit in my class because it shows how much books have meant to me, and it shows that I want my students to pursue their creativity in my class. If you want to create something like a children’s book, a graphic novel, or something that doesn’t even really fit into a genre, do it if you are excited about it! I am hoping to finish my rough sketches of each page within the next week or two. Then, I am going to perfect the words for each page. Finally, I am going to color it, and make it look awesome! And I am going to show it to you all, and hopefully you guys like it!

Regan and Jessica! Since I know you like Jodi Picoult: what could I draw that would kind of represent her books? I am bad at drawing people and all her front covers have people. I haven’t been able to think of something to use to represent her amazing books.

More stuffs/reflection on class:

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I really appreciated our discussion on grading, feedback, and assessment this past couple weeks. It has taken the stress out of the whole process to me. I now know that it is possible to encourage a love of literacy in my students while giving administrators (and everyone else) the grades they want from my classroom. I loved Kittle and Romano’s thoughts on grading. I know that feedback is going to take time. It’s going to be a lot harder to do feedback in a way that encourages students to keep writing than it would be to edit and correct their papers, but I think it is worth it. It is worth it to spend extra time giving feedback on my student’s writing if it is going to help them to see themselves as writers and maybe even learn to love writing. Spending time on students’ writing also gives me an insight on who they are as people. It lets me know what they like, what they excel at, and what they need to work on!

Update on my reading life:

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I am currently reading the second book to the 5th Wave series, The Infinite Sea. It’s from a different perspective than the first book (different perspectives since there is more than one perspective in both the books). Next, I am going to read How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson which I am super excited for. Then, I am going to read Readicide by Kelly Gallagher, and I am pretty sure I am going to buy it after I read it (just from Dr. E’s description). I also have a book that I checked out from the library like a month and a half ago that I need to get to. I am excited to read Lighter than my Shadow by Katie Green when Regan is finished with it. I also bought three graphic novels that will be coming from Amazon soon: Pax by Sara Pennypackler drawn by Jon Klassen, Through the Woods by Emily Carroll (looks super creepy!), and Invisible Emmy by Terri Libenson. I want to read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and The Color Purple by Alice Walker, so if anyone has those books I would love to borrow them!

Week 7 Reflection

I really enjoyed workshopping this week. It is such a privilege to be able to read other people’s writing. It’s like a glimpse into their soul. So, I want to start out by saying thank you to everyone who shared their writing with the class. I know that it isn’t always easy to share what you are writing, especially when it is personal. All the pieces we have read for the workshop have been so strong. I still feel like crying when I think about Kelly’s piece. Carlie shared a piece with us that showed her fear of growing old and losing her grandmother that I think we could all relate to (I cried while reading this one too). Bryce gave us the gift of a glimpse into a terrible first day in her life. Shaniya shared her childhood with us. Maryanne welcomed us to her literate life. Zane took us on a journey through the trails of his childhood with some beautiful writing. Ali showed us her safe place, and her growth as a writer. Timmi revealed how hard it is to be a student athlete to us.

It’s pieces of writing like these that make me remember why I want to be an English teacher. They make me remember why I love reading so dang much. I love seeing the world through someone else’s eyes; I love how much writing reveals about a person. If teaching my classroom in a nontraditional, workshop way, produces pieces as inspiring and revealing as the ones we produced in special methods within my own high school classroom; I will be beyond thrilled.

I never wrote creatively in high school. Not once. I mastered the five paragraph essay, and once or twice we were asked to write a descriptive essay about how our summer went or our favorite season (narrow topics always). My high school experience has had a huge role on how I think of myself as a writer now. I doubt my creative writing abilities, but if you give me a critical paper to write over a piece of literature, I can write it without thinking. I’m not saying it’s not important to be able to write critically about a book; it is important. But it is definitely not more important that allowing students to develop their voice, to express their opinions, and to see themselves as writers. I cannot wait to give my students the opportunity to write for their own purposes.

To this day whenever I am working with a student with their paper, all I want to do is edit their paper. It’s hard for me to change my mindset that workshopping is not the same as editing, and that editing does not really help a writer or their writing grow. It takes some training in the classroom to get students (even college students like me) to understand that workshopping is not editing. It takes some practice for a class to understand constructive criticism, and how to look at a piece of writing for its strengths rather than for its weaknesses.

I have been reading The 5th Wave all week. I love it. I can’t wait to watch the movie, and to read the rest of the books! I love how it is a different look at alien invasions than we usually see. I also love the romantic element because I’m a sucker for romantic books. I also read American Born Chinese this weekend, and I super love how it ends. I read American Born Chinese to my nephew and he loved it! It was the first book that I have read to him that he actually sat still for more than 10 minuets to listen to! He loved the colorful pictures. I also have been listening to Stephen King’s short stories, and I finished The Mist which was scary. Stephen King is seriously the most amazing writer ever. He has such realistic characters; he isn’t scared of portraying humanity. His characters are not the ideal human; they are real humans. I found two new graphic novels in the library too! I am about to start The Lunch Witch and the second book to The March series. I also bought Wonder which I have seen some people in class reading: what did you guys think of it? And I bought The Wonderling which has a pretty cover, and sounds very interesting. I am still working towards reading Stardust, Small Great Things, and another professional development book!

Blue is the Warmest Color, A Game for Swallows, and Pride in Baghdad

I already book talked these books in class, but I wanted to write a blog post about them too. The past two days was a sob fest for me as I finished these graphic novels. Blue is the Warmest Color hit me hard. It’s terribly sad. I loved the art work as I talked about in class. I loved the splashes of blue to emphasize how she fell in love with the blue color of her girlfriend’s hair. Blue is the Warmest Color is an amazing glimpse at the struggles homosexual teenagers face while trying to figure out their sexuality. The main character, Clementine, spends a lot of time denying her sexuality. Clementine cannot admit to herself that she like girls. It does not help that her friends cut her off after finding out that she is with a girl. Her girlfriend tries to open her eyes to the different kinds of love and the openness of love. Everything goes downhill when her parents kick her out of the house after finding the couple together. Clementine moves in with Emma, her girlfriend, but she still struggles with her own sexuality despite being happier than she ever has been. When they break up, Clementine spirals, and so ensues the sadness.

A Game for Swallows is a glimpse at the life of a family in Lebanon. Their entire block is split in two by sandbags for the citizens safety. People within the community have lost loved ones, and their sadness is tangible within the pictures and the text. They live their lives from cease-fire to cease-fire, simply trying to survive on the small amount of food and water that they have. Young men are required to take over their families. Children wait in anxiety when their parents do not come home within an hour from their grandmothers down the street. Yet, there is beauty and there is hope. They rely on each other. They find ways to have happiness. They cook, they sing, and they appreciate what they have. Everyone is family even if they are not blood. They work together and love each other.

Pride in Baghdad was an arrow in my heart. The graphic novel begins with four lions in a zoo. An older lion who lost an eye to a tragic event in the wild which is super brutal and almost made me cry in class; she does not want out of the zoo. She finds safety in the zoo. The cub has never seen the wild, but he is curious. His mother was brought to the zoo as a young, and she makes plans to try to escape the zoo. She idealizes the wild. The older, male lion lived part of his life in the wild. He tells stories of the horizon and the sunset. When bombs start going off, the lions are scared, but they are reassured that the zoo keepers have not left. However, when the zoo keepers leave, the lions realize they are in trouble. The bombs blow the lions to freedom, but now they struggle to find food. They explore the dens of the keepers and find wild animal pets. They struggle together, fight, and support each other. The ending is tragic. I do not want to reveal it because it is beautifully and terribly sad. Seriously, if you never listen to me another time about what you should read, listen to me about reading Pride of Baghdad. It is super relevant. I wish many Americans would read it, and realize there is another side to the war in Iraq other than the American side. Many Americans believe we are justified to bomb these different countries, and I believe this is because they do not fully understand the destruction we are causing.

My Journey to Teaching: Rollercoaster of Classes

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I did not come to Chadron State College expecting everything I thought about teaching to be thrown out the window. I expected to learn how to give grammar worksheets, grade papers, create essay questions, manage crazy teenagers, etc. I expected to learn how to traditionally teach a classroom. I did not expect to be asked to question beliefs that have been deeply engrained in our society such as the survival of the fittest in a capitalist society or that students learn through memorization and repetition. I did not expect to be asked to question how we learn in the classroom, or how we systematically, unconsciously oppress students who did not grow up in a certain way. I didn’t expect to question the structures of language, the creation of the literary canon, or my own privilege. But, I am so deeply grateful that I was expected to question society, education, and my own beliefs. I am grateful that I have been asked to grow and learn continually. I have been given the awesome insight that learning is endless.

Now, I believe that there are elements of our society and our education system that are incredibly oppressive. We are forcing people to fit into labels and to conform into little boxes. We do not allow creativity it seems. We punish those who cannot fit into our ideas of success or normality. My English classes make me so excited. I leave Special methods, and I am so excited to have my own classroom. I want to help my students start their journey to love learning and to love reading and writing. And I leave believing to my core that students want the opportunity to learn and to have their voices heard. I plan my classroom in my head. I see hard work from my students, but I also see valuable life experiences that will form lifelong readers, writers, and learners. I want my students to question the way things are. I want to ask of them what my college professors have asked of me: to check my privilege, to question what society expects of each individual, and to love learning. I strongly believe that this is how we create beneficial citizens. Why would we want everyone to conform? Why do we ask so little of our students? I do not want to live in a world of robots who cannot form their own thoughts, who only think what they were raised to think.

I leave my education courses with a fire of passion. Heck, I’m not going to lie, I’ve been leaving block downright angry the last few days. Angry that people cannot see what we have been taught in our English courses. Angry that I cannot express how wrong our education system is to those who do not fit into society’s neat little labels of humanity. I get down. I tell myself that I know what I have been taught is right. Sometimes I tell myself that it would be easier just to teach how everyone wants me to teach. I know we are up against years of traditional teaching. We are fighting against the way things have always been, and people hate change. They hate things that are different. I think the fight is worth it. I do not know how prepared I am to justify how I want to teach, but I know that what I have learned these past three years in college is right. I’m so passionate about how I want to teach that it makes it hard for me to argue for what is right in my classroom. I get red. I get angry. I get loud. And I know this is wrong. I know I need to stay level-headed. I get flustered. How do I explain three years of knowledge in a few short sentences? How do I defend everything that is against what people have been taught to see as right? I am being taught completely different things in my classes. And I have resigned to just jump through hoops in block, but I keep being asked to explain my beliefs.