The Fourteenth Goldfish by Jennifer L. Holm

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As I have already said before, I love pretty book covers. The Fourteenth Goldfish has an awesome teal cover with a test tube with a goldfish in it right in the middle. The back is covered in goldfish and jellyfish. The back of the book simply states, “I took my goldfish home and named it Goldie like every other kid in the world who thought they were being original. But it turned out that Goldie was kind of original. Because Goldie didn’t die.” The book’s intriguing back cover description and it’s pretty cover made me want to read this book instantly. I want all of you to read this easygoing book! Especially if you are in literary criticism like me, and you feel like your brain might explode every day. It’s a good reminder that reading can be fun, and does not always have to take every ounce of your brain power.

The thing I love the most about The Fourteenth Goldfish is that it has a female main character, Ellie, who is interested in science. In our world, women are prodded away from the sciences which I find infuriating. Ellie is an amazing role-model for a middle school student, male or female, who is interested in science. She grows up in a family dedicated to theater, and she has never had the flair for theater like her parents. However, when she starts spending more time with her scientist grandfather, she finds that she does have a passion for science. Another awesome thing about The Fourteenth Goldfish is that it shakes up our society’s stereotypical idea of family. Ellie’s parents are divorced, but they get along very well still. Ellie’s mother is in a new relationship with Ben who does not try to be her father, but is just Ben. The Fourteenth Goldfish presents a family that our society would consider broken, but Ellie’s family supports and loves one another. I learned a few things from this book about science, and it has a refreshing viewpoint on women in the sciences and modern families.

Seriously, read this book! It is written for a middle school grade reading level, but I loved it! It’s nice to read a book just for the pleasure of the story!

Photo CC: protographer23

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Reflection of Week 3

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     I enjoyed our discussion in class on mentor texts. I think it is a fun idea to read short stories or picture books to our students to get them interested in reading. I know that I personally am most excited to write when I have read a book that I have loved, and when I want to see if I could write like the book. Mentor texts can provide a plethora of writing prompts for our students. Mentor texts are great for mini lessons on writing. We can take writing from mentor texts to show our students what good writing is. Mentor texts can be used to teach conventions like grammar or writing devices like imagery or sensory detail. Any form of reading expands our horizons, and using mentors texts means we can expose our students to a vast amount of diverse perspectives without expecting our students to read a huge amount to do so. I also like the idea of using mentor texts to determine what our students might like. If the students like a mentor text, then we can steer them towards writing or authors like the mentor text.

I got so much out of our class discussion on building blocks. I often get nervous while in block about lesson, unit, and curriculum planning. Special methods reassures me that it all does not have to be super complicated. Yes, planning takes hard work and time, but it does not have to be like they make it out to be in block. I have been wanting to do workshops in my classroom since reading Atwell, Kittle, Graves, and Elbow a couple years ago. But I always questioned whether it was possible to implement a workshop shaped classroom in a school with a required curriculum where teachers have been teaching the same way for decades. I feel more confident now. The research backs workshop styled classroom, and workshops can be shaped to fit curriculum. As English majors, I think we are all pretty great at making different points fit our argument. I feel like fitting required reading or textbooks or lessons into a workshop is like stealing a couple sentences from an academic journal and shoving it into an essay to prove our essay’s point.

I am drawn to the idea of genre organized unit plans. Using genres, students can have model texts to write from. They can learn about the genre from reading, and craft their own writing from their learning. Genre crafted writing workshops also means that students are introduced to a lot of different genres so they can find what they are interested in which means they may read more of the genres they like outside of class. Genre studies also means that students are introduced to the things that they “need” to know for college like how to write a persuasive argument, emails, or essays. But, even better, they can learn how to learn. They can learn how to find knowledge for themselves, and use that knowledge for their own purposes.

My only question: is it safer to teach traditionally even if it is against our philosophy until we are tenured? Even as I write that though, I know that I would hate teaching against my philosophy, and that I should care more about my students’ learning than keeping my job. But…I can’t teach my students if I am not renewed at the end of the year. Photo CC: Regan76

 

The March, Sunny Side Up, and This One Summer

I am falling more and more in love with graphic novels every week of this class.

The March by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

     The March is an amazing and relevant graphic novel that tells the story of Congressman John Lewis. He tells the story of his childhood, and what made him want to join the Black Rights movement. Lewis talks about listening to Martin Luther King Jr. speak, about fighting to join a desegregated college, and creating a group to do sit-ins at desegregated shops where owners refused to serve black customers at the counter. Nate Powell is the illustrator of the graphic novel. He uses incredible shading in black and white to depict Lewis’s story. The March is the first graphic novel in a trilogy. I hope to read the other two novels!

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Sunny Side Up is the story of Sunny Lewin, and her journey of living with her grandfather in a retirement home in Florida. Through-out the story, the reader get glimpses at the reason her parents sent her to live with her grandfather. At first, Sunny hates living with her grandfather. She sleeps in a squeaky bed, there are no other children at the retirement home, and her grandfather’s idea of fun is going to get the mail and going grocery shopping. She stays quiet about her unhappiness. Sunny starts to have fun in Florida when she meets another kid who introduces her to comic books. She finally tells her grandfather that the bed is squeaky, and that she is having troubles coping with the reason her parents sent her to Florida. Sunny Side Up has cute, fun, and colorful drawings, and it addresses an important problem in the lives of younger people.

This One Summer by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

This One Summer is the story of pre-teen Rose and her friend Windy. Rose spends every summer at a lake house with her parents, and she hangs out with her summer friend Windy there. The beginning of the graphic novel depicts Rose having a happy family with her father joking around with her, but the reader soon discovers that Rose’s parents are having some issues. Rose spends her time swimming, watching scary movies, and developing a crush on the teenager working the counter at the only store by the lake. Rose and Windy are at the stage of their lives where they are trying to figure out who they are and how they should treat others. They learn new words that their parents disapprove of. They find out about a struggle that teenage girls sometime face. They fight and they make up. This One Summer is an honest depiction of what it is like to try to decipher the world of adulthood as a pre-teen. The pictures are amazing. I spent five to ten minutes on every page just looking at all the little details of the pictures.

 

Reflection of the Week

I am learning so much from this special methods class. It makes me feel so much better about my future teaching career to know that we seem to overcomplicate teaching English. We just have to let our students read, write, talk, and listen. Teaching often seems overwhelming to me, and my insecurities come forward telling me that I will never be good enough to be an effective teacher. Deep down, I know I have the understanding, passion, and work ethics to teach, but constantly hearing how hard teaching is over the last three years breaks a person down. I have heard that most teachers quit within the first five years more times than I can count.

I like that we have looked at the actual purposes of teaching reading and writing. We can go the easy route of teaching kids the basics, teaching them to sit down and be quiet, and teaching them to write at a minimum competency level without actually enjoying anything they are doing. Or, we can allow kids the opportunity to ask the big questions, to express themselves, and to find enjoyment in reading and writing. We can help them to use writing and reading to learn.

I often doubt my writing ability and my ability to comprehend the stuff that I have read. I want to use this experience with self-doubt to help my students who also doubt their ability. I don’t want to tear kid’s writing apart. Like Kittle says in “No Evidence of Achievement,” the numbers we assign to students do not reflect what they actually know, what they are actually capable of, what they are going through in their lives, or any human really. We cannot assign a number to a student. We cannot assign a number to what a student gains when they actually enjoy a book or when they find pride in a piece of writing.

I also related to “Kleenex and Marriage and Learning to Teach.” I used to say that I was a bad writer, but I knew the formula well enough to get an A. Some parts of me still believe this, but the only reason I believe this is because all through high school and even in college I have been handed back pieces of writing that have been coated in red ink and corrections. I see that and I automatically think I am a bad writer. Some kids will think that they are bad writers because of the way they have been given feedback on their writing. They will say “Well, I am a bad writer,” and they will never write again or find enjoyment in writing. Writing is a skill that we all seem to incorrectly assume people are either good at it or they are inherently bad at it. Like Peter Elbow, I believe all people can be writers. They can find enjoyment in writing. They can practice, and they can gain skills.

I am looking forward to giving my students the motivation components we have discussed in class in my classroom. I know that I have always been more invested in a book I chose for myself or a book that was recommended to me based on my interests than I have been in a required book. I want the things my students read and write about to be relevant to their lives, their purposes, and the big picture things of life. Our discussion on assessment and writing objectives today made me feel a lot better about the elements of teaching that are imposed on me by standards and administration. Though I oppose standardized testing to my core, I understand that it is a part of teaching that every teacher has to deal with.

Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

One of the behaviors for my list on knowing myself as a reader was that I judge books by their covers. I know, this is probably making me miss out on some good books because I dismiss their plain cover as boring. It’s the truth though. Colorful and interesting book covers make me want to read the book that much more. I will probably discourage my students from judging books by their covers. However, if interesting book covers make them interesting in reading that book, well, at least they are interested in a book when sometimes they would rather just not have to pick up a book. As I was searching through the YA section of the library, the cover of Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin jumped out at me. The cover is a silhouette of a boy’s head with swirly doodles exploding out of it. I liked it right away.

The next thing I look at is the short description of the story on the back; this is what really made me want to read Anything but Typical. The back cover which is actually an excerpt from the book reads, “Neurotypicals like it when you look them in the eye. Just because you are not looking at someone does not mean you are not listening. I can listen better when I am not distracted by a person’s face: What are they saying? Is that a frown or a smile? Why are they wrinkling their forehead or lifting their cheeks like that? What does it mean? How can you listen to the words when you have to think about all that stuff?” First of all, neurotypicals is a way better word than the word we often use: “normal.” What does normal mean? Normal is one of those qualifying words that takes away the details of an individual, and the fact that every single person is different. I hate these qualifying words that we use over and over again in school settings: normal, good, bad, smart, etc.

      Anything but Typical is written from the point of view of Jason Blake. Jason is not what most would call “normal.” Jason is autistic. He is not great at social interacts. He does not always answer when people talk to him, and he does not look people in the eyes when they talk to them. Sometimes his hands flap without him even realizing it. Sometimes he pulls his hair because he feels like his head is trying to fly away when he is uncomfortable. Like a lot of teenage boys, he has a problem with his anger. Through working with his occupational therapist, he has learned to control his anger and deal with his anxiety in social situations. Jason has an affinity for writing. He has an amazing vocabulary; he could spell words adults can’t spell at the age of four. He wakes up with unusual words stuck in his head. Jason’s parents think he is a genius, and (for some reason) they lose that idea when he is tested and labeled autistic in the third grade. Jason is a genius though, just in a different way than we would typically label it. He is gifted with words and writing.

Jason writes on an online forum called storyboard; he never gets many responses, but he does it because he likes it. One day, he gets a comment of praise on one of his stories by a user named phoenixbird. Thinking that he has no hopes of having a girlfriend like a neurotypical, he is thrilled to discover that phoenixbird is a girl named Rebecca. He discovers that his parents have bought him a trip to a storyboard convention in Dallas. Jason is super excited about it until he finds out Rebecca will be there; he is certain she will no longer like him once she learns he is autistic because that is his previous experience with girls. Rebecca is thrown off by Jason’s autism, and Jason vows never to write again. He says since he is not neurotypical, he just can’t do things: he doesn’t go to birthday parties, play baseball, and now he won’t write anymore.

An amazing thing happens at one of the workshops at the convention that he only goes to to make his mother happy. The speaker says, “All we are, all we can be are the stories we tell…Long after we are gone, our words will be all that is left, and who is to say what really happened or even what reality is? Our stories, our fiction, our words will be as close to the truth as can be. And no one can take that away from you” (Baskin 187). Jason realizes that he does not write for Rebecca or for anyone else. He realizes that he writes for himself because he enjoys writing; he writes because he is a great writer.

I loved reading this book. It gave me a point of view that I have not encountered in another book. It reiterated to me what I already knew: normal does not exist. No one fits all the way into our concept of normal. Every person, every student, is different; they have different strengths and different weaknesses.

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First Week Jitters

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I have a rough course load this semester: block, literary criticism, special methods, and tutoring. It will not be an easy semester, and, frankly, I have been nervous about it all summer and all week. Special methods in English Language Arts is a breathe of fresh air. I thought I get to read YA books I actually want to read and will enjoy? during this rough semester (YAY!).

In addition, I get to revamp my passion for writing by writing in class and out of class about interesting topics. I enjoy using writing as part of my though process especially when I know not every word or passage will be graded. I bought a really sweet writer’s notebook which made me even more excited to write. I decided after that first class that Special Methods was going to be my favorite class this semester. I’m looking forward to reading a lot, writing a lot, learning more about effective practices in the English classroom, and the NCTE conference.

My first independent reading book was El Deafo by Cece Bell. I loved it. It was a fun, easy, and quick read. Plus, who doesn’t love a book with pictures? El Deafo is about Cece Bell’s experiences in elementary school. While it is not an exact rendition of Cece’s childhood, it does provide a good picture of the life of a young student with hearing impairment.

Cece lost her hearing when she developed meningitis at 4. She faces embarrassment about her hearing aids. She loses friends over the way they treat her due to her hearing lose. But, eventually, she embraces her hearing loss and labels herself El Deafo. With her powerful hearing aid, she is able to hear her teacher wherever he/she is in the building. Cece sees this as a superpower, and she uses it to become friends with her crush and her classmates.

More and more we can find books that allow those of us who are rather privileged in life (me) to, maybe not totally understand the struggles of persons with disabilities, but at least be able to know the struggles that they face, and maybe open our minds a little to people who are different than us. I recommend that future teachers read this book. We may in our future classrooms have students with hearing impairments, and being more aware of the struggles these students have faced will make us better prepared to teach them.

Summer Reading Plans

I currently have 132 books on my to be read list. I am hoping to tackle about 50 or so of these books this summer. I think I will be sticking to a variety of book series, and finishing book series that I have begun. I want to read diversely this summer, but I predict I will stick mostly to fantasy books. I also want to do the book a day challenge. My sister is going to be having a baby boy in May, and I am going to read a lot of books to my new nephew. He is going to have a library of children’s books to read, so I am sure reading these will stack up my book a day count.

Here is a list of some of the books I want to read this summer: Glass Sword by Victoria Aveyard, Geek Girl and Model Misfit by Holly Smale, Half Bad, Half Wild, and Half Lost by Sally Green, Into the Dim by Janet Taylor, Rot and Ruin series by Jonathan Maberry, Ashfall series by Mike Mullin, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Walton Leslye, I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell, The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater, The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey, and Firebird series by Claudia Grey.

I will also be trying to keep up with the latest YA trends this summer by remaining on social media. I will use twitter to keep up with the latest book trends, and to find new ideas for books to read. I will continue to use goodreads to keep up a to be read list. I will look into my favorite authors, and read books of theirs that I have not read.