Sunday, November 18, 2018

A Long Walk To Water

Image result for a long walk to waterA Long Walk To Water

by Linda Sue Park

In my quest to find diverse titles to add to my elementary classroom library, I read articles and wound up having intense conversations about the need for diverse books with educators across the country. The general consensus was that we needed to challenge ourselves to  read books that opened our minds to other cultures and ways of life. My challenge began with the book, A Long Walk To Remember by Linda Sue Park. 

I began reading as one of my students would, with a pack of sticky notes and a pencil by my side to jot down anything that stood out to me. This story is based on a true story and is a dual narrative told in two settings- one in Southern Sudan, 2008 about a young girl, Nya, and her family, and the other in Southern Sudan, 1985 following the life of a young boy named Salva. 

Nya is an eleven year old girl who must walk a great distance 8 hours a day to get drinkable water for her family. Nya and her family are of the Nuer tribe. "Her tribe, the Nuer, often fought with the rival Dinka tribe over the land surrounding the lake. Men and boys were hurt and even killed when the two groups clashed.So Nya and the rest of her village lived at the lake only during the five months of the dry season, when both tribes were so busy struggling for survival that the fighting occurred less often." (page 26)

Salva is a fortunate boy whose father is a successful man and worked as a judge in their village. Salva and his brothers were able to attend school, and his sisters stayed home with their mother learning how to take care of a home. The family had cows and the boys would also help with their care.A war had started a few years earlier as rebels from the southern part of Sudan were fighting against the government for religious freedom. "Most of the people who lived in the north were Muslim, and the government wanted all of Sudan to become a Muslim country- a place where the beliefs of Islam were followed." (page 6)  Salva's life took a terrible turn one day while at school and gunfire rang out bringing the war to his land and forever changing his life. 

As I read, I thought about my fifth grade students, just a year younger than Nya. Questions flooded my mind such as: How might they respond to her story- walking long distances merely to get enough clean water for her family? What would they think about Salva's plight? How might global awareness impact young minds? Would my students be able to empathize with Nya? With Salva? The impact this story had on me as not only an educator, but a wife, mother, and sister, was shocking. If I was so moved, how might this affect my students? Then I began to consider how important it is for students to care for what goes on outside of their town, city, state, and country. Might this awareness help develop young minds toward compassion, understanding, and service to others? At the very least, students may gain a deeper appreciation for what they have.  

 Salva's journey leads him to  the United States to a foster family. As I reached the point of his entrance into the U.S. and his introduction to his new family, I was overcome with compassion as he adapts to his new world, a world he has never experienced. I thought of the students I have had that are ten years old learning a new language and a new way of life coming to America. The English language- I am not sure we truly understand how difficult it is to learn. The amount of effort and desire that is necessary to be able to communicate on a basic level, let alone navigating the intricate slang, and informal language and dialects. 

This story is beautifully written and the twists and turns of both lives at times took my breath away. The dual narrative is amazingly brought together in the end. As I finished the last page of the author's message, I sat quietly in reflection of  the power of this story. There is always room in our hearts and minds to read and learn about the world around us- no matter what age we are. As an educator, I have a renewed commitment to find stories representing all people, all children, in hopes of offering my students characters that mirror their lives, as well as a window into the vast world in which we share. I am continuing my diverse reading and will share many more books, but for now I highly recommend this wonderful story. 

Saturday, July 7, 2018

Math Doesn't Suck: How to survive middle school math without losing your mind or breaking a nail

by Danica McKellar

I'll admit that the title of this book is both catchy and a bit shocking. I guess I'll also have to admit that is what got my attention years ago when I purchased this book. Today, while I was rearranging books in one of my four bookcases (yes, I adore being surrounded by books), I came across this title and took some time to glance through it again. I quickly remembered how much I enjoyed this book.

Image result for Danica McKellar Math Doesn't suck bookIf the author on the cover looks familiar, then you probably grew up watching the television series The Wonder Years as Danica played the character of Winnie in the show. What would this actress be able to teach us or our kids about math? As the book jacket states, "[Danica McKellar] is a summa cum laude graduate of UCLA with a degree in Mathematics. She has been honored in Britain's esteemed Journal of Physics and The New York Times for her work in mathematics, most notably for her role as coauthor of a groundbreaking mathematical physics theorem, which bears her name (The Chayes-McKellar-Winn Theorem)". Her credentials are impressive, and the book is a New York Times best seller. It is very well written, especially as it is geared toward middle school aged girls. 

The math concepts that are explained in the book include factors and multiples, fractions, decimals, percents, word problems, and pre-algebra. Each is broken down in a very kid-friendly manner with great real world examples to use as practice. This book also offers a "Trouble Shooting Guide" with topics such as "Where to Turn When You Don't Know What to Do" and "The Smart Girl's Resource Guide". 

The layout of the book also offers advice on pre-teen and up topics such as "Role Models" and "Testimonials" which are written by girls about how they used to feel about math and what they've accomplished. Quizzes are also include, but not the traditional type of quiz you may expect in a math book. For example, quiz number one asks "Are you a Mathophobe?" which is from expert psychologist RobynLandow, PhD, and is designed to help girls realize their inner feelings about math. The book is not meant to be a read from the beginning type of book. However, it really is a fun read, and I think it very well could be a help to any girl (I'd even say any pre-teen) to see math in a whole different light. 


**There is also a follow up book that I also own, Kiss my Math: Showing pre-algebra who's boss which I will review soon. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Image result for nothing ever happens on 90th streetNothing Ever Happens on 90th Street 

by Roni Schotter and illustrated by Kyrsten Brooker

One can never really predict where or when they will come across a great mentor text. This summer I have been participating in Jennifer Serravallo's Summer Writing Camp. The first week was built around fiction writing and developing story elements. While several great strategies were shared from Jennifer's The Writing Strategies Book: Your Everything Guide to Developing Skilled Writers,  Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street by Roni Schotter was shared as a mentor text. 

The story opens with the main character, a little girl named Eva, helplessly wondering how she would complete a writing assignment from school. Mrs. DeMarco, Eva's teacher, asked her to, "Write about what you know". As she sits on her front stairs listening to the usual sounds that are going on around her, Eva writes, "Nothing ever happens on 90th Street". 

As characters begin to enter the story, the reader soon realizes a lot happens on 90th street. Each character, from Mr. Chang, the owner of the newly opened "Seafood Emporium," Mr. Sim's an actor who and his cat "Olivier", Mr. Morley, the mousse maker, Alexis Leora, a dancer, Mrs. Martinez, a wonderful soup maker, Mrs. Friedman and baby Joshua, the pizza delivery man, to Sondra Saunderson, star of stage, screen, and soap opera, all add details to an ordinary day that become extraordinary. At the end of the story, the character of Mrs. Martinez says, "What an amazing day! Who would believe it? If only someone had written it all down!" Eva reveals that she has and shares her story with her neighbors. Of course, everyone praises Eva for her story, and in the end she claims that the story will be even better after she rewrites it. 

This book truly is a mentor text for writing as it will show students that even something that seems so familiar and ordinary to them can offer a world of ideas for a writing piece. The details that are provided, the adjectives, the dialogue, and the wonderful illustrations all help to create a story that will engage and invite students to return for another read. The end of the book is probably my favorite as Eva gives the idea of  revising her story to make it even better! 

As a teacher, using this text along with Jennifer Serravallos writing strategies such as asking yourself  "What if..." thinking about characters, setting, or a problem will help to spark ideas. Brainstorming ideas like sentence stems will give the students options and one or two may branch off into full blown fictional pieces. 

I would highly recommend Nothing Ever Happens on 90th Street  by Roni Schotter as a mentor text for teachable moments and inspiration for student writing. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Qualities of Effective Teachers

Image result for qualities of effective teachers by James H. strong pictureQualities of Effective Teachers 

2nd Edition
by James H. Stronge

As summer had arrived it was time to think about tackling the bucket list I had created for summer reading. Being a life long learner and avid reader of many genres in my personal reading, as well as the various texts in my professional reading, I noticed I had books in my personal library that were "must haves" in the moment that I never had the time to read. I came across James H. Stronge's book Qualities of Effective Teachers. While I consider myself to be an effective teacher, there is always that wonder of what others deem to be a "effective". I began to flip through the pages and came across a quote that captured my attention, "Implementing instruction is like opening night at the theater, where all the behind-the-scenes work is hidden and only the magic is seen by the audience." Wow! This quote seemed to resonate with me as it grabbed me with its poetic delivery. I put my reading list aside, sat on the floor next to my bookcase and began to read.

Its funny how when I read a professional text such as this my mind tends to place people I've taught with within the different scenarios given. So what does makes an effective teacher effective? The book opens with discussing teachers as individuals and as professionals and then proceeds to focus on aspects of the role of a teacher including practices and responsibilities. I was a bit intrigued when I read the section on "Educational Coursework and Effective Teaching". It made me think about the current state of education, with all of the hoops educators must jump through and mandates which seem to be impacting how many teaching candidates there are in the colleges today. Stronge wrote, "Studies support the finding that fully prepared teachers understand how students learn and what and how they need to be taught." While I do believe a solid teacher preparation background is necessary, I also believe it is not until you have experienced the daily happenings in a classroom that a teacher begins to learn what is needed to be fully prepared. I've had colleagues who came with glowing credentials from coursework, but had little to no idea of how to deal with the behavioral or emotional characteristics of the students in their classroom. Later in the chapter, teaching experience and teacher effectiveness are discussed where it is stated that, "Experienced teachers differ from rookie teachers in that they have attained expertise through real-life experiences, classroom practices, and time."

The book is research based and is broken into two parts. Part 1, "What it means to be an effective teacher" discusses topics such as prerequisites for effective teaching, teachers as individuals and professionals, and breaks into effective planning, organization, implement instruction, and monitoring instruction in regard to student progress and potential. Part 2, "Teacher Effectiveness: Resources you can use" is broken into three sections respectively, "Teacher Skills Assessment Checklists", "Teacher Responsibilities and Teacher Behaviors", and an "Annotated Bibliography".

What I really liked about this book was how it provided insight into the importance of a teacher's attitude toward teaching, as well as the importance of incorporating reflection into a teaching practice. Thought provoking resources are found in Part 2, Section I "Teacher Skills Assessment Checklists". Included are checklists for "The Teacher as a Person", "Classroom Management and Organization", "Planning and Organizing for Instruction", "Implementing Instruction", and "Monitoring Student Progress and Potential". In Section II, "Teacher Responsibilities and Teacher Behaviors", Stronge lists "Positive Qualities" and "Red Flags of ineffective Teaching" under various categories such as "Classroom Management and Organization" and "Planning and Organizing for Instruction". I found the checklists to be useful in reflecting upon my own practice.

Overall I would highly recommend reading this title. However, I read the 2nd edition, and there is now a 3rd edition available that offers updated resources (link to the book provided).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Image result for picture of because of mr terupt

Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea

I truly believe that the best way to find out about a book is through sharing our reading. This is a practice I use in my classroom as we all share out what we are currently reading. How lovely it was one afternoon when a former student stopped by after school to visit. It was during our conversation that it struck me how the impact of what we share as educators lives within our students long after they leave us. My student  had been wanting to come to  share a book that she had just read because it reminded her of her fifth grade class and me. 

"Me?" I asked. 

"Well, the teacher in the book is a man, but the way the students feel about him is the way we all feel about you," she replied. "Also, some of the characters in the story I could definitely put the face to from kids in our class."

Okay, not only did this student take the time to come visit me, but she was excited to share a book? This was a book I had to read. 

Because of Mr. Terrupt by Rob Buyea is the story of a fifth grade teacher who made a huge impact on the lives of his students. The story takes a tragic turn that makes the students learn some life lessons and come together. 

The students are a cast of characters that could easily be sitting in any fifth grade classroom. They include: Alexia, a mean girl with a past that later explains why she acts this way; Peter, a trouble maker/prankster who will surprise you when another side of him is revealed; Jessica, the new girl who is trying to fit in and adjust to her family situation; Luke, the student who is considered "the brain" and will teach you about "dollar words"; Anna, the shy, sensitive girl who has trouble standing up for herself; Danielle, the sensitive, chubby, plain girl who struggles with how she looks and prays to God often; and Jeffrey, who hates school and has a secret that is later revealed that explains his outlook. The teacher is Mr. Terupt who is the new fifth grade teacher who seems to be able to make all of his students feel welcomed and creates a classroom full of fun and learning. 

I've since read this book as a read aloud to my fifth grade class. It has provided a stage for many great conversations. I might add that it has also made a few students consider how they treat others. This book is the first of three Mr. Terupt books by Rob Buyea. 

Sunday, January 7, 2018

It's Been A Long Time

Hello fellow book lovers! It's been a few years since I've posted to this blog, but I've been inspired over that last few weeks to return to writing every day. Through reflection, I realized that blogging about books, whether I read them for pleasure or professional reasons, is something I enjoy. I must be totally honest and share that I've been involved in many professional learning communities over that past few years that have truly helped me grow my teaching practice. While I've been a part of the Twitter community since 2009, I've recently connected with other wonderfully inspiring educators and literacy leaders through tweeting. The more tweets I read from trusted professionals I follow, the more connections I have made. Through this networking I've become a part of a Facebook group, "TeachWrite: A Tribe for Teachers of Writers & Teachers Who Write." Each day we are encouraged to write about anything. The post goes out asking, "What will you write today?" and the responses that follow are intriguing and range from writing a few sentences to  working on a dissertation. It is an amazing group that has renewed my desire to write more.

I have many books to share, but I've decided to start with three: a professional text, a book that has become a student favorite, and a book I am looking forward to reading. 

Professional Text:

The Book Whisperer Awakening the Inner Reader In Every Child by Donalyn Miller is a book that I keep returning to as a resource. The author's style of writing is like having a conversation. The information is presented using relatable scenarios, sharing her thought process along the way, and the idea of providing choice to our student readers to help instill a love of reading. Sharing her experiences of struggling with ways to teach reading, collegial conversations, and the professional texts read and workshops attended made this professional text an enjoyable read. Ms. Miller provides "Key Components of A Reading Workshop", the idea of "dormant readers" and "underground readers." Sharing her work with students, Ms. Miller provides "case study" insight into these readers, goal setting, provides examples of student work and survey responses which offer helpful and practical strategies to use in the classroom. The appendices at the end of the book are valuable resources, "Appendix A: The Care and Feeding of a Classroom Library" and "Appendix B: Ultimate Library List" and revisited often. 

A book that has become a classroom favorite:

Alice Hoffman has been one of my favorite authors as an adult reader for many years. I wrote about her book, Here On Earth a few years ago as a book I would highly recommend. Not realizing she wrote to a younger audience as well, I was so happy to come across her book Nightbird. This is a captivating story about a centuries-old curse, a family secret that must be  kept, and  a unique twelve year old girl named Twig. Because of this secret, Twig has never really had a real friend, but that is all about to change when she meets their neighbor Julia.  This story provides  a mix of mystical, magical, fantasy, family, and friendship  theme that has kept a few of my students begging for more independent reading time. 

Image result for a picture of Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

A book I am looking forward to reading: 

The release date for this book is March, 2018. Here is a link to the author's website.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Popular: A memoir- Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek

by Maya Van Wagenen

I can't believe it is just about the middle of August! This summer has been quite busy for me as I teach in a literacy program during the month of July. I'm always on the look out for "just right books" for my students, and I found some interesting reading for myself as I navigated through the local library's website. I actually stumbled upon the book Popular by Maya Van Wagenen as I read one of the librarian's blogs.

First of all, I think it is helpful to remember the old saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover". The cover has a paper doll theme and leads one to believe it is intended for a younger audience. Well, I guess that is not too far fetched as the author is a girl in her early teens. As I read further into the blog, which was from the library's "Readers Corner", I became intrigued with the concept of how the book came to be written.

In 1951 a book had been published by a young woman by the name of Betty Cornell, entitled Betty Cornell's Teenage Popularity Guide. It was an book that offered advice to teenage girls on ways to become well liked. Maya's father had come across the book at a thrift store and looked through the old torn pages reading the "outdated ideas." Considering it a piece of "vintage pop culture", Maya's father purchased the book. As the author describes, the book sat in her dad's office for years until being found by Maya's mom, who then gave the book to Maya. Discovering this book, and being encouraged by her mom, led to a wonderful adventure/experiment for Maya. Maya followed the advice in Betty's book for one year, her eighth grade year of middle school. She wrote about her journey, including her feelings and other's reactions, and soon discovers the true meaning of being "popular".

What I like best about this book is that it really makes me think about my own teenage years, as well as my students experiences. Being a kid can be hard and, sadly, outward appearance many times makes or breaks how people are viewed. I love the message of this memoir, the relationships Maya has with her family, friends/peers, and the connection she makes with Betty Cornell.

I would highly recommend this book to adults as well as pre-teens/teens. It is thought provoking and forces the reader to consider what truly is important in a person. Below is a link that will bring you to the Today Show's Book page featuring Popular from earlier this year, including an interview with the author.

If you decide to read Popular by Maya Van Wagenen, I'd love to hear from you!