Recent Posts

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Failing to Teach the Hobbit

Failing to Teach the Hobbit by Christina Socorro Yovovich is an intriguing vignette involving teaching The Hobbit as her classroom novel. If you teach any novel, at any level, whether by choice or obligation, this piece is a must-read.

Thanks, Christina, for sharing. The rest of us can learn a lot through your painful experience!

(Want to avoid the same experience? Check out what Kelly Gallagher has to say about How NOT to to Teach a Novel).

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Doom, Despair, and Agony on Me

"Doom, despair, and agony on me" were the cheery words that accompanied an old HeeHaw sketch in which a bunch of old coots on a porch tried to outdo each other with their tales of woe. Funny in its hyperbole.

But in a recent discussion on the English Companion Ning, I asked, "Why is it that so many of our novels for middle and high schoolers deal with death?" Are those the only books worthy of study, or is it some weird fixation? Even this year's Newbery Award Winner, Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book, seems to celebrate that theme (see book trailer below from HarperKids).

I received some profound and enlightening responses from my colleagues that are worth a read. If you're not a member of the English Companion Ning yet, the sign-up is free and painless, and the collegial atmosphere is one you'll enjoy. And if you're a teacher studying a novel in class that deals with death, be sure to weigh in on the discussion!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Novels as Mentor Texts

The Northern Nevada Writing Project's Writing Fix site contains a terrific section of lesson plans on Using Chapter Book Excerpts as Mentor Texts.

What does that mean? It means the terrific writing we admire in our favorite novels can be used to guide our own young writers. The format, however, also means that your students don't need to have read the entire novel being referenced; each lesson provides teachers with the specific chapters, which can be read independently by students or as a read-aloud by the teacher. If any of the twenty some books featured are the same novel you're studying in class, added bonus!

So what you'll find here is a fabulous collection of middle school and YA novels (you'll recognize all the titles) categorized by the six traits: Idea Development, Organization, Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, and Conventions. Each lesson plan is preceded by a Three Sentence Overview (boom! there's your lesson objective).

For example, Maniac Magee is used as a mentor text focusing on voice (with a supporting focus on word choice). The Three Sentence Overview reads:
The writer will analyze and discuss the tall tale format after reading Jerry Spinelli’s tale of Cobble’s Knot, told in Chapter 20 of Maniac Magee. Then writers will need to create an interesting character in a special situation which would allow them to stretch the truth in an imaginative tale. The interactive button game will provide writers with possible options from which to create their “whoppers.”
The lesson plan contains a step-by-step approach, and all needed hand-outs, and additional optional site links (if required). Many lessons also contain samples of student writing submitted by teachers who have used that lesson plan in their classrooms.

While at Writing Fix, also be sure to check out the ipod Lessons which use lyrics to popular songs as mentor texts. Great way to connect with the young folk!

(Go to this blog's original home at Wordpress to read two comments on this post).

Monday, December 7, 2009

60 Second Recap

If you haven't checked out 60 Second Recap, you're in for a treat. 60 Second Recap is a collection of video clips covering the plots, characters, symbolism, literary motifs, and more of favorite classic literature for teens. But it's not a dry, overly-academic examination. It's a lively conversation hosted by a real-life, somewhat zany hostess named Jenny (you can find her on Twitter).

The site's overview gives you a sense of the tongue-in-cheek humor that's behind this great site:
"Eat your lima beans," Mom used to say.

And now that you're out on your own, honestly, are lima beans a staple of your culinary repertoire?

There, in a lima bean, lies the problem confronting the great works of literature. We're all forced to read them in school so we can get good grades so we can go to a good college so we can get a good job so we can forget all about that literature they used to force us to read so we could get good grades.

The 60second Recap™ aims to break this cycle of canonical irrelevance. We want to help teens (yes, teens of all ages!) engage with literature. We want to help them see it not as some chore to be endured, but as -- dare we say it? -- the gift of a lifetime. How? Through the language of our time -- the language of video. Video that's focused, engaging, informative ... and short enough to hold just about anyone's attention.

Smirk if you must. Consider this yet another mile-marker on civilization’s road to perdition. But here's the fact: You won't get non-readers to read by forcing them to read more. You'll get them to read by opening their eyes to the marvels awaiting them between the covers of that homework assignment.

With the 60second Recap™, teens finally have an alternative to the boring, text-based study guides that have burdened them for generations. And -- who knows? -- maybe that's just what they'll need to begin a love affair with literature, one that will last a lifetime.
In addition to the videos on classics such as Animal Farm, Of Mice and Men, Frankenstein, Lord of the Flies, and Hamlet, users will find a section called Recap Resource which includes a Dictionary of Terms (allegory, motifs, subtext, protagonist, etc.) and How to Write a Paper (that Won't Put your Teacher to Sleep). Again, these are presented in video form, which them much less intimidating for the average high school user.

The site also features an area for video responses from users, and another for users to request titles for recapping.

I highly recommend you visit the site and give it a look! I'm curious to see how it will change as it grows.

Know another great site for teachers working with novels? Find me on Twitter!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Book Report Tracking Sheet

I mentioned this at a workshop, and I've had a few emails regarding it, so there may be some general interest. The Book Project Tracking Sheet allows for various "checkpoints" along the way in order to prevent students from procrastinating. Parents love it, and students have also told me they liked seeing their progress; it divided a really big "meatloaf of a report" into easily digestible chunks (my words, not theirs).

Email me if you'd like a Word format for tweaking.

Book Report Tracking Sheet

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Mother Lode!

A mother lode (yes, the spelling is correct; I even looked it up) is a rich and abundant source, usually of ores or minerals.

But in the case of the ReadKiddoRead ning, mother lode refers to a resource of over 100 lesson plans for both picture books and novels. This ning is the community site of James Patterson's ReadKiddoRead site, which provides tons of reading suggestions for kids, all categorized by age and genre.

I don't know about you, but I'm a visual person, so I like that the ning has the lesson plans organized in an array of books covers. In addition to these plans, the ning also offers teachers and parents opportunities to share tips on motivating your readers through forums, groups, interviews, and lists.

Many of you know that I'm a member of many nings (ReadKiddoRead, Book Marketing Network, English Companion, NCTE, Teacher Librarian, Stenhouse Publishers, Writing Lesson of the Month, Elementary Tech Teachers, Elementary Teachers Network, and Classroom 2.0). Each one has its own strengths, and I'd recommend you try out a couple to see which is the best fit for you. If you happen to join any of these terrific nings, add me as a friend!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Great Minds Thinking Alike

A couple months ago I mentioned the English Companion Ning. That group is now nearing 10,000 members, and I encourage you more than ever to get involved!

For those of you who don't know much about Nings, here's a quick Q and A from member Jennifer Ansbach.

What's a Ning? A ning is a closed social network, like a Myspace or Facebook with a restricted membership. You have a profile, a blog, and participate in forums and send/receive messages.

What is the English Companion Ning? Started one year ago this week by English teaching guru Jim Burke, the English Companion Ning is a place to share resources, ask questions, and participate in online, self-directed professional development.

Why should I join? Jim Burke has leveraged his author and professional connections to bring some of the leaders in English education to the ning. Members include not only Jim Burke but current NCTE president and author Carol Jago, outgoing NCTE president and author Kylene Beers, and others who publish about best practices. Each month there is a professional book club, with an online discussion led by the author. Past books included Kelly Gallagher's Readicide and Tom Newkirk's Holding on to Good Ideas in Times of Bad Ones. This month's book club on improving student writing features Penny Kittle's Write Beside Them.

There are forums devoted to specific topics, with people posting their handouts, lesson plans, and strategies. In addition, there is a place to seek help for questions or for support. Yesterday someone asked what to do when your urban students admit they think you are a pushover. Within a few hours, several people had offered solid advice and resources. Earlier this year, a teacher posted about celebrating with his student teacher, putting her in her car, and having a truck kill her instantly around the corner. That teacher found a place to share his grief and also received help and ideas for putting together a fitting tribute to the young woman (his students had written letters to her that he hadn't given to her--he crafted a eulogy of the students' own words about what she meant to them).

It's free to join. Just sign up on Jim Burke pays the $25 a month to keep it running and does not accept any advertising on the site. I am not a paid promoter. This week, as the ECNing celebrates its first birthday, it has 9,700 members and Jim is hoping to reach 10,000 this week. He asked us to make sure our colleagues are aware of the ning and what it has to offer.

Thanks, Jennifer! Well articulated. This ning is perfect for those of us engaged in the sometimes lonely business of teaching Reading and Language Arts!

UPDATE 2/01/10 This site has now passed 12,000 members.