Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Books are Like Old Friends

I love going to the library. Even if I can't read all that I come home with before they are due, I love browsing the titles and seeing what is on the shelves. I love discovering a story that I've not read before. Our tiny town has a wonderful library and the librarians do a fabulous job. I'm always excited to see what new titles they have or what they are featuring.

Today when I went into the children's room (an entire, well stocked floor!) I was delight to see two new favorites on display. Both of which are books that I suggested to the head children's librarian.

Touch Blue by Cynthia Lord and The Brilliant Fall of Gianna Z by Kate Messner prominently displayed on the top shelves- right at eye level. Aren't they pretty books? I love my library!

Songs for a Teenage Nomad by Kim Culbertson

From the back of the book:
What is the soundtrack of your life? After living in twelve places in eight years, Calle Smith finds herself in Andreas Bay, California, at the start of ninth grade. Another new home, another new school...Calle knows better than to put down roots. Her song journal keeps her moving to her own soundtrack, bouncing through a world best kept at a distance. Yet before she knows it, friends creep in--as does an unlikely boy with a secret. Calle is torn over what may be her first chance at love. With all that she's hiding and all that she wants, can she find something lasting beyond music? And will she ever discover why she and her mother have been running in the first place?

I loved this book. Calle is a strong, yet typical teen. Her voice is so clear and true in telling her story. Kim Culbertson deftly walks the line of portraying teen life. This is a must have for my classroom library. After finishing the book on a weekend morning, I continued processing the book all afternoon as I was (supposedly) working on lesson plans. I kept thumbing back through the book and looking up the songs and artists I was not as familiar with. I was thrilled to read the names of so many of my favorite singers/songwriters in the book. I love the idea of the book and I'm still trying to find words to express how powerful Calle is as a character. Kim does such an amazing job of portraying both the teens and adults in the story. It is not angst ridden, yet the weight of what the kids are dealing with is not lessened, nor is the reality of adult choices and their impact on kids. And the language is beautiful! Wonderful figurative language in creating tone and setting.

This is a book that I could easily incorporate into my teaching. It will make a great anchor text. It has great literary strength for studying the elements of fiction, as well as being a fabulous mentor text for a writing unit on having the kids create their own soundtrack for their lives.

SOLSC (a day late)

Overheard in the media center during my 6th grade Social Studies class as they were playing "Mission 1: For Crown or Colony?", an awesome computer game about Boston and the start of the Revolutionary war:

"Ooo! Look! Join or Die! Remember from History class?"

I love when they see the connections between their classes. See Mr. H? They really were paying attention!
(Yes, we have History AND Social Studies... long story)

Of course the other fun part was the excitement they had as they researched their 10 facts about their assigned Freedom Trail stops. It was so cool the hear them excitedly read off who was buried in the Granary Burying Ground and things that they remembered hearing about in History class.

I took over this class mid quarter and it has been rough. We only meet once a week and it is for 90 minutes. They are a small group and are very similar in personality style. Plus, we meet after recess. There is frequent fighting, and group work just doesn't work. In a class of 9 the ability range goes from 2nd grade through 7th grade (in a 6th grade class). This week's class was the best one we've had yet.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

SOLSC: November 9, 2010

Last week during staff meeting I was making notes and reflecting on my classes when suddenly this phrase hit me: I will not give into your chaos. Yes! I had found my motto for this year. My 6th grade Social Studies class and my 7th grade LA and Social Studies class quickly suck me into their chaos. They are tense and anxious (or fighting and fooling around as is the case with 6th grade) and I get sucked into that negative energy and it's just not a fun, happy scene. So I am not going to let myself give into their chaos. I'm going to stay calm and patient even when they are annoying the snot out of me and we can't get anything done.

During dismissal today I was talking with my co-worker who supervises car pool with me and told her about my motto.

"That's good. What was the one you had last year? 'I'm older than them' or something like that."

"Oh yeah, 'I'm older than them and smarter than them'. I completely forgot about that."

So apparently I'm in the habit of giving myself little mottoes to keep my sanity. But hey, it works!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Literary Moments: Slice of Life November 2, 2010

This morning I stepped into the 5th grade room during arrival to make sure everything was going smoothly. The fifth grade teacher was in a meeting, the 6th grade teacher was greeting, the 7th grade teacher was returning a phone call to a parent, and I was trying to make sure things stayed calm in all four middle school classrooms (thank God for small classes)!

"Mrs. Stotz! I just killed C!" J happily told me as he sat calmly in his seat.

"What??" I looked at C who was sprawled across his binder at his seat.

"I told him I love writing!" J said cheerfully. M, sitting next to him, looked up from her own writing with a big grin.

"J! That makes me so happy to hear- it's like Tinkerbell and the clapping. I get stronger and stronger each time a student says they love writing."

My 7th graders came into class and saw that we were doing another writing lesson on voice today. "Mrs. Stotz? Are we ever going to stop learning about voice?"

"Nope. You'll be learning about voice the rest of your lives."

"Even on our death bed?"

"Yes. Even on your death bed, because you'll be thinking about what tone you want to use as you say your last words."

We then went on to do a very fun R.A.F.T.S. writing assignment where they wrote letters to themselves from their school bags complaining about the cruel treatment they were currently undergoing. It was so good to laugh with them and to celebrate good writing.
One of my 7th graders was excited to tell me all about the Nook that her mother just bought her. As soon as she got into class, she told me some of the features and how excited she was that her mom got it for her. As the kids were leaving at the end of workshop, 90 minutes later, she excitedly told me how she was going to be able to borrow e-books from the library and many other features of her new e-reader. It was so much fun to see her excited about books-in any form! And when I told her she could bring it in to school to use, her eyes grew huge. "Really? Cool!"

Of course there was a "No fair!" from her classmate who is a gadget kid and wants an e-reader.

My 8th graders are doing NaNoWriMo. This is our second year. I did it with them last year as 7th graders. It is so much fun to see them hunkered down with their notebooks scribbling away and getting excited over word counts. There are some great books being produced in my room. Each time I see R. she tells me how many more pages she has completed: she's writing a graphic novel- the story and the drawings. Another student is writing a novel that combines prose and songs. She's new this year and was nervous about doing NaNo. I was nervous for her, not sure how she would take the whole challenge. She's been doing great! She's got a great idea and is writing a lot.

As we were hanging out in my room waiting for the dismissal bell, my new student and I were talking. I commented that I was already running out of room on the bookshelves as I tried to squeeze The Red Pyramid (copy 1, I have 2 copies because it was so popular- this is actually the first time since getting the books that it has been on the shelf) on to the shelf.

"You have a lot of good books. Not like my teachers at my old school. They were all boring and they didn't have many. That's why I didn't really like reading."

"Thank you. I try really hard to find books that everybody will like. You're reading a lot more, how many books have you finished in the two months since school started? Five?"

Her face lit up. "Yeah!"
I love moments like these.