Engaged teacher, Engaged readers…

This is my 7th year teaching in Michigan State University’s Teacher Education Program. I have taught students at almost every phase of the program. Because Michigan State’s program is so large, I often don’t see or hear from my students after I’ve taught them. I think of many of them and wonder how they are doing, what literature they are sharing with their students, and how they are managing their first years of teaching. Today – I got to visit one of those students. It was so amazing for both of us. I looked at her and said, “Do you still have days when you can’t believe you are doing what you love?” She smiled widely and I said, “me too”.

Then, Ms. C lead me to the back of her classroom. “This is the first thing I want to show you.” I walked around a corner to see her classroom library. She told me about how she has built it up so far (books, shelves, book boxes, beanbags) that she has implemented student librarians (“we’re still working out some of those kinks”), and that she can’t wait to meet Donalyn Miller at MRA this year. She has used donors choose to fund numerous projects in her room and is always trying to add more books for her students.

I stayed in her classroom for almost an hour during their “read to self” time. I watched third grade children, some of whom are still learning English, select their own books and read. They read deeply and widely. They read non-fiction books about Penguins and tornados. They read Skippyjon Jones, Clifford, Little Critter, Junie B. Jones, and Froggie. They read picture books, chapter books, and graphic novels. They abandoned books when they needed to, and selected other ones instead. As their teacher walked around the room and conferred with students, I joined in asking them to share with me. Some read outloud to me, some showed me a favorite illustration, and another boy showed me a cookie recipe he copied from Clifford. They were so ENGAGED in reading. And this was after lunch and after recess on a warm day.

Then they each wrote a short “review” of one of the books they had read. Each card included the title, author, star rating, if the book was fiction or non-fiction, and 1-2 sentences about what they liked or what it was about. THEN they booktalked in pairs. Did I mention how engaged they were? How they were asking each other questions and asking to share with me?

It made me think about Donalyn’s newest book Reading in the Wild and her premise that we don’t just want students to read in our classes, we want them to keep reading afterwards. It doesn’t matter their age. This is what I hope for my own teacher education students; that they will be engaged readers in our classes together and then want to help their own students develop as not just competent readers, but also as engaged readers As I looked around the room, I saw that Ms. C had taken time to find a book of her own, sit down next to a student and read. She not only set up the environment, procedures, and instruction for her students – she herself was an engaged reader.

As Junie B would say, “It was a thing of beauty I tell you.”

Author Event Highlights: Veronica Roth & Phoebe North

Earlier this week, I took my eldest daughter to hear Veronica Roth (Divergent trilogy) & Phoebe North (Starglass) in conversation at one of our favorite independent bookstores – Schuler Books (@SchulerBooks). Here are some highlights:

It was amazing to see this many people in a small space (500 tickets all sold out!) because of excitement about books, reading, and authors. We talked with some people who had driven for more than 5 hours from Cincinnati, Ohio and heard of someone else who had come from Kentucky.

Seated tickets sold out in 14 minutes. This is standing room only crew...

Seated tickets sold out in 14 minutes. This is standing room only crew…

On their own characters:

Phoebe: I loved Tris. I loved that she is complicated and seemed like a real teenager. She was challenging sometimes to read but that’s what I liked about her.

Veronica (re. the relationship between Tris & Four): It was a rule for me that neither character would derive strength from the other

On “strong female characters”:

Veronica: Male characters get to be all of these different adjectives, and we think women characters should be the same thing.

Phoebe: I think it’s important to think about what we mean by strong. We can have physically strong, like Tris. But we can also have complex and real – that is strong too.

On anxiety and writing

Veronica: I find it problematic that in general if something is wrong with you “below the neck” that it’s acceptable to get help and go a doctor. But if something is “above the neck” like anxiety or depression, people are just supposed to suck it up. That’s wrong. These are things that can be about brain chemicals and it’s important to get help, from a doctor or counselor or therapist.

Phoebe: Therapy is like ‘leveling up’ in life instead of a video game.

On writing:

Veronica: It’s important to have people to work with that think differently than you do when sharing writing. It means that you have disagreements, but it also means it helps you think more deeply.

Phoebe: At the beginning I was I used to fly by the seat of my pants. I thought I should try to be more of a planner/plotter. Then I tried it, wrote 500 pages, and it was awful. Now I just do it the way that works for me.

Veronica: I have a different process for each book. I don’t know if I’ll ever have one process that works for every book. Sometimes you don’t have a process. Anything that helps you write is what you should do to write.

Thanks to Schuler Books for hosting. Whitney and the entire staff was amazing as always.
Thanks to Harper Collins – for every ticket sold at each of the events, they donated a new book to First Books.
Thanks to Veronica & Phoebe for coming to Lansing and sharing your time and selves with us. 

Schuler Books
website: http://www.schulerbooks.com/
twitter: @SchulerBooks

Phoebe North
website: http://www.phoebenorth.com/
twitter: @phoebenorth

Veronica Roth
website: http://www.veronicarothbooks.com/
twitter: @VeronicaRoth

 

Review: Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Words take my breath
Begging me to slowly reread
Savor each story

This is the review after I read it the first time. I was lent an ARC of this book from a #nerdybookclub friend and must pass it along to another reading friend. I can’t wait to get my own copy and read it again when it comes out in August. 

This is one of the most beautifully written books I’ve ever read. The poemic form helped me to slow down as I read. I read parts outloud. I reread. I want to reread it again. Put it on your list now and get it as soon as you can. Read it. Read it multiple times. 

Book Review: The Griffin and The Dinosaur

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I heard about this book from my good friend Donalyn at the Michigan Reading Association Conference. I’ve always admired Marc Aronson’s non-fiction books – the level of research and supporting information is always outstanding. This book continues in that tradition.

Chapter One introduces readers to young & curious Adrienne Mayor growing up on the prairies of South Dakota. The descriptions of Adrienne’s family history and childhood are brought to life with photographs, posters, and artwork. The book follows Adrienne’s curious mind and travels as she explores questions about how fossils might have inspired the Ancient Greek people to write about mythological creatures like the Griffin. Mayor’s instincts lead her to believe that perhaps there was a connection and that the griffin wasn’t just a myth.

Throughout the book, we are reminded of the importance of Mayor’s ability to notice and connect. She did it as a child on the prairie, and continued to explore and ask questions in the libraries of Greece, at archeological sites, and of professional archeaologists. Although not trained in either the classics or archeology, Mayor makes important discoveries. I appreciate that we experience the recursiveness of Mayor’s work. She would discover something in a book, go explore fossils or sites, discover something different that would send her back to books. Mayor’s understandings and discoveries did not happen in linear “straight line” but were at times messy and confusing. This made both Mayor and her work very real to me and also inspiring.

Using prints & sketches created by Mayor herself, along with photographs, maps, and gorgeous artwork by Chris Muller, this is a non-fiction book that is both interesting and visually appealing. A description by Aronson of his journey in meeting and working with Mayor provides helpful insight along with suggestions for further reading and a detailed glossary.

The notion that what has always been considered myth is actually based in scientific discovery by the ancients is fascinating. When I finished this book, it left me wanting to read more of Mayors work, but it also left me with a desire to be more curious.

The Griffin and The Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science
Written by Marc Aronson and Adrienne Mayor
Illustrations by Chris Muller
Published by National Geographic, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4263-1108-6
Checked out from East Lansing Public Library

Genres/Subjects:
Nonfiction, informational, mythology, dinosaurs, women scientists, Ancient Greece, scientific method, archeology,

Why Teach?

Video

This week, I taught my last 2 classes as a graduate assistant at Michigan State University. One of them was a course for our Elementary Education seniors titled Teaching English Language Arts to Diverse Learners. Most of the students in the course will go on to complete a one-year teaching internship next year.

I love working with preservice teachers. They are enthusiastic, curious, and passionate about their career choice. They are also nervous – rightfully so. About 2/3 of the way through the semester, I realized that there were quite a few students who were feeling panic. They had reached the stage of “realizing how much more they have to learn.” I saw and heard some of them questioning their decision to become teachers.

We spent time in class together talking about professional dispositions of teachers such as asking for help, acknowledging what we don’t know, as well as what we do know, and working to empower ourselves as professional educators. I am purposefully using the inclusive “we” in this description. I consider myself an educator who is always learning more about teaching. Always seeking out mentors, research, strategies, and questions to help me become better. I learned a lot from this group of students. I realized I need to do something different.

I listened. I read. I thought. I read some more. And I realized that what they needed was to learn how to begin to think like empowered teachers, to believe in themselves and their choices. I talked about my PLC (professional learning community) that I’ve developed online. I went to the Michigan Reading Association Conference and came back excited and energized to share things I had learned. I read THRIVE – Meeno Rami’s new book. I asked questions of colleagues and mentors. And then I asked them to think about things that they can do to empower themselves.

Feeling empowered as a teacher is difficult in today’s educational climate, but I know amazing teachers who are doing incredible work. And here is a group that I’m pleased to be sending to join the ranks. To help them remember their goals, profession, and passion for teaching, I asked them to complete the phrase, “I TEACH….” I hope they will watch this video now and next year to remember that they are incredible empowered teachers.

At the end of Teacher Appreciate Week, I want to thank each of them for helping me to continue to become a better teacher educator.

Here are their responses:

 

As I posted this video, I realized I hadn’t answered my own prompt:

I teach to help the next generation of teachers become empowered professionals who make informed pedagogical decisions based on what is best for their students as a community as as individuals.

 

#WeNeedDiverseBooks

I Love this so so much…. head on over to Grace Lin’s Blog for a description of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks event.

Then head to Kate Messner’s blog for more information, a giveaway, and an opportunity to support your local independent bookstore. I’m heading over to the fabulous Schuler Books in East Lansing to preorder a copy of The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson this afternoon.

There are so many reasons why we need diverse books… here are just a few of my own personal reasons….

WE NEED DIVERSE BOOKS BECAUSE:

  • people are NOT all the same; which is wonderful, amazing, and needs to be acknowledged and celebrated.
  • not everyone can travel physically, but everyone can travel through reading and/or listening to books
  • while we can never understand someone else’s experiences, we can develop empathy. 
  • Every human deserves to see multiple aspects of themselves represented in books. This includes the uncommon and common, the invisible and visible, the negative and the positive. ALL. OF. IT. makes us who we are. 

Check out #WeNeedDiverseBooks on Facebook and Twitter and share your thoughts – and head to your local independent bookstore to preorder The Great Greene Heist! Tell your local bookstores and libraries that #WeNeedDiverseBooks

 

Relatability?

Every semester that I have taught children’s literature courses, I hear and read the phrase
“I really related to this character/book.” or “That book is so relatable.” It has always bothered me a bit, not because relating is bad but because I see people thinking about NOT relating as a negative thing. I sometimes hear preservice teachers talk about children’s literature as if the goal of matching books to readers is about finding a book that is relatable. This is problematic.

Yes, it is important to read books where the reader can “see themselves” but this isn’t the only type of book we should read – regardless of age.

One thing that bothers me about the idea of “relatability” is that I see students shut down and disengage with a book if they can’t relate to it (their language, not mine). I also hear students say a book is “so good” ONLY because they can relate to it – without any further exploration into what exactly they mean by that term. I encourage the students in my class to be honest in what they think about a book – like/dislike, love/loathe – but that they also need to explore WHY they are having that response. So if they don’t like something, I want them to explore those negative feelings more deeply. Negative doesn’t have to mean disengage. I’ve been asking them to think more deeply about articulating what pushes them away or makes them feel like something isn’t “relatable”. This requires have a sense of ourselves as readers, but also have a sense of literary elements, literary devices, and genre because they give us language to articulate our thinking more clearly in writing.

In class this week, I talked to my students about using “connect” instead of “relate”. I’m trying this language because of the way that the term “connect” implies a more tangible thing. The hope is that by more explicitly considering not only WHEN readers make a connection but also HOW they do or do not make a connection they will be able to articulate more of their response.