Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Take a Shelfie: Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus

Where did Dusti Bowling, the author, come up with this tremendously readable idea?!

Aven was born "unarmed."  At home in Kansas, with her friends, school, and family, she's just another kid.  Just one with no arms.  Her parents, who adopted her when she was two, won't let her feel sorry for herself for a minute.

But then, her parents are offered a job running the Stagecoach Pass, a dusty old theme park in Arizona that needs a new life, and suddenly, this "problem-solving ninja" is faced with leaving everything and everyone she knows.

It's hard enough to make new friends in school.  Try doing it when everyone is staring at you, wondering how you write, eat, and use the bathroom.

Dusti Bowling has taken an incredible topic, and armed with lots of understanding about how people live without arms, she turns Aven into an inspirational protagonist without making her seem too unrealistic.  Aven ultimately befriends two boys, each of whom has reasons for wanting to be left alone.

If I have a criticism, it is that Conner, the boy with Tourette's Syndrome, barks.  I understand that some people with Tourette's do that, but it is a far smaller percentage than those with less noticeable tics, and while I get why she used a characteristic that was more "out there," I personally, wish she hadn't.  Conner explains why he stays away from people and Aven hears him, but ultimately, she persuades him to push himself in ways he never has before.

I found this book hard to put down.  There are mysteries to be solved about a photograph, a necklace, and tarantulas, by this young woman and her friends. 

This is a great book for students who loved Melody in Out of My Mind, Auggie in Wonder, Alice in A Blind Guide to Stinkville, and Ally in Fish in a Tree.

I found this video about a family where the mother and son were born without arms.  It's worth watching to see how they navigate the world.  You could use this as an activating strategy before reading the book, or after, as a culminating activity.

If you'd like to purchase this book, click on the link below.  I am an Amazon affiliate, which means they give me a few pennies for this purchase, which does not come out of your cost.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Take a Shelfie: Beyond the Bright Sea

Crow washes up on an island, just hours old and wrapped in a blanket with a note on her chest.  
Osh found her.  
She's called him Osh ever since she started talking, and he's called her Crow because that's what she sounded like when she first started crying.

As Crow gets older, she notices that people shake hands with Osh and Miss Maggie, their nearest neighbor, but they don't with her.  Is it her age?  Or something else?

Wanting to learn about where she came from and why, Crow pushes Osh and Miss Maggie to take her to Penikese Island, the one everyone stays away from.  Although it's not been a leper colony for years, it still makes people uncomfortable.

“Creating mystery and suspense in an unusual setting, Newbery Honor–winner Wolk spins an intriguing tale of an orphan determined to find her roots, set in the 1920s…. Crow is a determined and dynamic heroine with a strong intuition, who pieces together the puzzle of her past while making profound realizations about the definition of family.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

This review says it best.  Lauren Wolk has written another great novel to follow her Newbery Honor Award-winning book, Wolf Hollow.  Your upper elementary and middle school students will find this one equally hard to put down!                                                                                                                                                            If you are interested in the novel study I created for small groups, lit circles or whole class reading, click here.

If you would like to buy the book, click on the link below.  I am an Amazon affiliate, and you can purchase the book through me, which does not change your cost at all.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Eight Ways to Care for Yourself in Winter

I love winter.  I love snow and the way it magically coats the earth.  I especially love when it stops the world for a while, and as a teacher, when I'm gifted by a day off without having to write sub plans.

But, by the middle of February, I'm done.  Winter has lost its charm.  Kids are getting more restless, we go to work and come home in the dark, and we're all ready for a soft breeze to bring on the promise of spring.

Many of us still have two months to go to get there.  So, what's a teacher to do?


In my first job out of grad school - I wasn't a teacher back then - my supervisor said to me,

"If you know that you're going to come to work and be cranky, stay home.  
Call in sick. 
These children need you at your best, so give them your best."

Thank you, Terry.  Those were the best words of advice I could have been given.

So, how do you do that as a teacher?  Here are some things that I've found work for me.  Maybe they will for you, too.

1.  Get Away

It doesn't have to be anywhere nearly as gorgeous as this place.  It could be a cabin in the woods, but it needs to be somewhere away from the day-to-day expectations of your regular life.  Read a book, sit and stare at a fire in the fireplace, just s-l-o-w your world down a bit.

2.  Get a massage

Why do we wait so long to get these?  Massages have a way of working out the kinks of needy kids, papers waiting to be graded, people who want/need you more than you can give them at the moment.  It's less expensive than a get-away and doesn't take nearly as much time, but its benefits are worth it!

3.  Get together with some friends

Make sure you don't talk about school!  Talk about what you enjoy, what you dream about.  Laugh, tell stories, giggle.  Your heart will be grateful and you'll feel your shoulders come down from your ears.

4.  Get some exercise

Exercise gets your heart rate up and your blood flowing!  If you can't get outside, do it inside.  I need fresh air, so unless the roads are icy, I'm walking or running with a friend in the mornings.  Yes, it's dark and I hate getting out of bed.  But I'm a different person because of it.

5.  Take a class

Do something completely different, not anything related to teaching.  Take voice lessons, or a floral arranging class.  Look to your local community or library and find classes that are free or cost a minimal amount.  Do it with a friend for a WIN-WIN of friend time and a fun learning experience!

6.  Do volunteer work

For a number of years, I volunteered at a women's' Winter Shelter, offering snacks and a welcoming smile to women whose lives had taken a turn for the worse.  I always felt like I received more than I ever got - I was inspired by the resilience of women, and their tenacity to get what they needed.  Those experiences humbled me, and fed my soul in small ways.  Fire Departments are desperate for volunteers; Habitat for Humanity and other building nonprofits are always looking for an extra hand.

7.  Claim an hour for yourself

If you have small children at home, I realize a lot of these are harder to do.  Find a way to claim an hour for yourself.  Go to a local coffee shop to sit and read a book.  Or maybe, just maybe, get up before anyone else in the house and breathe a little, easing yourself into the morning.

8.  Meditation and Mindfulness

Close your eyes.  Take a deep breath.  Stay that way for a while.  
There are meditation and mindfulness apps you can use to visualize calm.  And there are spiritual disciplines of centering prayer, if you're a person of faith, and prefer that.  Each provides you with a way to leave the world behind, even for 10 or 20 minutes at a time.

In the United States, especially, we seem to pride ourselves on how busy our lives are.  We don't need to be.  There's no badge to be earned for busy-ness, in fact, our bodies and our psyche need us to slow down.
I hope you can find a way to claim some time for yourself. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

When Kids Get Stuck at the Beginning of a Prompt

When kids get stuck at the beginning of a prompt
You've seen it before.  A student - okay - maybe a couple of students - look at you with that wide-eyed-deer-in-headlights look and say "I don't know what to do!"  Or they push the paper away and stare out the window.  Text Dependent Analysis.  So hard.

Until they get it.

And you sigh, because you thought this one, they could figure it out by themselves.

One of the challenges of helping students with text-dependent prompts is that we all know there will come a time when they're going to have to figure it out on their own.  Like state testing.  And let's be real, sometimes in life!

But some kids just can't get past GO.  And you know once they do, they'll be fine.

But right now?
They're stuck.

What's a teacher to do?  I created these, with some help from released items from several different states.
Model this for your students so that they can hear your thinking.  Show them how, even without reading a passage, you know what you're being asked to do.  And how knowing that helps guide what you're looking for, as you read and annotate.

If you'd like to use these too, click here to download them.

Let me know how you used them with your students!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

You Can Break It Down: From Photos to Inference

Norman Rockwell painting for making inferences
What comes to mind when you look at this picture?  

Isn't it amazing how much you can tell, even though there aren't any words? 

Making inferences from text is a tough skill for many students, but I find it's a lot easier if you start with pictures.  Students don't get as stumped when they observe this picture below and tell what they see.  
NatGeo picture for making inferences
Then, it's not that hard to move from what they observe to what they infer.  What inferences can they can make from this picture?  Notice how they begin to pay attention to details.  And when they've finished inferring, ask them to make a prediction.  What do they think is going to happen next?

NatGeo picture for making inferences
My students and I look at a number of photographs this way together.  Then we move to small groups, each with a printed and laminated picture to answer the three questions: What do you observe?  What do you infer?  What do you predict?

Once they are starting to feel comfortable with pictures, you'll want to move them to text.  There are a lot of good picture books out there, but I particularly like The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg because there's a twist that many of my students don't see coming.

The combination of pictures with text moves them a little closer to inferring from text alone.
The Sweetest Fig by Chris Van Allsburg for making inferences
The third step is to move towards text.  I have a scaffolded version of Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) with sentences underlined and question bubbles to help guide students.
scaffolded text for making inferences
The final step is for students to make inferences from text they're reading at their level.  When they get there, they are more able to understand how many details help them infer.

It's a lengthy process, but the payoff is worth it!  I've created all of this in a product in my TpT store.  Click here or on the picture, if you'd like a closer look!
TpT product for making inferences
There's also a version for grades 2-4.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Why this White Teacher Hates Black History Month

It's 2019.

Aren't we beyond this?  Why is our study of African-Americans limited to one month?  Why not introduce our students to important people - with all shades of caramel and coffee and olive and brown and black skin - all year long?

Let's stop this February thing.  And teach our students to honor great people from September to June.

Click here to read an outstanding article about how we need to rethink our perspective.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Good Dog by Dan Gemeinhart

Picture of a dog running for review of Good Dog
Where does this author come up with all of his crazy-wonderful ideas?  From The Honest Truth to Some Kind of Courage to Scar Island (which I reviewed here) to Good Dog.  

This book was not at all what I expected.  Not. At. All.

The story is told in 3rd person.  There's a narrator who tells what's happening: from Brodie running around in heaven, through coming back to earth against almost everyone's advice, to his adventures on earth.  And then, there's a twist at the end where the novel shifts into 1st person.  Cleverly done!

The Scoop

Brodie feels his feet running on the grass and knows that he's in heaven, although the place is never mentioned.  His heart is so big, he knows he has to come back to earth to save his boy.  At first, he can't remember his boy's name, but slowly the memories come back of the deep love between Aiden and Brodie, and the fear they have about his physically abusive, alcoholic father.  

What happens on earth is suspenseful, action-packed, scary, death-defying (although you can't really die if you're already dead.)  Brodie and his new friend, Tuck, come to earth as spirits so they can't be seen.  Except by dogs who've returned to earth and have lost their souls.  So they want a bite of the souls of "fresh" dogs.

Running from these terrifying bullies, through walls, cars, and trucks, Brodie and Tuck, with the help of a mangy cat called Patsy, make difficult decisions that stretch who they are and why they're back on Earth.

The Verdict

Your students will have a hard time putting this book down!  Filled with a positive message about deep friendship between a dog and his boy - that can be applied to friendship anywhere - students will cheer Brodie on as he desperately tries to achieve his goal.

Some tears might even be shed.  

Enjoy your reading this week!

If you like, you can purchase the book through the link below.  You don't pay any extra for it but I earn a few pennies as an amazon affiliate.