Monday, November 27, 2017

Sunset Shadorma

After a long, nothingseemedtogoquiteright kind of an afternoon at school today, I was graced by this stunning sunset on my drive home. Tonight I feel grateful that I was able to witness this breathtaking sky today and to have the opportunity to spend a few moments writing about it. As I wrote in my last post, I used the form of a Shadorma poem.  

Stunning Sunset 
“Sunset Shadorma”

Majestic hues
Soften evening’s
Journey home.
Yellow, pink
Orb illuminates skyline -
Nature’s finest hour.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Finding Beauty In Unexpected Places

Last August, I challenged myself to write and publish a post at least once a week. For the most part (except for one or two weeks in October), I accomplished this. Honestly, I often struggle with what to write about. In addition, I worry if my writing is good enough for others to read. I still carry some of the same worries as I wrote about in my first blog post. However, each time I post something I gently need to remind myself that the act of writing and publishing a blog post is usually enough for me, as it helps me slow down and pay attention to what is happening around me and best of all, it helps me to reflect on how I show up as a teacher, writer, and person. For me, that is a precious gift. Each time I work on a blog post, I am reminded of how hard writing is and how vulnerable you must be in order to share your writing (including your ideas within your writing) with others. I think this experience of blogging has helped me appreciate the writing of other bloggers (or anyone who publishes writing) and it gives me a lot more empathy and insight for my students when I ask them to share their writing with each other or with me.

One thing that has surprised me about blogging is the joy of connecting with other bloggers and discovering something new about writing or teaching. For example, a few days ago I read this post from blogger Margaret Simon. She wrote a post based on what another blog post challenged readers/writers to do - write a poem about finding beauty in something not considered beautiful. Margaret Simon shared her gorgeous poem called Graffiti Girl. She also introduced me to a form of poetry that I had never heard of before: Shadorma, a Spanish form of Haiku using a pattern of syllables of 3/5/3/3/7/5 in a non rhyming poem of six lines. I’ve been writing daily Haiku for a while, but I thought that it would be fun to play with Shadorma.  

I live in a relatively small, older home built in the 1940s. We have a small kitchen, sans automatic dishwasher. Due to the loss of cabinet space and a limited budget, our family never installed one. Doing the dishes by hand is often a task I loathe, and it usually makes me cranky when I realize that a stack of dirty dishes awaits me. Yet when I filled up the dirty crock pot ceramic insert with warm water and dish soap this morning, I realized beauty was in my kitchen sink. I had simply not found the time to notice or think about it.

Here is my first attempt at a Shadorma poem, noticing something I don’t usually find to be very beautiful:
“Sud Bubbles”

Suds sparkle
Shimmer against jet
Light bends as
Bubbles pop and shrink into
Abundant water.

And so, Margaret from Reflections from the Teche, thank you for helping me to recognize beauty in something so mundane I see each day AND for introducing me to a new form of poetry. Shadorma is a form I will definitely play with again in my writing.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Book Love and Conferring

This past summer I joined Book Love Summer Book Love 2017. I listened to phenomenal podcasts produced by Teacher Learning Sessions, read some amazing books (The Crossover, A Prayer for Owen Meany, Revolution, and Disrupting Thinking), and participated in several online discussions through posts in the Book Love Summer Book Club Facebook group. Although I was already a huge proponent of promoting and implementing best practices in literacy, Summer Book Love 2017 helped me think even more deeply about literacy and book access and how I wanted independent reading to be a key component in my high school classroom.

At the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year I implemented a small chunk of independent reading in all of my high school classes as part of the daily routine. At first, my high school seniors especially protested at the scheduled ten to fifteen minutes of daily reading, reminding me that they haven’t been required to read in school every day since middle school (some of them since elementary school). However, I continued to promote the importance of reading, citing studies of the benefits of reading. In addition, I frequently talked about my love of reading and shared quick book talks with my students. In addition, I made time to take students to our school library for book talks and opportunities to check out books. Although it has taken some time to create buy-in with many of my students, I am so glad that I carved out this daily time for reading.  After nearly three months of independent reading, 75% of my students reported in an anonymous Google form I set up that they enjoy this time set aside to read. In fact, one of my students commented that she could not believe that she has read four books already, and she didn’t think that she has read an entire book since eighth grade. Win!

Of course, I have some reluctant readers. You know these students, the ones who are “fake reading” or report that, “reading is just not for me.” I have seen students hide their cell phones in their books (and text or Snapchat while we are reading). I have observed students go through book after book because they cannot find the book that holds their attention yet. Even so, I am still working diligently to find a good match for each student to read. "I'm not giving up on you as a reader" has been my mantra all year.

One of the unexpected benefits from the Book Love Summer Book Club Facebook group is that although the Summer Book Club is over, the online community is still active. I recently posted this question:
I have a student (9th grade girl) who tells me that she hates reading. She said that she doesn't read. I have introduced her to Crank, John Green books, and a few other edgy books (that other students usually like), but she's still a mystery to me. Outside of school she tells me that she likes to sleep and hang out with friends. She isn't a very strong reader. What books would you recommend for me to introduce to her?"
The online community almost immediately flooded me with great suggestions for my student, including graphic novels. I have graphic novels in my classroom library, but I hadn’t introduced them to her yet. The next afternoon I showed her Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier. To my surprise, she devoured Ghosts in a week and then began Smile by the same author. She’s almost finished Smile.

Last week I realized that two of my high school seniors were reading The Giver and they were in different classes. I asked one of the boys what drew him to this title. He responded that he always wanted to read this book and he and his friend were texting each other one night, trying to figure out what to read next. Apparently, they both decided to read The Giver together so they could talk about it. I was elated to discover that they were talking about books outside of class.

Perhaps one of my favorite parts of independent reading this year is conferring. For the longest time (and especially early in my career), I was terrified of conferring. Maybe it was the fear that I wouldn’t do it correctly or that the class would get off task while I was conferring with one student. To be honest, in the past I have been spotty with conferring, giving up when I was feeling defeated because I wasn’t reaching enough students. Then I listened to Penny Kittle speak in her Book Love Podcasts and other teachers rave about conferring. I reread Book Love and realized that one area I could work on this year was conferring. I also remembered some advice that I heard from Donalyn Miller at a conference a few years ago about conferring: every day, as many students as you can, under whatever conditions (her Golden Gate Bridge Method). I actually have this written on the cover of my teaching planner, so I remember it often.
My conferring reminder
Sometimes I confer with four or five students in a day. Other times I can only get to one or two students because we are having such a great conversation about what he or she is reading or I am helping a student find a book. My biggest section has 32 students, and I confer with them all, even if it is as not as many times as I would like to.

Yes, at times other students are off task (and not always reading) when I am conferring with a student, but I believe that one-on-one time conferring is still worth it.  

I don’t have a fancy system for conferring. I use a plain composition notebook for each class. In each conference I record the date, the student’s name, the book the student is reading and the page that he or she is on. Finally, I often write what I notice about that student as a reader and as a person. My favorite questions to ask students when I confer with them about books include:
  • What's worth talking about?
  • Catch me up. What's going on?
Kneeling down next to students sitting in desks or sitting next to my students on the floor (yes, next to my high school seniors), has been incredibly rewarding. I believe that it is the conferring that has made the biggest difference in success of independent reading so far this year and in the relationships that I have built with my students. Conferring gives me a better sense of who each student is as a reader and learner. It is also how I have discovered what my students really care about and what is going on in their lives.

I am eager to discover even more about each of my students as a reader and as a person as the year progresses. In addition, I am eager to continue to learn from the Book Love Community so I can continue to serve all of my students better.

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