Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 27: Poetry Challenge

In high school, I had an amazing English teacher who inspired me to write poetry.  In fact, during my senior year, I took a special independent study with her so that I could have more time to work on my writing.  It was awesome.  I wrote all sorts of poems.  Poetry helped me come to terms with my grandfather’s death.  For the longest time, I thought it was my fault that he died.  Clearly, ten-year-old me had nothing to do with it.  But, up until I was 18, I thought I did.  Writing poetry allowed me to explore my inner feelings and make sense of everything.  When poetry found me, I felt a sense of peace flush over me as if a burden had been lifted from my soul.  While most people find the writing of poetry daunting and overwhelming, I find it freeing and much more engaging than prose.  I love the idea of playing with words to create just the right emotion, image, or feeling within a reader.  It’s empowering in an approachable manner.  

In 59 Reasons to Write by Kate Messner, she mentions how difficult most writers find poetry.  As a writing teacher and fellow writer, I would agree.  However, I do feel as though it is the approach that is crucial.  Poetry can seem difficult and unattainable if it is presented as such.  You can’t introduce poetry to student writers with Robert Frost or Emily Dickinson.  You need to find a hook first.  Most students and people today enjoy listening to music.  Music is a relatable form of poetry.  Try using music as the hook and you might find more success.  Sometimes, complicated tasks or ideas come down to presentation.  The students want to feel as though it is challenging but doable.  They also want to see the relevance in what they are doing.  So, try coming at challenging topics like poetry from a completely different angle.

In Messner’s book Jo Knowles suggests a very cool poetry writing activity that I feel would engage students.  First, you have the students choose a topic of interest such as a sport or historical event.  Then, have them list their phone number, area code included, vertically down the side of a piece of paper.  The number on each line dictates how many words must be used in that particular line.  0s are wild cards and the poet can choose any number of words for lines that contain a 0.  Then, the students begin crafting a poem about their self-selected topic using the phone number as a mathematical formula.  It’s open-ended, yet containing at the same time.  Students can choose any topic on which to write about but don’t have to worry about filling each line withwords  because they are only allowed so many.  What a cool idea!  I love it.  I’m totally trying this with my students.

In fact, here’s my sample Phone Number Poem entitled No Ladder is Ending Me:

6 I heard a loud CLINK! when

0 the ladder slipped, sending me earthward.

3 My mind wandered,

5 “Is this how it ends?

2 A ladder?”

3 The fall seemed

4 infinite as a calmness

3 filled my soul–

2 “It’ll be

1 okay.”

That was tricky.  It took me a while to figure out my topic.  I started with a few different ones before I settled on something that happened to me just this morning.  Then, the words flowed onto the screen like quarters being shoved into a Skee-Ball machine at Fun Spot.  My first draft was not quite right and so I revised, focusing on the heart of the idea.  After reading over it again, I knew I had something of which to be proud.  The title came to me like a vision and that was that.

So, thank you Ms. Knowles for sharing such a unique poetry brainstorming idea.  I hope my students find it as captivating as I did.

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 26: Angry History

Thinking I was Larry Bird or some other really good basketball player, I attempted to shoot the empty toilet paper tube into the garbage can in my bathroom this evening.  You don’t want to know where I was sitting at the time.  That’s besides the point.  Anyway, I tried to get the tube into the can and failed miserably.  At first I was appaled at how atrocious my basketball skills have gotten over the years, but then I realized, that my basketball skills don’t define me.  It’s just a game and I was just trying to have some fun.  But really, I missed so badly.  The tube hit the cabinet, totally missing the waste basket.  The saddest part of it all was that I was less than two feet away from the trash can.

So, while I was frustrated with my poor shooting abilities, I certainly didn’t get angry.  However, after reading Sarah Albee’s entry in Kate Messner’s book 59 Reasons to Write, I was filled with much rage.  First, she claimed that most students view history as being their least favorite class.  Well, perhaps in schools where they still use textbooks and have uneducated teachers teaching.  At my school, history is one of the highlights for our students.  They love their history classes across the board.  They love history because we make classes fun and engaging.  They are filled with much discussion and debate.  We don’t focus on the facts and figures.  We examine the big ideas and start to help students understand the hows and whys of history.  They love it.  I was appaled that Albee made this false accusation in a published book.  It sends the wrong message to readers.  History is and should be one of our students’ favorite classes, if it’s done right.  

Now, my anger didn’t end there.  While she did say that most texbooks used in schools today are boring, she went on to basically say that schools still need to use textbooks to teach various subjects like history.  It’s baffling to me how wrong she is.  In fact, textbooks are one of the reasosn why our students are failing to grow into creative problem solvers.  Textbooks spoon feed everything to the students.  They take critical thinking out of the equation.  We need to remove textbooks from classrooms.  I haven’t used a textbook in the sixth grade for several years now and my students are all the better for it.  I teach my boys to think for themselves, question everything, and find creative solutions to problems.  Textbooks do just the opposite of those big three ideas.  So, no Ms. Albee, we don’t need textbooks in schools, we need dedicated and motivated teachers in schools who want to support and help students think critically about the world around them.

I’m now beginning to wonder how closely Kate Messner vetted the entries in this book.  It seems as though any crazy idea made the cut as long as that person was a published author.  It takes a lot more to be an authority on a topic than just having a book published.

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 25: Brainstorming for Voice

So, I think I’m loving Kate Messner’s 59 Reasons to Write.  It’s filled with very fun and engaging brainstorming and writing activities.  Each chapter contains at least one idea or activity that I feel as though I could use in the classroom.  However, as I’m reading the book, I keep getting these nagging jabs of pain that tell me I shouldn’t really enjoy the book.  I’m not sure where they’re coming from.  Maybe it’s that some of the ideas are wretched and totally not applicable to boys, which are the only type of students I teach.  One author suggested starting with a problem and then thinking about how things in a garden might help the character solve the problem.  I found that to be stupid and not boyish at all.  But, the bad ideas are few and far between in this text.  Maybe I’m feeling weird about the book because most of the submissions come from women.  So far there has been only one male contributor.  It seems a bit sexist to me.  Perhaps it’s both of those ideas or neither of them at all.  I’m not really sure, but I think I want to like it.  For now, I’m going to say, I like this book.

One idea that jumped out at me as being something I could use in the classroom came from chapter five on voice and point of view.  Erin Dealey has this great brainstorming or prewriting activity, as she refers to it, that involves the students writing a stream of consciousness about the moment.  They need to write until they are told to stop, which is usually about 3-5 minutes.  They can only write three words per line.  If they have trouble starting they can begin with, “I don’t know what to write about.”  If they get stuck in the middle of writing, they can repeat a word until an idea comes to them.  She finds that this activity helps her students find their voice when writing.  I think it’s an awesome idea.  I can’t wait to try it.  I love the idea of using only three words per line because it causes the writer to think while processing a stream of consciousness.  Keeping the parameters open for students who get stuck while writing is also key to engaging all students.  I could see this being a very interesting activity for my boys.  I can’t wait to try it with them.  In fact, I want to try it myself.  Here goes something.  Timer set for three minutes.  Go.

My nose is

itchy and I’m

not sure why.

Could it be

that when I

was outside earlier

this evening a

fly or mosquito

bit me on

the nose and

left a welt

which is now

causing me irritation?

Could that be

the problem ailing

me or is

it an ingrown

hair or agitated

hair folicle? Maybe.

I’m unsure but

do know that

my nose is

itchy. I’m trying

not to pay

it much attention

because I know

that the more

you scratch, the

more it will

itch.  So, I

avoid and ignore

like most every

other problem in

my life.  Out

of sight, out

of mind, so

the saying goes.

Wow, that was super fun.  And what did I do as soon as my time was up?  Scratch my nose.  I feel like this activity gave me a chance to explore my thoughts and feelings but also who I am as a writer in a short span of time.  For some boys, this may be a daunting task, but also enlightening for others.  I can’t wait to spring it on them come September.

Now, as I continue trying to figure out whether I like Messner’s book or not, I’m hopeful that I will be able to add more fun writing activities like this one to my repertoire.  Who knows, maybe I really do like this book.  Or maybe I just like the idea of it.

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 24: New Writing Ideas

I love new things.  New music.  New television shows.  New movies.  I’m not a fan of old movies or old music, which is strange because all new ideas are infleuenced in many ways by what once was.  One of my favorite bands Coheed and Cambria are heavily influenced by Pink Floyd, Led Zepplin, the Who, Rush, and many others.  But they are different and unique in their own ways.  

As I read and learn about new teaching ideas and practices, I realize that they are not new at all.  Most “new” teaching practices are either recylced ideas from years ago or just not known by many people.  In Kate Messner’s book 59 Reasons to Write, she and the book’s other contributors discuss some very cool ideas that I conisder new, but perhaps they are just new to me.  It’s like buying a used car.  It’s a new car to me.  

Cool Idea 1: In the book, Messner included a nifty worksheet regarding world building that could be used as a brainstorming tool or fun writing activity to inspire the students to think about the setting of their story.  It included some interesting questions about laws, ethnic diversity, and weather patterns.  These tend to be things that most students or authors ignore when creating their setting.  Perhaps, delving into the idosyncrasies of a world or setting will help the students create a more believable world in their writing.  I would love to use this activity in the classroom next year.

Cool Idea 2: In chapter four, the author discusses character development.  She suggests some insightful questions to think about when creating a character.  Some examples I loved: If your character was alive today, what  songs would be on his or her iPod or other device?  What political affilliation would support your character if he or she ran for public office?  These questions would allow students and writers to really think about their characters in a very personal and in-depth manner.  While the story in which the characters are a part of might not even mention political parties or musical preferences, knowing these kinds of traits about a character would foster a deep understanding of that person or character.  This activity could easily become a mini-lesson on character development.  As they create a character, they need to think about particular questions.  I love this idea too.  I guess I’m just a loving person.

So, while both of these ideas are certainly not cutting edge and brand new to the teaching world, they are not things that I was aware of.  For me, this book is like an early Christmas present.  And I still have plenty of unwrapping to go.  Perhaps I’ll even wear my Santa hat when I start reading next.

Summer Writing Camp Prompt 2: Your Life in Six Words

While no one seemed to take me up on my writing challenge from Saturday’s post, I’ve decided to keep on keepin’ on like Joe Dirt suggests.  I’m not going to give up that easily.  Nope, I’m going to try one more time to inspire others to write.  Heck, even if you don’t post a reply to this entry with your writing, write somewhere at sometime.  As teachers, parents, or mentors, we need to model good writing habits.  If our students or children see us write, then perhaps they too will be inspired to write.  If we share our writing successes and failures with students, they will understand that writing is a process and not an end product.  Writing, like reading, needs to be embracd by our students and children.  So, let’s jump into the writing pool with them to show them how much fun the writing doggie paddle can really be.  Go writing!

While Saturday’s prompt was very broad and open ended, after I posted it, I worried that perhaps it seemed too daunting a task for people.  “Pick a room, then choose a memory.  Who has time for that?  I need to do the laundry and make dinner.”  So, I thought for today’s entry, I’d go small on a big scale.  I know, that seems strange, almost like an oxymoron.  How can something be small and big at the same time?  My grandfather had this tiny Bible that he gave to me before he passed away.  It was smaller than a trading card in size, yet it contained the entire New Testament of the Bible.  While I’m not a believer in all things Christian, I do know that the Bible is conisdered one of the greatest books ever written.  So, I had a tiny Bible.  Well, look at that, I guess something small really can be large and awesome.  

In that vain, today’s entry: Write a six-word memoir about your life.

Here’s mine: 

Take One: Laughter echoes throughout my loving heart.

Take Two: Tending to young seeds, I smile.

Take Three: Kim+Mark+Jeffrey = Together 4 Eva

Take Four: Contemplating asteroid collisions erodes one’s life.

Final Take: Live in experiences, not the future.

So, now it’s your turn.  Give it a try or five.  It doesn’t need to be perfect.  Think of this as an opportunity to grow and better support your students and/or children.

Summer Writing Prompt 1: Room for Memories

After last evening’s blog entry, I was moved to write while hopefully inspiring others to do the same.  Although my blog was originally intended for me to reflect on my teaching and related practicies, I do have some followers.  Perhaps those of you who read my blog will feel moved to write as well.  Please do so and include it as a reply to this entry.  I love reading writing from others.  As I often tell my students, you all are way more creative than I could ever imagine being.  So, let’s get writing.

Borrowing from Kate Messner’s book 59 Reasons to Write as she said I could.  No, I didn’t ask her directly, but the book said so.  However, if I had her digits perhaps I would have called her, maybe.  I love pop culture references.  Anyway, before I digress too far down the teeny bopper rabbit hole, I will continue.  I thought that one of the first writing prompts suggested in the book, created by Jo Knowles, would be a great place to start.  While her prompt was very focused and specific, you know me, I’m all about choice and creativity.  So rather than keep it focused on just the kitchen and your childhood, let’s open it up a bit.  

Choose a room from any house or place in which you have ever lived.  Now, think about a memory or something that happened there.  Craft a story, poem, song, play, or any sort of piece about that room and memory.

Here’s mine…

A loud THUD! was heard as the incredbily tall basketball player collided with my son causing Jeffrey to crash to the floor in a sea of traumatic memories and tears.  So, I guess I should back track a bit so that it all makes sense.  Please, step with me now into my writing time machine.  Watch your step and hold on tight as it may be a bumpy ride for some.  14… 13… 12… 11… yes, we’re going even further.  10… 9… 8… don’t look out the window if you get sea sick.  Things are flying by very fast.  We’re almost there.  7… and 6…  

Jeffrey is six years old and in the first grade.  He came to be in our family when he was five and three quarters.  He suffered great trauma prior to being placed into foster care.  While we never learned exactly what happened, we do believe that whatever did happen, happened in a bathroom.  

So now for the scene.  We had taken Jeffrey to a Dartmouth Men’s Basketball game. There we were sitting in the stands watching an exciting game.  Well, full disclosure, Dartmouth has never been good at basketball and so they were getting their butts whopped.  Anyway, Jeffrey said he needed to go to the bathroom.  So, I took him, which was good because I too needed to relieve myself.  

The Men’s Public Restroom at the basketball gym was quite nice.  There were several stalls and plenty of urinals.  The sinks lined the wall opposite the urinals.  The lighting was subtle and just right.  The urinals were auto flush and the sinks had sensors to turn on the water.  We’re talking state of the art.  So, we go into the bathroom, which Jeffrey was a little hestitant about at first.  He’s always had a fear of bathrooms.  In the smaller restrooms, I needed to hold the door open while he was inside so that he didn’t feel trapped.  It’s so sad to imagine what might have caused this great fear for him.  Because this restroom was larger, I was unable to hold the door open for him.  He went to the urinal closest to the door and did his business.  I saddled up at the urinal next to him.  As I am older and my bladder doesn’t work quite as effeciently as his, I was still going when he finished.  “Wait for daddy, please,” I told him.  Just looking at his nervous expression, I knew this would be a real challenge for him.  I finished as quickly as I could.  As I finished, the auto flush on the urinal Jeffrey used went off, loudly.  This of course startled him.  He freaked out and ran out the door.  Meanwhile, elsewhere in the arena, the Basketball Team was making their way out onto the court for the seond half of the game.  As Jeffrey shoved open the door with the force of 200 bulls, the basketball team was running by to get to the gym.  Because Jeffrey was clearly not in the now and was thinking about some triggered memory from his past, he did not see the basketball team and ran right into the thigh of one of their players.  He bounced off his leg like it was trampoline.  Jeffrey fell to the floor and burst into tears.  The player stopped, apologized, and tried to help.  I thanked him and let him know that the tears had nothing to do with him.  

I picked my son up off the floor and held him in my arms as he cried.  Where was he mentally at that moment?  What horrific experience had happened to him in a bathroom?  Why was he so scared?  I wish we knew the specifics of his past traumatic experience, but I’m afraid we’ll never know.  Even after years of therapy, the truth seems to be deeply buried inside Jeffrey’s subconscious, which is probably for the best.  The good news is, bathrooms no longer seem to terrify him.  In fact, he even closes the door when he’s going at home, which is great beacuse boy, he can sometimes be quite stinky.

There it is.  That’s my story.  Now, tell us yours…

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 23: What a Pleasant Surprise

Dating an older girl– well, I should clarify, she wasn’t older than me but she was in a grade above me, and so, it’s kind of like she was older than me– in high school made some ritualistic things difficult.  First, I was never able to date internationally even though the foreign exchange student from the Czech Republic that I’m pretty sure had a huge crush on me invited me to her host family’s house on several occasions.  I had a girlfriend, who, at the time was cheating on me unbeknownst to me.  So, no European love for me.  But, the biggest miss for me was that I was never able to attend my senior prom because my girlfriend was in college and thought proms were so high-schoolish, which is strange because she was dating a guy in high school.  Isn’t that high-schoolish?  Therefore, I never had the chance to slowdance with my girlfriend or get all dressed up.  I missed that.  Luckily, in college, I met the girl of my dreams, who later became my amazing wife.  While we were dating, she discovered that I had not attended my senior prom.  So, to help me fall more in love with her, which I didn’t think was possible, she surprised me one weekend by taking me to her house and setting up the downstairs like a prom.  We even got all dressed up and danced the night away.  That was one of the greatest and most suprising nights of my life.

Like my faux prom night, Kate Messner’s newest book 59 Reasons to Write also surprised me quite a bit.  When I added it to my summer reading list in May, I was under the impression that it was a book filled with ideas to use in the classroom to inspire students to write.  Well, I was mistaken, in a good way.  It’s a book about inspring teachers to write so that they can be writing mentors and models for their students.  It’s a collection of ideas and samples taken from a virtual summer writing camp for teachers she proctored entitled Teachers Write.  It can be used to inspire teachers or anyone to write for the sake of writing.  Many of the ideas can also be applied to the classroom as well.  

So, while I was at first dissapointed that this book was not a Pandora’s Box of cool and unique writing ideas that I could easily use in the classroom, I am starting to realize that it could be a very valuable resource to inspire my colleagues to write.  Perhaps I will create my own online writing camp for teachers.  What teacher doesn’t love to write?  Maybe I’ll offer a professional development session on writing to inspire our students.  That would be awesome since I love to write anyway.  It would offer me even more time to write.  Yah for writing!

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 22: Tightrope Walking is Not my Forte

This past March, I took on the challenge of participating in my school’s Faculty Talent Show.  I wanted to try something new.  So, my fellow teacher friend and I decided to recreate the final dance from the movie Dirty Dancing.  At first, we tried to tackle the whole five-minute routine.  That seemed too daunting.  So, we went with the Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore version, which is about 35 seconds in length.  Still though, it took us about three hours to rehearse a 35 second dance routine.  Dancing is hard.  There are so many little things to keep in mind.  Do I turn this way or that way?  Do I bend my legs when he picks me up?  Where do I grab his arm on the spin?  Difficult stuff.  However, we pulled it off.  It certainly wasn’t as pretty as any televised version, but we managed to do everything mostly correct.  Plus, I found out that I look quite cute in a red dress and blonde wig.

The moral of the story here is that I am not a dancer and so it took me fifteen times as long to learn a simple routine.  I made many mistakes and definitely didn’t execute every move well.  If I want to become a dancer or learn to dance with more rhythm, then I will need to practice, a lot, every day.  Even then, I probably wouldn’t be as graceful as a professional dancer.  Luckily, I’m not entering in any dance competitions.  I’ll stick with teaching.  That’s my forte.  I feel as though I do some great things in the classroom.  Sure, there is always room for improvement, which is why I am constantly learning new techniques, reading professional development resources, attending conferences, and talking with my colleagues.  

When I’m learning about a new idea in teaching or revisiting an idea I thought I knew, I look for several different resources that offer different perspectives.  In the end though, I can only learn from the person or resource if the information is clear and tangible.  Do I understand it?  Can I wrap my head around what the author is saying?  Does it make sense?  

I’m at the point in Kelly Gallagher’s Readicide where I feel much like an inexperienced tight rope walker training for a big show, blindfolded.  Earlier in the book he talks about how the overteaching of novels is killing reading.  Then, he states how teachers need to teach class novels.  That’s confusing in its own right.  But then, he goes onto describe how he teaches novels in his class.  Don’t overteach, but don’t underteach. Do this, but not that.  I felt like I was reading the story of Goldilocks.  That’s too much teaching.  That’s not enough teaching.  That’s just right.  While his examples make sense, I feel as though he constantly contradicts himself.  Don’t teach everything in every book, but then he will have his students dissect various close reading examples from the books.  How is that just right?  That would drive me nuts as a student.  Let me read the book.  He’s using a lot of words, but not really saying anything tangible.  I don’t feel as though I can take anything from this part of the book.  It’s too convoluted.  I want clarity.  I don’t want him to spell out how to do it just right, but it’s confusing when he discusses overteaching a novel and then shares a strategy he uses in the classroom that sounds a lot like overteaching.  I’m not a dancer nor a cryptographer.  I need some salient examples and information.  His point about how the current model of teaching reading is actually killing it, was made in the first two chapters.  It’s almost as if this part of the book should have been made into its own separate book.  I just don’t understand.  I feel like the author is putting baby in a corner, and nobody puts baby in a corner.  I love Dirty Dancing. 

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 21: Agree to Disagree

My son is at the age where he he spends a lot of time hanging out with his friends.  When he does this, sometimes, he is exposed to things of which my wife and I don’t approve.  Should I ban him from seeing those friends?  Should I lecture him on the horrors of listening to and watching certain things?  Sure, I could keep him locked in a room with no windows until he turns 21.  Then what?  Let him out into a crazy and cruel world for which he is unprepared?  No thank you.  That will not go over well.  If I think back to my teenage years, I did a lot of stuff and was exposed to plenty of things of which my parents would not have approved.  It made me who I am.  I didn’t break many laws and didn’t do anything that could cause serious damage to my reputation, health, or body.  I was a teenager, not stupid.  So, I know that my son has watched rated-R movies with his friends, as he tells us.  When he shares this information with my wife and I, we don’t immediately say, “Oh my God, what were you thinking?”  We start by moving the conversation forward.  Then, we carefully and delicately remind him how we feel about him watching R-rated movies.  We don’t spend a lot of time hitting home this part of the conversation so that he stops sharing stuff with us.  We want to keep the lines of conversation open.  

However, when our son is with us and wants to do something of which we don’t approve, we tell him no and briefly explain our rationale.  This past weekend, he wanted to see a rated-R horror movie with his friends.  I said, “No.”  While he debated me for a few minutes, that was it.  He knows our expectations and understands that my wife and I will not break under pressure.  So, he stopped asking.  While I said very little to him, many thoughts filled my head.

Why would he want to see a horror movie?  He hates scary movies.  The one time we watched a scary movie together, he couldn’t sleep for days.  I know he had planned on meeting a girl there.  So, there’s the motivation.  But still, it’s a scary movie.  I’ve seen the previews.  It looks terrifying.  I love scary movies, and I’m avoiding this new one.  I kept these thoughts to myself though.

Later that same night, I asked my son what his friends had said about the movie.  “She said it was very scary and won’t be able to sleep tonight.  If I saw it, I don’t think I’d be able to sleep for a week.”  While the “Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner” in me wanted to say, “Told you so,” I said, “Oh.”  This kept the conversation going.  He talked about other scary movies he had seen and how they terrified him.

And the Parent-Of-The-Year Award goes to…  I don’t want to brag, but.  What am I talking about?  I love to sing my own praises as I rarely experience them.  I’m usually getting tongue-tied or a case of word-vomit when I try to talk to my son.  I finally got something right.  Yah for me!

So, like I agreed to disagree with my son about seeing rated-R movies, I felt compelled to disagree with one of the big ideas Kelly Gallagher propses in his book Readicide.  He states that much good can come from having a class read the same novel at the same time.  Why?  He claims that shared cultural knowledge is gained.  Can’t the same be true if students read books on their own?  Yes, difficult texts need to be supported with teaching and guidance.  However, does this teaching need to happen altogether as a class?  What about those advanced readers who comprehend things quickly?  Won’t they grow bored while I’m explaining the themes of the novel to my struggling readers?  What about using Literature Circles or reading groups?  What about giving students a few choices when it comes to reading “The Classics?”  That way, there may be more buy-in from the students, which leads to engagement.  We can also “teach” the novels in more relevant and meaningful ways for the students.  So, yes, I am agreeing to disagree with Gallagher on this point.  I don’t feel smarter or more in-tune with society because I read Romeo and Juliet and To Kill a Mockingbird in school together with my classmates.  I actually can’t stand Shakespeare to this day because the teaching of his novels was beat into me in school.  So, no, I don’t think students are better off if we teach “great” novels in class at the same time.  Again, I think it does just the opposite that the author is suggesting.  It leads to the death of reading, which is what he suggests we need to prevent.  Confusing, I know.  

If we help support and develop life-long readers through the freedom and choice that the workshop model of literacy instruction creates, then those readers will eventually read those “classics.”  Why push and prod?  If I had told my son everything I was thinking when he asked about seeing a rated-R movie, he would have grown angry with me and the discussion we had would have turned into a heated debate.  This would have lead to him not trusting me as his father, which would mean that he would no longer tell me things happening to him.  If we want to lose readers to poor reading instruction that creates a stranglehold on the students, then let’s keep teaching the same book to all students at the same pace.  Or not.  I want my students to see reading as wonderful and enlightening, not awful and horrible.  So, Mr. Gallagher, thanks for your insight on this point, but I’m going to ignore your advice.  Not all of it, because most of your book is a masterpiece, but this one mandate you suggest schools need to adopt is not inline with my beliefs as an educator.

Thoughts on Summer Reading Part 20: It’s Good to Feel Needed

Mow the lawn, take out the trash, write lesson plans, go to faculty meetings, do the dishes…  The list goes on and on.  Sometimes I feel like a machine going through the motions.  Doing the same things over and over.  Sure, I try to capture the experiences and live in the moment, but it tends to be the same experiences and moments over and over again.

However, once in a while something strange happens to break up the routine.  While it’s not always a good distraction from the monotony, it is something different.

Last night, my wife and I were fast sleep in our bedroom, cozily tucked into our bed linens.  The hum of the fan lulled us to sleep.  There I was, in slumberville USA, population 2.  I was about to enter REM sleep.  Oh, it was perfect.  And that’s when my routine was disturbed.

So, my son, was using one of his two weekly sleep-out-in-the-living-room freebies as it is summer vacation.  While I question how much sleep he gets, he loves it because he gets to keep his phone with him overnight.  During all other nights, we collect it at bedtime.  So, he was super excited.  Oh, he is also deathly afraid of all types of insects and bugs.

So, there I was, asleep in my bed with visions of mountains dancing in my head.  Suddenly, as though some sort of alarm was going off, my delightful, 14-year-old son burst into the bedroom, turned on the lights, and started shouting, “Daddy, there is a big bug in the living room.  I need you to kill it, now!”

I awoke with a jolt, and slowly roused.  I put on my glasses, grabbed a paper towel from the kitchen, and went on a bug-killing spree.  Normally, I’m humane about living organisms, but it was too late at night for me to think humanely.  My son pointed out the giant insect saying, “It’s so big.  It looks like a bug from the time of the dinosaurs.”  While it was a huge bug, I doubt it was a layover from the Jurassic Period.  So, I killed it and went back to bed.  My son thanked me for slaying the great creature and apologized for waking me up to do so.  How sweet, I thought.  As I lay my head back onto my fluffy pillow, I felt good.  It feels great to be needed.  Even though my son is 14 years old and able to make his own food, get to places on time, do his homework, and operate an iPhone, he still needs his dad to protect him from killer insects from the Dinosaur age.

This situation reminded me of my current summer reading book.  Readicide by Kelly Gallagher is full of awesome ideas to use in the classroom.  It’s also chock-full of fodder to use when advocating the effective teaching of reading.  

One big idea I totally agree with, but never really thought about prior to reading this great resource is the power of reading.  Reading is not just a fundamental skill all people need to have in order to be effective members of society.  It is also the key to higher test scores.  Data proves that students who read for pleasure regularly, scored better on standardized, high-stakes tests than those students who don’t read for pleasure.  That old adage about reading, “The more you read, the more you know,” really is true.  Reading makes you smarter.  But it’s got to be on the students’ terms.  Choice and freedom need to be involved.  Students need to read texts they choose, from various genres.  That makes total sense to me.  The workshop model of reading instruction I employ in my classroom allows for this to happen.  Yah for my students!

The big take-away for me at this point in the book is how the author injects different types of reading into his curriculum.  While I cover current events with my students weekly, I do wonder how effective my methods are.  Are my students learning enough?  Are they doing the thinking?  Are the reading the “right” articles?  Gallagher uses the Article of the Week method to cover current events and non-fiction reading.  He provides the students with a print out of a news article.  They need to read and dissect it over the course of the week.  They also discuss it in class.  He also will assign some sort of connected writing activity to go along with the reading.  The students might need to re-write the headline or summarize the article briefly in a few sentences.  The prompts vary week-to-week.  What a simple, yet fun way to bring current events and expository reading segments to the students.  I love it.

Even though, it’s just a book, I need Readicide to offer me some new ideas on how to more effectively deliver Reader’s Workshop to my students.  Thank you Mr. Gallagher for writing such a useful tool.  You are like my bug slayer.  However, I promise not to wake you up in the middle of the night to write a new book or give me a new idea.  That’s what parents are for.