Book Club: Summer Reads 2015

Summer Reads 2015Teacher Talk:

Last summer I anxiously read Teaching Argument Writing, Grades 6-12: Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning.  While the selection appeared to be a golden nugget, it actually fell flat for me.  Or, maybe I just need to read it again, and scrap the 88 sticky notes I plastered from page to page.  It wasn’t until I was linking the book in this post that I realized why the book may have been a disappointment.  If you focus on the subtitle, Supporting Claims with Relevant Evidence and Clear Reasoning, you will not be disappointed.  But, if you are looking for an argument writing cure all, this is not what you’re looking for.  They offer a few intensive activities that get kids thinking about warrants and reasoning, but the reality is, I applied zero of the suggested material.  I prefer text organized by strategy with practical application methods.  I’m hoping Graff and Birkenstein’s, They Say, I Say will transform my students’ writing.

Grading is my nemesis, has always been my nemesis, and I’m 95% certain will always be my nemesis.  I hate numbers, I still have to calculate 18/25 to determine the percent conversion, and I hesitate when I need students to count off by sevens to create groups of three.  (Or, should they count off by threes?)  I’m thoroughly convinced that my students’ grades are not an accurate depiction of their progress, but more along the lines of an arbitrary string of numbers that are easily rounded and make sense to the English teacher in me.  I’m turning to guru-Marzano for a grading fix.  His research-based strategies sit at the cornerstone of my decision-making process, his action steps to become a high-performing school were pretty much memorized in order to earn my diploma, and his vocabulary steps may as well be etched into the walls of my classroom, so I hope to extract a thing or two from his grading report.  I’m optimistic the book is only statistic heavy in the first few chapters.  (Does anyone else skip that part?)

Keeping up with the Kids:
For the last two years, my kids have been equally shocked and inspired by Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe.  While we require parent permission for those wishing to read the selection, the all-knowing middle schoolers still underestimate the maturity of the content and writing.  Even my most exposed teenagers (which isn’t saying much) admit, “I didn’t realize it was going to be that bad.”  They also say it’s some of the best prose they’ve ever read.  I’ll take it!

Counting by 7s has appeared on several book lists since it’s publication in 2014.  Along the lines of Wonder and Out of my Mind, it follows a middle school  “outsider, coping with loss, and discovering the true meaning of family.”  While I’m in this genre, let me recommend, See you at Harry’s.

Proof of Forever.  Because the author, Lexa Hillyer, is that good.  Check out her writer series, Paper Lantern Lit, on YouTube.

For me:
The Royal We is everything I look for in a novel:  someone else’s interpretation of what must be.   Every girl did it.  We all filled in the blanks of the little that we didn’t know about Kate and William’s courtship.  Here, the Go Fug Yourself ladies tell their strikingly similar, but just-enough-different version.

The House We Grew Up In is centered on all things small community, notable family, secrets, and an unwavering desire to return things to the way they were, with a (seemingly heavy) dose of hoarding on the side.

Savvy Strategy: End of Year Student Awards {Generated and Presented by Students}

awardsWhile the Pinterest Princesses are glittering and gluing the final touches on student awards for their little herd, I simply lack the creativity, moreover the desire to spend time in that area.  Not because my crafting skills have remained stagnant since kindergarten, but because quite frankly, the awards mean nothing to our students.  Why not center it on your students?  After all, flipping your class is the must-do of the year.  When I was in college, a guest lecturer presented a workshop centered on connecting with kids.  In it, she focused on her experience with advisories.  Maybe it was just her delivery, she was one of those individuals who carried that, “I may be old, but damn was I good?” respect without coming off as arrogant or self-promoting.  Anyways, she spoke about a very meaningful activity that she conducted year after year.  She had students draw a name out of a hat and create an award for their selected student.  It took me several years to implement this strategy, and after using it several times, I have to say the process is more than worthwhile.

For starters, I modified the activity for slighter older students by asking them to write down the names of 3-5 students they would like to create an award.  Luckily, it has always worked out that every student gets matched using this technique.  Though, you may need to make adjustments based on your class.  Next, I look at the results and sit back and reflect on whether or not my judgments were correct regarding who is most-liked, most-feared, etc. I pair students and remind them to keep their selection a secret.

We spend a day brainstorming potential awards.  “Best shoe collection” does not count.  “Funniest” does not count.  We discuss the qualities that make for a good award.  I ask them to write down a list of things they would want to be recognized for.  This usually generates a deeper list, with recognition lines that stretch beyond, “best belt collection.”  We create a list of criteria for awards and then students get rolling.

Students submit their award writings to me and I revise or approve them.  Next, students begin the creative process of determining the best way to visually represent the award.  I’ve had students create popsicle stick structures, origami animals (to represent a quality in a student), and even dreamcatchers.  Students include the award blurb somewhere on the final product.

During the last week of school, students present the awards to one another.  They leave with a memory of the school year and without a doubt, feel accomplished because they received a nod from their peer.

On a smaller, more manageable scale, I’ve seen wordle used to complete this task (I would challenge students to complete this, rather than the teacher).