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.


Book Club: Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop

GrammarMany educators denounce isolated grammar instruction, placing it somewhere on par with corporal punishment.  Truth be told, the only grammar I remember was drill and kill of diagramming sentences.  Secret:  It was isolated.  After teaching ELA for a few years, I made the commitment to weaving grammar instruction into the curriculum.  Unsure of where to start, I did my research and settled on Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined.  Instead of reading the book cover to cover, I took the “build the plane while flying it” approach.

My first realization:  Students’ grammar knowledge was SO beyond bare minimum that it was actually a sense of a relief.  If I wasn’t teaching grammar up until this point, my room wasn’t the only four walls depriving students of their right to understand the structure of compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.

In walks Jeff Anderson.  The structure of the book allows teachers to pick and choose skills or move  in a progressive manner as instructed by the layout of the resource.  I follow his suggestion of “inviting” students to notice the correctness of sentences.  Gone are the days of “correct the mistakes” worksheet.  My class adopted a routine in a rather organic manner.  It goes a little something like this:

On Tuesdays, we do grammar.  Not Mondays or Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays.  I know it’s a bit Type A, but it worked for me in my first year introducing grammar instruction.

Week 1:  Students are invited to read the sentence projected on the board and jot down everything that is correct, while also trying to identify or guess the rule of the week.  Next, we discuss the rule; students copy the rule and create a memo in their writer’s notebook.  I give students about five minutes to create the memo and allow them to “decorate” the text in their notebook, stressing the importance of making it easily noticeable in their notebook.

Week 2 (On Tuesday, of course!):  This next step takes place IN class during the first half of the year and OUT of class as homework (between week 1 and week 2) the second half of the year.  Students are tasked with searching their independent reading book to find a sample sentence following the rule.  Students share their mentor text at their table (or search for one if they are unprepared).  Students label the sentence according the rule.  Example:  Underline and label the independent clause, circle and label the dependent clause.

Week 3:  Students generate a sentence of their own exercising the focus rule.  They jot down the sentence and again label the sentence parts.  They have at least one person check their sentence.  Up on the wall they go.  The following week we begin a new rule.

Next year I plan to inject an assessment into the mix.

Reasons I like this:
-Students focus on ONE rule for two-three consecutive weeks.
-The instruction is authentic and assists with close reading of text because students are hunting for sentence types (simultaneously, they are evaluating writer’s craft).
-They ask questions.  When they find something that breaks a rule or varies from the exact rule, they want to know why.
-I can easily select grammar rules or types of sentences to include in their next writing assignment.
-I use their writing to inform my decisions about future focus skills.
-When asked, students are pretty okay with this approach.

Book Club: February 2015

Not all titles are hot off the press, but these reads have been rotating through the class library as of late.

Book Club - February 2015

Unbroken/Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children/The Raft/Never Fall Down/The Selection/Insignia

Unbroken:  mention is self-explanatory; well-received by boys; mass appeal due to film release; Lexile – 850

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children:  well-received by mature readers; sprinkling of photographs as bizarre as the text they accompany; Lexile – 890

Insignia:  well-received by both genders, especially boys; part one of a three-part trilogy followed by Vortex and Catalyst; Lexile – HL750

Never Fall Down:  High-Low book that fills the memoir genre; features the story of a Cambodian Genocide survivor; authenticity brought about through the broken English that captures the character’s voice; Lexile – 710

The Raft:  High-Low survival story packed with emotion; Lexile – HL680

The Selection:  Exactly what it looks like; present-day selection for the role of princess; A favorite among female readers; part one of a three-part series (followed by The Elite and The One; Lexile – HL680

Book Club: Sterling Biographies

CleopatraFinding appropriate biographies for a middle school audience is a harder task than one would think  The selection is either far below an appropriate reading level or too far advanced in content and accessibility.  After an extensive search, I landed on the Sterling Biographies collection.  To anyone who challenges the books as “too easy” — I say, that’s okay.

Content usually outweighs text complexity when it comes to biographies, so I am okay giving students a slightly “easier” book.  The collection ranges from athletes to social activists, scientists and pioneers, and also spotlights several Native American leaders.  Men and women are well represented from a variety of backgrounds.

TecumsehThe publisher kept middle schoolers in mind with well-spaced text, frequent images and captions, informative charts and graphics.  The books are perfect for any biography unit.  From Muhammad Ali to Joan of Arc, the selection is thirty-plus deep.  Click here for a comprehensive list of titles.  As always, check Amazon for used copies pricing out at $4.00 with shipping.

Book Club: Notice and Note {Kylene Beers & Robert E. Probst}

If you teach English/Language Arts, BUY THIS BOOK.  A self-identified instructional fiend, I have found my latest and greatest.  Only this time it’s not about a pedagogical quick fix to keep your students engaged.  It’s about real instructional moments that help build stronger readers through close reading.  The authors have identified six signposts that when found in text, readers should pause and ask a question of themselves.  The questions lead students to COMPREHEND the read.  If students find a character acting in a way that contradicts their previous behavior or expected behavior, students should ask themselves, why might the character be doing this. I would put this book into my “top five favorites” box.
Notice and Notes
Reasons I love this book:

1.  The practices have been tried and tested in a diverse range of classrooms across the country.  From there, the authors revised their approach based on student and teacher feedback.

2.  The mentor text selections are engaging, accessible, and relevant.  The signposts  revolve around the most common features found in the TOP BOOKS read by middle school and high school students. Meaning, if you read common titles, you’ll come across the sign posts identified by Beers and Probst.

4.  The model lessons are teacher-ready.  You can teach directly from the script and use the mentor text included.  The lesson includes a gradual release model allowing the teacher to model good reading skills and the students to practice independently.  A graphic organizer is included for students to find their own examples in a class novel or their independent reading book.

5.  The anchor charts, matrices, bookmarks, and other teaching materials are easy to duplicate.

Other Resources:

Notice and Note Anchor Chart with Questions:
Notice and Note anchor chart

Sample anchor chart for individual signpost:
Tough Questions

Book Club – Declaration of Independence: Museum in a Book

In search of a book to challenge my advanced learners, I turn to Declaration of Independence – The Story Behind America’s Founding Document and the Men Who Created It.  This rich book contains pull-out primary sources, engaging readers from page to page.  The pages are DENSE, the sources are authentic, and the content is a pleaser.  Create a textbook scavenger hunt, have students compare their prior knowledge with their acquired knowledge after perusing the text, or have students analyze individual primary sources and gain background information alongside the analysis.   This book is not suitable as a read aloud or for whole book instruction.