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#PoetryChat – Boys & Poetry – Monday, August 3 8ET

IMG_8888This week, the writers of Three Teachers Talk are together in Durham, New Hampshire at the UNH Literacy Institutes.  For five days now, we’ve learned with Penny Kittle and Tom Newkirk about strengthening our practice and our thinking.

Newkirk’s class, centered around his Misreading Masculinity (2001), is focused on boys and literacy.  We’ve read and discussed issues of violence, humor, personality, sexuality, power, and more–all surrounding boy readers and writers.

Join us to continue this conversation on the topic of poetry.  The four of us will be together in Portsmouth, ready to chat on Monday at 8ET.

1. How do you notice your boys responding to poetry in your classroom?

2. Should boys write poetry in an English class?

3. How is poetry uniquely valuable for boys?

4. How do you hook boys into poetry?

5. What are your best poems, poets, or poetry resources to engage your boys?

Poetry Chat August 3

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Shelfie Saturday

sticker,375x360.u1While my last name is Catcher, I’m far from a natural athlete. In fact, my high school softball career ended after I “caught” a stray throw with my forehead, landing me in the ER with a swollen eye and thirteen stitches. Still, I can appreciate a brilliant sports story, the type that moves beyond the game and captures the essence of teamwork, leadership, and friendship. The “Sports” section of my classroom library does just this.

Over the past year, I have cultivated the sports section to reflect the varied abilities, ages, and interests of my students. I teach freshmen, juniors, and seniors ranging from struggling to gifted readers. Because of my diverse students, my library must appeal to 14-year old freshmen and 18-year old seniors alike. Fortunately, sports can oftentimes bridge this age gap while also pushing students to gradually engage with more complex texts.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section.  Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won't return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section. Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won’t return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My younger students (and even some of my older) tend to gravitate towards popular young adult novels at the beginning of the year, like those written by Matt de la Pena and Mike Lupica. After they exhaust the options on my shelves, they inch towards lengthier and more complex analytical or historical books like Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game by financial journalist Michael Lewis or The Punch by sports writer and commentator John Feinstein. More than any other genre, these brilliantly crafted pieces serve as strong mentor texts for a wide variety of mediums including nonfiction, narrative, research, and persuasive writing. This year, books like Ice Time by Jay Atkinson inspired many of my hockey players to explore their sport through personal narratives while Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella served as the basis for one of my freshman student’s research papers on the Black Sox Scandal.

Sports hold leverage within our society, particularly amongst teenagers. From die-hard fans to benchwarmers, both athletes and non-athletes can appreciate a sports story, particularly when it transports us into a world packed with suspense and action.

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

Shelfie Saturday

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I love Monday mornings.

Monday signifies a new week, new possibilities, and new literature!  At the start of every week, I take time to display different books on each themed shelf.  This provides readers an opportunity to explore new titles on an ongoing basis.  Some books are brand new to Room 382 while other books have occupied our shared space for years; yet feel fresh and enticing when they are uniquely displayed.

Students (and guests) are continually gazing at our Francis Gittens Lending Library and enjoy, not only the vast array of literature to choose from, but how easily accessible it is to find what they are looking for. Gone are the days of ‘genre shelving’ and in are the days of ‘theme shelving’.  Whether students are just emerging into the world of literature or they are deeply rooted in their love for reading; our scholars need to feel supported.  By clustering books via theme, students (regardless of their comfortability with literature) know exactly where to go to get more of what they want!

Many students find their heritage fascinating and want to explore it beyond their current ideologies, beliefs, and familiarities.  So, they peruse the shelves in which they see themselves; racially, culturally, geographically, athletically, and so on.  They find comfort in exploring the lives and stories of those they’ve met before in history class or via conversations taking place within their homes.  They also take pleasure in learning more about who they are within the context of society, and on an even larger scale, within the world; simultaneously honing in on their more localized and individual existence.

All adolescents are searching.  They search for identity.  They seek to understand.  They thrive on building connections.  They strive to be enlightened.  And many times, students stumble upon exactly what they didn’t know they were looking for!  I love that.

Be it non-fiction, fiction, poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, auto/biography, graphic novels, screen plays, what have you; genre holds much less weight when the stories, characters, and settings transcend our students into a world full of exploration.

Here, our ever growing and ever evolving “Roots” shelves allow us to embark on a genre free yet culturally rich journey!

Some of our collective favorites include: Mumia-Abu Jamal, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Dr. MLK, Jr. and his lovely wife

 

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

Shelfie Saturday

One of the foundations of a strong reading and writing workshop is providing students access to a wide variety of excellent mentor texts.  You may provide access to those books through your classroom library, school media center, or public library–but how do you know which books to purchase?  How do you predict which titles will be most popular with teens?  How do you know which authors will teach your students the most about writing?

sticker,375x360.u1We hope to offer you a few answers to these questions on Shelfie Saturdays.  Here, we’ll share shots of our classroom library shelves, bookstore tables, yard sale treasures, and more.  We hope these will act as examples of which books to buy, how to shelve them, and which ones to get into the hands of your readers.

So, to get us started, here’s one of my most popular library shelves–the Award Winners shelf.  This shelf houses winners of the Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, the Pulitzer Prize, the Man Booker Prize, the National Book Award, and more.  I also include nominees for all of those awards, as well as honorable mentions.  The genres are varied–YA, nonfiction, general fiction, even multigenre.  The books are at a range of difficulty levels–some have complex narrative structures, others are very long, and others are tough only because of their dense topics.

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I asked a few students why they liked this shelf so much.  Mylana said, “I want to challenge myself sometimes.  Whenever I read for fun I usually choose fiction, so I like to pick a nonfiction book that’s long but not boring.  I know I can find that on this shelf.”

I asked Garrett how he chose books on this shelf.  He said, “I pick books on this shelf because I hear about them on GoodReads or because they’re made into movies.  So I go to this shelf and pick the ones with the coolest covers.  The length is challenging, but if I get far enough in I won’t give up as a point of pride.”

Students gravitate toward The Goldfinch, Jellicoe Road, Grasshopper Jungle, The Round House, and Why We Broke Up more than any other texts on this shelf.  Again and again, I hear the same refrains during conferences regarding award-winning books–this book was hard, but I finished it because I just couldn’t put it down.  Award winners are shelved so for a reason–they’re the best writing has to offer in a given year, and are incredibly valuable teachers for the young readers and writers in my classroom.

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

I’m hosting #engchat March 23 7:00ET: We’re Talking Poetry as More Than a Unit

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Before I attended The Conference on Poetry and Teaching at The Frost Place last summer, I was a reluctant, resistant teacher of poetry. Sad to say, I never had a memorable experience with poetry until I was in my 50th year.

At The Frost Place, I listened and joined in conversations with working poets about language and their craft. My heart changed. I finally understood because I lived that language for a glorious week surrounded by these people with poetic souls and a view of the White Mountains smiling down on me. Oh, Franconia, NH. (Read about my experience here.)

By no means am I an expert when it comes to poetry in the classroom; however, nobody has to be! Our job as teachers is to help our students grow in literacy skills. Poetry helps us do that.

We bring a beauty into our classrooms, a peace that our world is so often lacking, when we allow poetry to be spoken, heard, shared, and felt.

#engchat is Monday March 21, 2015 at 7:00 ET. That’s 6:00 CT for me, which is why I forget and rarely make it to this chat. The family dinner hour for me in Texas. I’m eating out and early on the 21st though.

TOPIC: Immersing Poetry into ELA Instruction

Questions for Our Chat:

Q1: What are some ways, other than a poetry unit, that you use poetry in your class? #engchat

Q2: “Play is what we want to do. Work is what we have to do,” said W. H. Auden. Poetry is both of those things. How do we use poetry for work and play? #engchat

Q3: We can teach most any skill with poetry that we can w/ prose. Agree/disagree? If agree, what skills do you teach with which poems? #engchat

Q4: Last question. What resources can you share that will help us all immerse our students in beautiful language, daily? #engchat

 

Do you have any other questions you’d like us to talk about during #engchat? Please leave a comment.

©Amy Rasmussen, 2011 – 2015

6 Ways to Spend Your Snow Day

snow-day2So it’s your fifth snow day this winter…or your fifteenth.  Either way, you’ve done all of your spring cleaning, you can’t grade or lesson plan because you haven’t seen students for a week, and you’ve completely emptied your queues on Netflix and Hulu.  What’s a teacher to do?

1. Read a good book.  If you’re anything like the hundreds of English teachers I know, you love reading.  Use the time you’ve been cooped up to read something you’ve been wanting to but just haven’t had the time to start.  I haven’t stopped hearing about Jennifer Niven’s All the Bright Places, Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal, and Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot SeeI’ll think I’ll try to tackle the last two this week.

2. Write around a poem.  Penny Kittle shared once that she likes to tape poems into her notebook and write around them–it’s one way to move toward doing your own beautiful writing, she advised.  So, I signed up to receive the Poetry Foundation‘s daily poem via email, and when I read one I love, I print it and tape it into my writer’s notebook.  I’m amazed at the nuggets of written wisdom I arrive at after responding freely to a poem in writing.

3. Read a teaching book.  I’ve been wanting to finish Tom Romano’s Zigzag and Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild for quite some time now, but with the day-to-day craze of the school year, it seems like the only time I find to read teaching books is over the summer.  This is the time of year, though, that I often need a little lift in my teaching spirit, so it’s always rewarding to explore some new thoughts from some of my old favorites.  Since I’m in the middle of a nonfiction book club and writing unit right now, I think I’ll settle down today with Georgia Heard’s Finding the Heart of Nonfiction.

4. Check out that dreaded State Test.  Dana Murphy at Two Writing Teachers reminded me that when our students are accustomed to writing in a choice-based, unit-driven workshop, they are not accustomed to writing to a prompt, and that while standardized tests do leave a bitter taste in our mouths, they are a reality our students must face.  If we want them to feel confident as writers in all environments, we must prepare them for all writing situations–especially the two or three standardized writing tests they may face each year.  Here in West Virginia, we’ve elected to go with SmarterBalanced as our Common Core-aligned assessment.  Today I’d like to spend some time looking at the writing portion of that test and brainstorming some lessons to help my students feel confident writing to those prompts.

5. Catch up with your tweeps. Twitter is a bottomless pit (seriously; you can get lost in it) of resources, ideas, and inspiration for teachers.  I could spend hours perusing the archives of #engchat, #titletalk, and #litlead, just to name a few.  I’d also love to look at the archives of some chats I missed recently–#mindsmadeforstories, for one.

6. Read incredible teacher blogs. I could browse the virtual thoughts of my colleagues forever!  We have so many brilliant and inspirational people in our profession, from the genius team at Nerdy Book Club to the marvelous ladies at Moving Writers; the steady wisdom of What’s Not Wrong to the joyful inspiration of the dirigible plum.  I’ve also been loving the thoughts of Hunting EnglishThe Reading Zone, and countless more…really.  I could never list all the great teacher blogs I’ve stumbled upon.  I feel so grateful to the many, many teacher-writers who have helped me fill my writer’s notebook with thoughts and ideas on dreary snow days like these.

What are your favorite ways to relieve the restlessness of several snow days?  Share in the comments!

Reading Resolutions

For the past few years, all of my reading has been for the purpose of research.  I read pedagogical teaching texts or young adult lit almost exclusively, and when I branched out from that, it was to read complex books that I thought I might use to challenge my students to use for craft examples in class.  I read only as a teacher, and not as a reader.  In 2015, I’m determined not to do that.

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Poet’s Corner

Ten days ago, I was in London, England.  Pretty much every moment of every day since then has been spent either reliving a magical moment there, or frantically trying to catch up with everything I fell behind on here in real life.

Much of that trip of a lifetime was spent flitting around different literary sights in London.  My husband and I had a beer at The Plough, the famed pub of Dickens, Woolf, and Darwin.  We visited Poet’s Corner in Westminster Abbey and saw graves of and memorials to my heroes Jane Austen, William Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis, and more.  We enjoyed a visit to the home of the most famous fictional character in England, Sherlock Holmes.  The Globe Theatre, The British Library, Southbank Book Market…we saw it all.  Awash in the history of English literature, my trip made me desperately want to revisit much of it.  I can’t think of the last time I read a classic for pleasure.  So, I made my first reading resolution for 2015: read my roots.  My degree is in literature, but I’ve missed out on a lot of its classics–probably because they were assigned as boring whole-class novels and I knew about SparkNotes, but I digress.

NYT-list---11---Cropped-761259So, I knew I wanted to read some classics for fun.  But I also wanted to make sure I read lighter, easier things too, for a different kind of escapist fun.  I got curious about bestsellers I’d never bothered exploring…Janet Evanovich. James Patterson. Sue Grafton.  I’ve never read any of their books, but millions of others have. So, that’s another resolution–read my age.  I’m a 27-year-old female lover of mysteries, and I’ve never cracked the spine of an Agatha Christie! So much of my reading life is focused on the 11th graders in my classroom, but I need to read my age, too.  I want to read what everyone is reading and talking about–all of the New York Times bestsellers, not just the Young Adult list.

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Heaven in Outer Banks

My last resolution is to relax and read.  I recently read an article about a woman deciding not to participate in the GoodReads Reading Challenge because she felt like it stressed her out and diminished her intrinsic love of reading.  The comments were overwhelmingly negative and unsympathetic, but I found myself in complete agreement with her!  I was always “behind schedule” on the challenge, always feeling like I couldn’t take the time to read anything massive like The Goldfinch or pondering like The Poisonwood Bible or immersive like Will in the World.  Those books would take me way too long to read, and how was I supposed to find new things to booktalk for my students then?!  Well, I’m done with that.  I want to return to the days of my vacation in North Carolina last summer, where it rained for seven days straight and all I did was read.   It was the perfect beach vacation.

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My selfish to-read list

2015 is my year to stop feeling guilt, obligation, or stress about books.  Yes, reading saves lives, changes the world, and creates empowered, literate citizens, but that’s not why people read.  And that’s not why I try to get kids to become readers.  Reading is an exercise in imagination, in escape, in adventure.  It’s joy and pleasure and heartbreak.  It’s empathy and knowledge and understanding.  I’ve been so busy trying to teach that that I’ve forgotten it myself.  This year, my resolution is to remember that.  What’s yours?

Share your #readingresolutions and see others’ on Twitter.

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