30 January 2012

A Little Help from Alan Jacobs and James Patterson

Every now and then I'll find good words that rekindle my teaching. Because my curriculum is founded on independent reading, I don't do a lot of projects or many other formal assessments besides weekly vocabulary quizzes. It's difficult to quantify student growth this way, and I find myself questioning my method every so often. It's then that I need a reminder that even though I can't always see the benefit, reading itself is worth the investment.

Last week one of my students threw a book on my desk and said, "You need to read this. It's over 400 pages, but it's a quick read." I looked at the title and cringed. Maximum Ride: The Angel Experiment. I'm still trying to get used to the Young Adult scene, and I usually avoid popular fiction when I can. Yet, when a student gives me a book to read, I like to oblige - and I need to bite the bullet and do much more YA reading anyway.

So, I'm halfway through the book; my initial reaction is once I got used to the perspective (14 year old Max is the narrator - although it jumps at places and is a bit confusing), it's enjoyable - Patterson is a good storyteller.

What's more, at the back of the book there was an advertisement for Patterson's website, ReadKiddoRead.com. The site is great, and I'll put it to use to find books for my students. However, there was also a link to an article Patterson wrote last September for CNN: How to get your kid to be a fanatic reader.

There are some great resources for parents and teachers, including reading lists. But the encouragement for me came in something simple: Patterson said, in order to get children to read, they have to read. Yes, I've known it, but it's great to hear it again and again. Find books youngsters will enjoy and they will read. Then repeat.

25 January 2012

Hide Yourself

There's no doubt in my mind that I'm unable to love; the simple and most important commandment is given to those who can't carry it out. At least not the way we are on our own.

Lately it's been hard to love anyone, my students, my boys, my wife; there was a haze settled all around me that I couldn't see through. The worst of it was that I couldn't even diagnose the problem. Usually you can at least attribute your lacking to something. This time it took me awhile.

Over the weekend my older son woke up from his nap and wanted to sit with me. "Will you rock me while I watch the letter movie?" He's all about learning his letters. So we rocked and watched a whole movie. What surprised me was that he sat through the entire show; he was still, and didn't ask questions. Only when the T.V. was off did he slide down and play.

It took awhile - again - to make any sort of connection, but it came.

18 January 2012

Say It

Remember: you are dust
The last few days have been difficult as a dad; our older boy has been testing the boundaries, and yes, they're still there. I really don't enjoy bringing my son back to his senses, especially when for months he's avoided outright disobedience.

However, there's a freshness to it too. After he's cried and said he's sorry, and we've hugged it out and I've said I forgive him, we know something we weren't sure about a few minutes before. That is, I'm the dad and he's the son. And even though he's acted out for two straight days, part of me can't blame him. First of all he's four, and that's just his M.O. as the representative for his age group. Second, he reminds me of, well, me.

16 January 2012

Success Is Slow in Showing

I'll jump at any chance to throw in a picture of old books.
Parent-teacher conferences don't usually evoke joy. It's difficult to tell a parent their child is struggling or acting out, and I don't look forward to it. This is also a challenging part of the year because we're preparing for the almighty state tests. The work gets harder for the students, and teachers panic over all the material we have to catch up on and review. It's not a great combination.

However, now that conferences are over, I'm looking at things in a new light. Last week I wrote a post called Educational Matters Continued in which I complained a bit about NCLB. This one test is responsible for measuring how well I've taught all year long. The powers that be call it high stakes. It makes everyone sweat.

Of course I talked with my student's parents about the state test, but we talked about just plain reading too. Independent reading is the most important thing we do. Every day we spend at least 15 minutes reading in class. And, until conferences at about the midway point of the school year, it's hard to show my students, and myself, that it's paying off.

12 January 2012

Thankful Thursday

Ann Voskamp's blog often highlights thankfulness. Her book, One Thousand Gifts, is all about seeing God's blessings, and she encourages people to join her in slowing down and giving thanks. I thought I'd join her.

That little curl is the source of so many smiles, as is the swirl below it.

10 January 2012

Educational Matters Continued

October of last year I wrote a post called Educational Matters. Some of the thoughts I shared resurfaced last week.

Immediately upon return from Christmas break, as in the first day back, all teachers with subjects that are tested were required to go to a testing meeting. The meeting itself was not too bad; every teacher there knows the drill. Standardized tests are on our minds all year long, and now that we're back they loom over our heads.

NCLB says over 90% of our students have to pass the test for reading this year. I won't even get into the practical side of this - and really, do I have to? Over 90%? In a perfect world.

However, no matter how much I know I just have to do my best, the pressure of it all is crushing. Couple this with the fact that the first week back from any long break, even a weekend sometimes, I have to fight my students for control of the room. By Friday I had things back to "normal," but I was feeling it.

Then one of my male students crushed me anew.

06 January 2012

Celebrate with Me!

Short enough to write on a vine leaf...
I promised you all an announcement today, and here it is: Jessica and Dawn over at Vine Leaves Literary Journal have been kind enough to publish my vignette! It's a great idea they've had for their journal. You'll need to check it out for yourself, but they have created a place for writers to submit all those small pieces of work no one else wants - either because they're not "complete," or because they're too short.

I'm excited and thankful to be part of their project, and I'm looking forward to watching the success of the journal; the vignette is an art that is undervalued.

My vignette is called Daddy? I'd tell more about it, but it's so short I'd just be giving it away. You can follow the link above, or click here (it's on page 50).

Either way, go check it out!

04 January 2012

IWSG: New Year, New Goals

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had enough rest and time with family.

Huge thanks, once again, to Alex Cavanaugh for creating the Insecure Writer's Support Group!
It is a pleasure to be a part of such an encouraging group of writers.

These last three months I've been very much encouraged by everyone who has visited this blog, so thank you to my readers too!

I don't like to get too wrapped up in resolutions for the new year, but I do have some goals. I thought I'd share them on this post, and hopefully they'll encourage you all while helping me stay focused. Also, if you'd come back and check on me, I'd certainly appreciate the accountability!

1. Read more about writing. Later in this post I'm going to share a helpful quote from a grammar book I'm reading; the clear directives in this book have made me want to read more from talented writers and teachers about how to write well.

2. Read more. Well, duh. As Iyer says, "reading is the best school of writing..."

02 January 2012

To E-read or Not to E-read

I wasn't planning on writing this...the thoughts responsible for this post came to me a few hours after blowing $3 on a bag of books from those crooks over at our public library. Can you imagine? A whole $3 for a BAG of books? A dirty shame. And when you see what I got, well, let's just say I got ripped off: nothing current, nothing trendy! I'm still grumpy.

(If only there was a sarcasm font...).

The tables were covered with old, smelly books. I quickly ran my eyes over Reader's Digest condensed editions, trashy romance novels, and, after tracking down my son in the autobiography section - eureka! a falling-apart biography of Edgar Allen Poe.

I don't usually catch our library sales at their best. However, I was spurred on by my first find, and the next 10-15 minutes reaped these:

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