Mother Teacher

Back to school surprised me this year.

I was going along, enjoying summer, having hernia surgery, thinking everything was grand and then there it was, staring me in the face: Back to School.

It started with an innocent text to a friend, The Pastor’s Wife. We had talked about having a cocktail hour on her deck all summer and it hadn’t happened yet, so I texted to see if she wanted to put something on the calendar. The Pastor’s Wife happens to teach at the college level, and her response was: I would love to, but I go back on Monday.

I just stood staring at the text for a couple seconds. How could that be possible? It was still early August!

When I asked her as much, she said, well, students are back Aug 22, so inservices, etc.

That is when it hit me: it was NOT the beginning of August anymore, and I had to be back to school August 29…two weeks.

The spell of summer was broken and my brain officially started thinking about my classroom and all that had to be done. I couldn’t shut it down, the launch sequence had begun. So I went in and started gathering my thoughts…and putting desks in groups.

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I’ve got lists and piles and projects to tackle in the next couple weeks before a new crop of 8th graders walk through the door to room 103 on September 6.

While I prepare, I am still in the role of Stay at Home Mom for a couple weeks too. Counting today, I still have the kids all to myself for five more full days. While I am excited to start a new school year and get back to being a Working Mom, I am finding myself realizing we won’t have a summer with a 7, 4, and 1 year old ever again.

We recently finished up Eddie’s back to school shopping. We were given his supply list back in June, so as soon as I saw sales, I stocked up. Going into 2nd grade this fall, the coolest new purchase for him was a new lunch bag since his old one up and fell apart after two years of abuse. This afternoon we get to head to his school and see what teacher he will have. They go old school and post class lists on the office doors…just like when Cortney and I were little.

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My Charlie Bird is going to school this year as a big preschooler! We bought him a backpack–dinosaurs, as requested, and just received the letter in the mail telling us that his teacher is a friend of mine from high school! He will be going four afternoons a week and he is pretty excited about it. I actually am too. I remember being SO sad when Eddie was school-aged, but I am excited for Charlie! He is going to do so great!

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Alice will be back with Ms. Carolyn full-time. They adore each other, so I am not worried about that in the least, but I will miss my little shadow. It was so darn much fun watching her grow from a baby to a toddler with sass this summer. I know when summer comes around again she will be that much bigger and more independent, so I am trying to get in as many little snuggles and cuddles as I can with my Alice Beans.

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We have worn a groove into the summer: Mondays for library, Tuesdays at Ms Carolyn’s, Wednesdays to the Farmer’s Market, Thursdays at Ms. Carolyn’s, and Fridays for Free Fun. I even had laundry loads assigned to each week day so that we would be free for family time on the weekends.

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I was supposed to be keeping track for Eddie’s Summer Stretch homework of how many minutes he/we read this summer. He was supposed to do 100 minutes a week. I just told him to color in the whole chart. I’m sure we read enough. We averaged 20 books per week at the library plus the books we already have at home, plus the countless reading he does over my shoulder, on TV, on signs…it seems like if it has words, he’s reading it to me. Including a sign that said, “Bitchin’ Kitchen” while we were on vacation last month. HA!

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So the end of summer caught me by surprise. We posted a Wish List in June of what we wanted to do this summer. It included:

  • go on vacation (check)
  • go to the beach (check…more than once!)
  • go on a boat (check…thanks, grandpa!)
  • go swimming (so much check!)
  • swim in a pool (check)
  • go to the splash pad (check)
  • visit the Farmer’s Market (lots of checks)
  • play at some parks (check)
  • have a campfire (this has sort of happened, but not as a family)
  • run in the sprinkler (lots of checks)
  • play with friends we love (lots of checks!)
  • visit the zoo (maybe next week?)
  • go to the playground (check)
  • eat lots of ice cream (CHECK!)
  • Go to Sundaes on Wednesday at church (check)
  • Play on the slip n slide (check)
  • Chalk up the driveway (check)
  • ride bikes (check)
  • wash the cars by hand (check)
  • go fishing (check)
  • go to the donut shop (check…many times)
  • visit the library (check…each week)

I’d say we’ve had a pretty darn good summer. And if we can get to the zoo next week, that will be a great last hurrah before I head back to work.

Now if you’ll excuse me, the boys and I are doing some bead art stuff while watching Loony Tunes while Alice naps before we head out to see about that class list. I am required to help sort colors.

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ps. do you like the new header on the blog? That was done by Erin Barkel Photography. She really did a fab job!

pps. I have a project that needs funding over at DonorsChoose.Org. I need shelving for my classroom library! Can you help? Donate here.

The Teacher in Me

“Mrs. Sluiter, I have NEVER had an English teacher–or any teacher really–who has been as excited as you get when you teach us grammar or when you talk about books. You’re crazy.”

I am winding down my second year as a middle school teacher (thirteenth year overall in my district) and it happens to also be Teacher Appreciation Week. Of course this means I have been thinking a lot about how I got to this place. A student asked me on Monday why I became a teacher in the first place. I think she was expecting me to say something about wanting to change the world. I always laugh at this question because at the time I made the choice, I thought it came out of nowhere, but it didn’t. Not really.

The story as I tell it is that I decided one day in my senior English class. While reading 1984 and discussing it, I blurted out that that was what I wanted to do with my life: read and talk about books. My teacher put both hands on my desk and said, “that is my job” and the rest is history.

Looking back, though, I see that I was meant to be a teacher from a very young age.

When I was in first grade, I sat my four-year-old brother down and forced him to learn to read. Oh, I set it up to look like we were playing school, but I demanded he learn and I threatened bodily harm if he didn’t do what I said. He learned to read, but I can’t say he was unscathed.

It makes me laugh now that I couldn’t see that I was meant to have a career that centered around words.

My parents like to say I haven’t stopped talking since my first words. I have always been loud and assertive. I have a very real love of books and words and how words fit together. I am lucky that I have mostly had teachers who encouraged my personality rather than try to squash it.

My elementary teachers all encouraged my voracious love of reading. I remember specifically Mrs. Larsen, our school librarian (because they weren’t media specialists back then), always helping me find just what would keep me reading from picture books in Kindergarten to Beverly Cleary, Judy Blume, and Marilyn Sachs. I’m definitely the reader I am today because of them.

Middle school is awful for everyone, I think. And now that I am a middle school teacher, I notice it hasn’t really changed much. I remember my 7th grade math teacher, Mrs. Wheeler, who had a biting sense of humor and could make a room full of awkward adolescents feel like super stars in their own right. I never did fall in love with math, but she taught me that even if you’re not good at something, you should still do your best. And then laugh your way through it all.

I had excellent experiences with my high school teachers. I can really only look back and see just a few who I would say weren’t great teachers, the rest loved their subject and love their students and seemed, at least, to love their job. The two that influenced me the most to become a teacher were my British lit teacher senior year, Mr. Torgerson, and my band director, Mr. Walker. Torg helped me realized that I wanted to do his job. Walker helped guide me to the right college to get there. Both recognized my talents and embraced my ridiculous personality and found ways for me to use my loud voice for good rather than trouble.

As an undergrad at Western Michigan University, Dr. Allen Webb was the one who showed me that literature can actually change the world–that teaching isn’t just reading and discussing books, but taking the knowledge and empathy we glean from the characters and doing something about it in our own societies. He helped me see that reading creates empathy.

Since then, there have been many other colleagues and instructors that have shaped the teacher in me. My students have done that too. Even having my own children have changed and shaped who I am as an educator.

Being a teacher is stressful. It’s heartbreaking. But it makes me so very happy. I can’t imagine having any other job.

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I currently have a Donor’s Choice Project up that I am collecting donations for: A Spring Book Drive. These books, if funded, will go onto the shelves of my library for next year’s 8th graders. My current 8th graders helped choose the titles they think next year’s students will want to read. Any dollar amount is welcome!

Six World YA Lit Books You Should Read NOW

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It’s been awhile since I wrote about what I’ve been reading, which is actually funny because I have been reading more than I ever have before. In fact, I am on book 22 for the school year! Crazy!

Anyway, in the last month or so, I read six Young Adult Lit books that fall under the category of “world literature” and “historical fiction” because my 8th grade classes would be choosing between them for their final class book of the school year. Each of my five classes has a “book club” centered around each of these books. So far, it’s a wonderful experience, and I think the fact that the book are so darn good is has a big part of that.

I really love historical fiction, but I admit I hadn’t read much YA historical fiction until now. And of course reading six titles, probably qualifies as binging on it, but I am Ok with that. I highly recommend all of these titles to anyone 13 and over, so let’s get into the books…

My Name is Not Easy by Debby Dahl Edwardson 

Based on stories friends and family have told her, Edwardon bases her book in Alaska in the 1960’s when public schools were unavailable to the majority of children who didn’t live in a main city. Before 1976, students who wanted to attend high school had to travel hundreds of miles to boarding schools. In My Name is Not Easy, Luke (whose real name is not really Luke, but something too difficult for white speakers to pronounce) and his brothers–along with other children including Chickie, Amiq, Junior, and Sonny–are sent to Sacred Heart School where they realize that the students–Eskimo like them, Native American (Indian), and white–segregate themselves in the lunch room almost as if some sort of war is going on. The staff at Sacred Heart forbid use of native language and push to assimilate the children to a white, Catholic culture, but the students main goal is just to survive school and get back to their families.

I not only loved all of the characters in this book, but I knew many of my students would identify with having a name and culture that society may not understand. Many of my students may feel that they have to push their own culture behind them at school.

The Surrender Tree by Margarita Engle

Engle tells the story of Cuba’s struggle for independence through poetry through the eyes of characters in the middle of the action, mainly Rosa–known to some as a witch for her knowledge of holistic healing with herbs. The story begins with her childhood learning the different powers of flowers and plants, and it follows her as she becomes a nurse to those injured–from both sides–during Cuba’s fight against the Spanish empire. The setting is mainly near the concentration camps where former Cuban slaves were sent. While the poems are mostly from Rosa’s point of view, some are also from the voice of Lieutenant Death, a slave hunter who has a particular vengeance for capturing Rosa. The character of Rosa is based on Rosa Castellanos, an historical heroine known as “la bayamesa”.

This book was both beautiful and devestating. I had forgotten home much I love to read narrative poetry, and how quickly the actual reading goes. The imagery and  just sensations this book oozes are wonderful and terrifying. I went back and re-read some of my favorites. This book is in English, but a Spanish version is also included. Many of my students are hungry to read in their native tongue and lots have family in Cuba. I knew this would be appealing to those kids.

A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

This is book is a dual narrative about Salva–one of the Sudanese Lost Boys–and Nya. Salva’s true story begins when he is eleven years old in 1985. Salva is separated from his family when fighting comes to his village in Southern Sudan. He has to walk for days in hope to find his family. He struggles to find food and people. He ends up walking for seven years before ending up in a refugee camp. Nya is a fictional character whose story begins in 2008 when she is also eleven years old. She has to walk to a pond that is two hours away twice a day to provide fresh water for her family. Her story emphasizes the lack of clean water in Sudan and the importance of family. In the end, Salva and Nya’s stories cross making a very important push for Salva’s cause of bringing clean water to South Sudan.

This was the first book of the six I read and I remember closing it and thinking, “these books are going to leave me emotionally drained.” I was right. Reading Salva and Nya’s stories was like going on these walks with them. And although I knew Salva survived to create the Water For South Sudan project, I kept thinking, “this is it. He can’t survive this.” I knew this book would appeal to the widest range of students, and since its the shortest, easiest read many of my reluctant readers chose it and are loving it.

Climbing The Stairs by Padma Venkatraman

Vidya is fifteen and dreams of going to college. But she lives in British-occupied India during World War II. Her family is loving and supportive and fairly liberal, encouraging her to be what she wants to be. However tragedy strikes and they are forced to live with ultra-conservative relatives who believe women should remain uneducated, serve men, and wait around to be married to a good family. Vidya is miserable, but she secretly breaks the rules and ventures upstairs to her grandfather’s library to read books she is not supposed to even touch. Here she meets Raman who treats her as an equal. When her brother leaves unexpectedly, Vidya is suddenly forced to think about the political situation in India and what she can do to hold on and make her dreams reality.

This is totally a “girl power” book. Venkatraman bases her characters on family members who have told her stories of growing up in India during this time period, and I was excited to see some of my strongest girls chose this book, and have already commented that they are totally loving it!

Far From Home by Na’ima B Robert

This was the last book I read of the six and I admit to needing to take a break from reading after this one. For one, I had binge-read six historical fictions in less than four weeks. Secondly this one made me think and I just needed the time to reflect before diving into something new.

Part One of Far From Home is Tariro’s story.  She is fourteen years old, lives in Zimbabwe on her ancestral grounds near the baobab tree that she was born under. Her dad is the chief, she is in love with the brave and handsome Nhamo–things couldn’t be better. Then white settlers arrive and violently and tragically drive her and her family out of their home into new areas zoned specifically for the blacks.

Part Two is Katie’s story and takes place twenty-five years later. Katie is also fourteen and lives on a farm in Zimbabwe near the baobab tree. She loves her family, her exclusive boarding school, and her home. Then disaster strikes when the second War for Liberation occurs and natives begin to reclaim their land. She is forced to leave the only hone she has ever known and go back to London with her family.

It was hard for me to feel sorry for Katie at first. Her relatives had been the ones to drive the natives off their land! But as I read, I understood the complexity of it. Katie, herself, had not been involved in the relocation. This home was where she was born and raised. It’s all she knew. Plus as the entire story unfolds she learns about white privilege and humanity.

While it is worlds away from us, there are definite connections with today’s society here in the United States. It’s a more difficult, longer read, so only a few of my higher reading level students are tackling this one, but so far they are enjoying it and I am enjoying the conversations that are coming out of it.

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

This one affected me the most out of all the books. This is the true story of Arn, a survivor from the Cambodia Civil War during the 1970’s. He was eleven years old when the Khmer Rouge invaded his village, killing the upper-class and educated and separating the rest of the people into work camps. Arn was sent to a work camp that was also where they took prisoners and slaughtered them. He was forced to work with almost no food or sleep and witness the horrific murder of many people–some of whom he knew. If the kids reacted, they were also killed. Arn eventually volunteers to become a musician for the propaganda-like revolutionary songs the Khmer Rouge has them play. Later, when the Vietnamese invade to help the people of Cambodia, Arn is forced to join the Khmer Rouge as a child soldier.

I had to keep reminding myself that this story is true, and that Arn does survive and make it to the United States because I kept expecting him to die. Reading this from the lens of a mother and teacher was hard. I found myself putting the book down several times because the imagery was so horrifying. I knew my students would be engrossed in a book about a kid close to their own age having to survive experiences that were too terrible to even imagine. I was right.

All six of these books are about real historical events, many of which we don’t learn about in school. And if we do, it is only briefly covered in a textbook which dates and a few facts. These books humanize the wars and struggles so many children had to endure.

Have you read any of these? Do you have any suggestions to add to this list? (because I am always open to adding more to my To Read pile!)

38 before 38

In thirty-nine days I will be turning 38.

Over the weekend, I mentioned how fun it would be to receive 38 books for my classroom library in honor of turning 38. I shared my Amazon Wishlist and yesterday, two books showed up.

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You guys know just how to make me smile.

So why not go for it, right? Let’s add 38 books to my classroom library!

All you have to do is go to my Wish List on Amazon. Many, many books my students put on there are less than $10 each. (Did you know most of the books are requests directly from my students? They are! Some are also added by me because I know my students will love them). It’s a LONG list.

If you purchase one off the list, it will get sent directly to me! You may choose to donate anonymously, or you can leave us a message to tell us where it came from. I will be posting pictures here on my 38th birthday on March 27.

I just realized that this kind of party–a book party–has GOT to be the best birthday party EVER. Plus it’s the kind I can share with my students!

Speaking of my students, did you know I post over at The Educator’s Room regularly? Check out my posts about why Reading Logs have to go and how I use Reader’s Notebooks with my middle school students. I also have a post on Writers Who Care about my writing process and how procrastination is a very large, important part of it.

By the way, thanks for being awesome.

Now…let’s read!

What I Read: 2015

Somebody (I don’t remember who anymore, sorry!) asked me for a post of all the books I read in 2015. Since I’m on Goodreads, I like to do the yearly challenge. Last year I set my goal at 25 books. I figured a couple a month was a fair goal with a new baby and all. As you can see, I surpassed that goal; I read 35 books!

I credit my students and our Reading Workshop. Since I have told my students that reading matters, and that when something matters, you find time to do it, I have made a commitment to reading every day. Usually I do it after the kids are in bed, but sometimes, if I’m not conferencing with my students, I will read my book when they have their reading time.  In fact, because of this I am already on my second book of 2016!

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But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

This is a look back at the books I read in 2015, in order that I read them. I am too lazy to link to all of them, by the way, but I know you all know how to use the search function on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I put the MUST READs  in bold if you need some to add to your to read list (although to be fair, there is not a book on here I would say “meh” to. They are all recommendations, really. Just get them all, but read the ones in bold first). The books with a * are Young Adult Lit.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (nonfiction)
  • The Liar’s Club by Mary Karr (nonfiction)
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
  • Gone Girl by Jillian Flynn
  • Apron Strings by Mary Morony
  • Open Boxes by Christine Organ (nonfiction)
  • Jeneration X by Jen Lancaster (nonfiction)
  • The Shakespeare Conspiracy by Jeffery Hunter McQuain
  • The Potty Mouth at The Table by Laurie Notaro (nonfiction)
  • From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler*
  • Butter by Erin Jade Lange*
  • All The Bright Places by Jennifer Niven*
  • Paper Towns by John Green*
  • Me, Earl, and The Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews*
  • The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (nonfiction)
  • The Chosen by Chiam Potok*
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart*
  • We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen*
  • Landline by Rainbow Rowell
  • Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien (nonfictionish)
  • Write Like This by Kelly Gallagher (nonfiction)
  • Mechanically Inclined by Jeff Anderson (nonfiction)
  • Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
  • Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher*
  • Wonder by R.J. Palacio*
  • George by Alex Gino*
  • Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen*
  • Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen*
  • Stand Off by Andrew Smith*
  • Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan*
  • Fightball: Dying of Suck by Kris Wehrmeister (nonfiction)

This year I set my goal at 40. I think I can do it if I keep up the momentum that I set for myself in 2015.

Another thing I started doing this year is writing in a Reader’s Journal. I want my students to do this, so I model it by doing it myself. I have my notebook available in the classroom for students to flip through to see examples. They also like to flip through it for book recommendations. I admit I love reading their notebooks for this same reason. My To Read List grows as I talk to my students and read their thoughts about their books!

Knowing my students are looking to me as a model reader helps keep me reading. I try to read a mixture of Young Adult Literature and “regular” fiction/literature, just as I try to read a variety of fiction and nonfiction. That is part of my modeling for students too. Sometimes they get stuck on a genre and I want to show them there is awesome stuff across genres.

My other book goal for 2016 is to increase my classroom library by 100 more books. I added just under that (82 books) in 2015, so I think I can hit that goal this year. Right now my records show that I have 928 titles, and if I can surpass 1000 by the end of the year? Well, I will be ecstatic! To think that in the spring of 2014 I only had 104 books is crazy!

If you want to help, I keep a Wish List on Amazon of books that my students request as well as books I read about that I know my students will enjoy (I read a lot of new release and award lists).

Now tell me…what are you reading? What do you want to read? What should I read?

What We’re Reading

It’s been awhile since I wrote about books. I didn’t realize how many of you actually like to know what I’m reading, what my kids are reading, and what my students are reading!

I’ll start with my reading pile.

I’m currently reading Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen. He will be the visiting author at our school in January, so I am teaching this book in the next few weeks. I’m pretty excited about it because it’s so different than any book I’ve ever taught.2015-10-28 22.00.13

Clara and Elias are randomly next to each other on a flight to the United States. On the flight, Clara tries to strike up a conversation with Elias and realizes that he knows something about her past–something she is trying to keep hidden in the past. After they part ways, she realizes their backpacks were switched, and when she brings his back to his residence, she realizes that the Elias she met on the plane is not the same Elias that greets her at the door.

We just had Eddie’s parent/teacher conference this week and found out he is meeting benchmarks that surpass first grade in both reading and math. The kid loves learning. We had two Captain Underpants books at home and these have now become Eddie’s favorite.

We have read three of the series so far (numbers 1, 3, and 4). Eddie has put the rest on his Christmas list. I’ll be honest and say I think they are pretty dumb, but they are silly and they keep Eddie interested in reading.

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Charlie tries to listen to the chapter books at bedtime, but is usually uninterested if there are not pictures on the page. He usually picks from our enormous pile of picture books. Eddie also chooses books from his school library that he thinks Charlie will enjoy. This usually means we read a Curious George book at bedtime too.

It’s interesting to watch my students are reading. There are certain books and series from last year that were wildly popular that just haven’t been checked out much, but there are others that collected dust last year that have been constantly checked out this year.

A few of the favorites so far this year (that I haven’t mentioned before) include:

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Paper Towns by John Green – Ok, I mentioned this one before. But it’s hugely popular right now because of the movie and because Looking For Alaska is pretty similar, that one is always checked out too.

The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon – This book was new to my library this year and my students discovered it in the nonfiction section before I could read it. It’s a memoir about how Runyon attempted suicide as a teenager by setting himself on fire.

Gone (the series) by Michael Grant — Once kids have read through The Hunger Games and Divergent series they want something new. In this series, all the adults have been wiped out leaving only kids, toddlers, and babies to fend for themselves.

Bone (the series) by Jeff Smith — I really know nothing about this series because the minute I put it in my library it was all checked out. All of it. Reluctant readers (mostly boys) flock to this.

The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B Cooney — This actually a series too. I got it because this year I have quite a few reluctant readers who asked for mysteries. Since they were not big readers to begin with, my Agatha Christie was not appealing to them. I needed something YA to get their attention. Because of the popularity of this one, I just added the next in the “Janie Johnson Series”.

We Were Liars by e. lockhart — Ok fine. I mentioned this one before too. BUT in my defense that was before school started. This is one that the both boys and girls love to read. I’ve got quite the wait list for this one.

Ok, I showed you mine, now you show me yours. What are YOU reading? Or have I tempted you with any of these?

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If you want to help give my students more books to choose from, check out my Project for getting 25 new books here. I only need $120!

Oh Yeah, I Teach Too.

The first thing people ask me when they see me is, “So. How is the school year going?”

I realized today that I am constantly answering that question in real life, but have been weirdly quiet about it here.   Today was the last day of the first marking period. One quarter of the school year is already over.  That is sort of crazy to me. I mean, it feels like we just started.

So how is it going?

In a word: Great.

Last year was Ok. It was better than I thought it would be, but I told myself I wouldn’t make a judgement based on my first year–one where I was overly tired and emotional due to being pregnant. And one I didn’t finish because of said pregnancy.

This year is already a million times better if only because I have much more energy. I mean, I don’t have to waddle my way to the copy room only to need a nap when I get back. So you know, bonus!

My Reader’s Workshop is off to a really good start. There are still parts I need to tweak, but the kids are responding well to it. They are enjoying reading what they want to read, and I’ve gotten positive feedback from them on the amount of time I give them to silent read.

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This year I also added the Reader’s Notebook portion where I give them 4-5 minutes to respond to their reading.  This part may need some adjusting. I showed the students the notebook that I am keeping, and I share it with them every week so they can get some ideas for their own. Some kids are doing a ridiculously awesome job; others are trying to just get by with a one-or-two-sentence summary each time. My goal is to get kids to think deeper about what they read, but I don’t want it to turn into busy work. It needs to feel like an authentic way to put their own voice into what they are experiencing via the written word.

 

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We’ve also been writing. I find that with some of the curricular requirements I have (reading a full-class novel each quarter and doing vocab lists), I don’t have the time to set up workshops the way I would like. I think if it were up to me, our entire class would be set up as a workshop. We would always be in either Reader’s Workshop or Writer’s Workshop mode. I haven’t found a way to do that with us reading a whole class novel and doing sixty vocabulary words a marking period, but I do feel like I am making progress.

This quarter we wrote personal narratives using the This I Believe essay format (from NPR). We did each of the steps together: I modeled it, then they did it. I wish we had had about one more week for them to do some peer-work with them. They didn’t turn out exactly as I had hoped. Some kids did fantastic, of course, but overall I felt I could do a better job.

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The last thing I have incorporated this year is the anchor chart. I have full-on-embraced those things and the kids love them! I have been making them for everything! We have character charts, plot maps, grammar charts, critical reading charts, writing charts…they are EVERYWHERE! All the research I have done supports the use of visual cues as a way to help students absorb what they learn, so I do it.

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I’ve been working hard to write about what I’m doing and what is best practice over at The Educator’s Room as well as sites like Nerdy Book Club, Writers Who Care, and others. I also presented again at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English (MCTE) conference.

While I feel good about what I am doing and where I am going and my level of involvement in my own professional development, I guess I haven’t written about it because I don’t want to toot my own horn too much. I mean, as I typed up each of the above things, my head was swimming with the kids I’m still not reaching, what we still need to work on, and how I could do it better and more efficiently than I am now.

I’m reluctant to yell, LOOK AT ALL MY AWESOME, when I feel like it’s not the level of awesome it could be. I mean, the ideas are awesome. The practice COULD be awesome, but it still needs work.

So yes, the school year is going great…but I am also still working on it.

Getting Ready for Back to School

It’s that time of year again…back to school! I started thinking about this all the way back in June when I was technically “done” with  my maternity leave. I have been off for over five months at this point, and I am pretty ready to be back working.

Actually, I am mostly ready. My boys are definitely ready for a school day schedule, but Alice and I could really just hang together.

When I think about getting back in my room and planning for a new year, I do get pretty excited. Another year of lighting up young readers!

As usual, I need a little help. I’ve gotten some great new books for my classroom library, but I always need more. The more the kids read, the more, well, they WANT to read! So there are two ways you can support the addiction I hope to ignite for reading:

One is by choosing to purchase a book or two from our Classroom Library Wishlist. Everything on here is either requested by students or things I found I know they will love.

Another way is a fundraiser I am doing via Thirty-One. Whatever proceeds from what you buy via this “party” link, will go towards my classroom library and supplies. This is open to US shipping addresses only, but it’s a great way to get some great items and give to a great cause at the same time!

And lastly, if you’re not into buying books, I have a list of supplies I could use too! Each teacher in my school only gets $100 to spend. That doesn’t even cover the cost of one notebook per student for me (I have around 135 students). Therefore, I created a Supply Wish List as well.

I know I ask a lot and you all give a lot.

Please know writing these things and asking is hard for me. I am ashamed that we cannot afford to buy the things I need to make my classroom great. I am sad that my school doesn’t have enough funding to give every teacher unlimited access to great supplies for our students.

I was asked about supply lists by UpWorthy this week, and I admitted we (in Michigan) cannot even send supply lists home. Public schools here cannot require that students purchase anything for school. We must provide it. Truth be told, most of my students wouldn’t be able to afford supply lists anyway.

I want you to know that every donation makes my heart happy, but more than that, it helps students.

I want you to know that even if you can’t donate, your prayers for my students and sharing my need with others who may be able to donate is even more valuable than you can know.

I want you to know I love my job, but I hate the politics of it.

I want you to know I work for a district that loves LOVES its students and would give all this and more to my classes if it could. I don’t work for a stingy district. I work for one that has only one focus: kids’ learning.

I want you to know that I appreciate the ability to write this knowing somehow the supplies and books will come in and my students will have what they need.

Thank you.

And happy back to school! Let the learning begin!

back-to-school

Because of You…

I’ve been blogging for eight years right here on Sluiter Nation. At this point, I can’t imagine my life without this blog. My life would definitely not be the same without my space here on the internet, because really, blogging hasn’t just been me writing here. It’s gone way beyond that.

From my chair, I can look around me and see ways blogging has touched our lives.

I have books on the shelf next to me by bloggers and friends. I have books on the shelf that I am included in. My writing. Writing that would have never ever found it’s way to a book if it wasn’t for this space, social media, and all the people who put up with love me around the interwebs.

There are photos and gifts from people I wouldn’t know without this blog.

All three of my children’s lives have been documented here. Alice is currently sucking on a doll that was sent to her from a blogger friend. My coffee that I am sipping is from a mug from another blogger friend.

If I am being totally honest, I am a mom of three, in part, because of you. You who have supported me and given me encouraging words and prayers. You who helped me through those very very dark days when Eddie was a baby. You who continue to send your love when I falter.

Probably the most visible way the interwebs have supported me though, is through my classroom library.

I wish more than anything that I could take you all into my classroom and show you the library. Show you the transformation from 104 books to over 600 titles. Show you how my students came to rely on those books and love them. And yes, even lose some of them because they were so loved.

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I created a Classroom Wish List on Amazon. Originally there was about a hundred titles and I needed to keep adding more because you all responded like crazy!

Now, there are over 500 titles on that wish list. Those titles came mostly from my students asking for more books! Others came from my anticipating the needs of students, reading new book lists, and getting recommendations from other readers of YA lit. I’ve also purchased about ten books this summer (and hope to take advantage of Amazon Prime Day for some more!).

I always have a need for more books.

In fact, I just created a project on DonorsChoose.org to hopefully fund a project that will put 50 new titles in my classroom library. Check out my project here.

I am not asking you to donate (although I would certainly love that, but so many of you have already to this library in various ways already). I would love it, though if you would share my project. Maybe with a business that is looking for a cause to give to.

I only need $300 more to get the project funded. This week each dollar donated with the code SPARK will get matched. Which means I REALLY only need about $150 in donation dollars to get my project funded*.

It’s a charitable donation, so it’s tax deductible as well.

Thank you. Thank you for reading me and hearing me and loving me.

But mostly? Thank you for loving my students whom you have never met.

Because of you, they read.

*************

*If the giving goes over what I need, it will be saved in gift codes for me to apply to future projects I create for my classroom.

 

 

Why I Don’t Assign Reading Logs

I’m going to ruffle some English teacher feathers with this, but I don’t assign reading logs to my junior high students. Nor do I require my Kindergartener to do the ones that are sent home with him.

In fact, I think that reading logs are one of the biggest ways to kill the love of reading in anyone, but especially in kids who are just getting their feet wet as readers and are so impressionable.

This isn’t just my isolated opinion though; it’s been researched and shown that reading logs turn kids off to reading rather than make them stronger, more literate students. Reading logs are not the habits of life-long readers, rather the practices of people who “have to get this done”. Reading logs create another chore, another thing on the agenda for kids.

readingquote

A main focus of books like  Book Love by Penny Kittle and The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller is that we should be creating life-long readers by teaching them the habits of life-long readers.  I consider myself a life-long reader since I have been reading for pleasure longer than I can remember.

Some traits I know about life-long readers:

  • they have a To Read list (or pile)
  • they know where to get more books
  • they talk about what they read
  • they find time to read because they look forward to it.
  • and they do NOT log how many pages they read each day or summarize what they’ve read each time or create a diorama of a book when they are done. THEY JUST READ.

I know a lot of adult who are book lovers and genuine readers and none of them, to my knowledge, keep a reading log. Some may keep lists of what they’ve read (find me on GoodReads! That is where I keep my lists!), and some are writers and tend to keep a journal of their thoughts, which may include what they read. But none…NONE…have a spreadsheet-style paper they pull out of a folder and record the exact number of minutes, the pages, and a summary each time they read. That would take out all the joy, right?

So why do we think having kids do that will equate to them wanting to read?

readingworkshop

My boys currently LOVE books. We read almost every day. Eddie has reading homework 4 days a week, yes, but he also volunteers to read the bedtime book occasionally. Other nights Cortney or I read the story while the boys snuggle together in the bottom bunk. Since Charlie moved from the nursery to the “Big Boy Room”, he has been introduced to all the non-board books in the house and he can’t get enough! It’s fabulous!

Eddie’s teacher also sends home a monthly reading log in calendar form. It’s not required that he do it, but if he “reads for 20 minutes every day” and colors in each day AND has a parent sign it, he can get a personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.

I sign that thing every month.  Eddie doesn’t even like Pizza Hut pizza, but he does like checking off each day. Do we read for 20 minutes when we read? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s much more when the boys get on a “book binge”. Some days it’s not at all if we have been going all day and then have plans in the evening that get us home too late to read before bed.

But we still cross off every day. I don’t even think Eddie is aware that there is a 20-minute time minimum.

I figure the point of the Pizza Hut reading program is to get kids reading and loving it. Eddie already is and does! So why make it a timed chore?

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My students are all well-accustomed to having to fill out reading logs. When I announced that we would be doing Reader’s Workshop at the beginning of the year, there were many groans and mummers of “reading logs”.  When I announced I don’t “do” reading logs there were cheers. One class even gave me a standing ovation.

Now that we are halfway through the year, I have asked my students if they miss reading logs, if reading logs were easier than the short assignments and in-front-of-class book talks they have to give now. There were a few that said yes. Those students admitted they could easily lie on reading logs and get their points and never have to actually read.  In my class, they have to read.

Most students, however, said they don’t miss them at all. They don’t mind the assignments because they are around the book they are reading and not something I am making them read. They also get time in class to read a book of their choice, so journal entries, character maps, and 1-page responses don’t really feel like so hard.

They also enjoy talking about their books either to each other or to me. While there are still many who get nervous to get in front of class, the formal Book Talks are the #1 way kids decide what they want to read next.

And guess what…they are reading. Without logging every page on a spreadsheet.

readingclipboard

This is the only spreadsheet they see. It’s passed around the room on a clipboard so I can see what kids are reading. They are not graded on how much they read, but it gives me a starting point for our conferences.

 

What my students are doing is much closer to what I do when I settle in with my book each night on the couch, cup of tea steaming next to me. And after I read, I tend to check social media and there are always a couple threads of friends asking “whatcha reading?” with long conversations about good books and crappy books.

As I add my thoughts to these threads, I smile because I am doing exactly what my students are asked to do: read and talk about books.

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