Archive for June, 2012

It’s Monday! What Are you Reading?

See this? These are the books I brought home to read this summer. The crate is full of YA literature, mostly early releases I picked up in the exhibit hall at ALAN in May. I probably left there with 100 books. I think I’ve read one. I also have a tall stack of ORCA Soundings, short edgy books for reluctant and slow readers, in that crate somewhere. I’ve read two so far, and yep, they are edgy. I think my hostile readers will love them.I know if I want to get my students to read, I have to be a reader. But this is not how I want to spend my summer. I want to read me books:  mystery, adventure, romance…you know, reader candy, books that I devour quite simply for the sweetness of the story.

I do not think there is enough time in my summer days to do both.

In the bag on the right are my book resources for curriculum writing. There’s a whole shelf in my classroom empty because I may need these trusty friends. I am spearheading re-writing 9th grade curriculum to more effectively meet student needs as EOC/STAAR tests threaten to destroy us. (Okay, that’s over-statement, but still…our scores this spring were dismal.)  A favorite? I’ve become a disciple of Jeff Anderson and praise his book 10 Things Every Writer Should Know every chance I get. I’ll be using some of his ideas to coach teachers into conducting writer’s workshop with more fidelity. An ELA goal across my district.

See that book in the bag on the left–Instructional Coaching? That’s the title of my new job–Instructional Coach, and I’m reading it because I need to!  I am excited for the opportunity, and change always makes me eager to learn. I will be teaching two sections of English I on my home campus, and then I will be coaching English I teachers on my campus and the other three high schools in the district in the afternoons. I love that I get to keep working with students, and I love that I get to work with teachers. It’s a perfect marriage, and I think I’ll love it.

So much to read, so little time to read it. So occasionally I’ll claim to be a part of #bookaday, and I just signed up today for #summerthrowdown, although I won’t be too much help to Team Teacher. However, I will be reading. Every day I will be reading.

And I will read those YA books because I can read all the pedagogy books in the world, but if I can’t get my students to read…all the strategies in my toolbox won’t help a thing.

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An Outline Means I Have to Think–Oh, My!

So, here’s the Teachers Write! assignment for the week. It comes from Sally Wilkins, writer and researcher.

Assignment for this week:

If your project is at the idea stage, do a brain-dump, jotting down all the random bits and pieces. Begin to sort them into logical groups. Create a rough outline (or timeline, or map, or flow chart) from these groups.

If you already have a work in progress draft, create an outline from the text. Look for gaps and bulges in the outline. Think about (and jot down) how you can smooth and balance those problem areas in the next draft.

And a note from Kate…

If you don’t have one major project for the summer but you want to practice outlining and see how it all works, try creating an outline of one of your favorite books. When I was writing EYE OF THE STORM, I really wanted to make it fast-paced for kids who love action. Before I started writing my thriller, I sat down and studied the pacing in a book I admired for its pacing, THE HUNGER GAMES. I made a chapter-by-chapter outline and learned a lot about why we can’t put that book down. It’s a fun exercise!

I am sure that creating an outline is a good idea. I teach my students to do this prior to any kind of writing activity. “You need to think and plan before you write. It will save you time.”

But, here’s the thing:  This morning when I read the assignment, I knew that there weren’t enough thoughts in my head about what I want to write to think and plan anything. Then, I thought:  I am my students. That’s why they either skip the outline or create a skimpy one.

Now I am thinking:  How can I get my students to think about writing when they don’t really know what they think about anything–other than boys and girls and who’s hot and who’s not and other 14-yea-old phenomena? How can I get my students to think about organizing their writing when they don’t realize they have any thoughts that need saying on paper?

Somehow I have to get my students to see that knowing how they think and what they think about matters. Then maybe I can get them to think that their voices matter. Then maybe I can get them to want to share their thoughts and voices. And then maybe I can get them to organize their thoughts into a plan that will make their messages clear.

Oh, my! That’s a lot of maybes. And I have a lot of work to do. I better get organized.

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Teachers Write: Humbled and Renewed

I’ve taught AP Language & Comp for the past four years, and I’ve assigned my student to write a lot. In the process of all that assigning, I knew I needed to model if I had any chance at all of becoming a good writing teacher. That’s when I created a blog. Then I got my students to create their own blogs– to use as online portfolios of their work, with a hope of getting them to build a readership other than me. My love of language grew, but the time I had to write was minimal with all that reading of student work, among other teacher and life duties. I’d make the time every once in a while to write a snippet I could use as a mentor text, or to write a quick pedagogy piece, but I’d forgotten the WORK it takes to write. The taunting of the blank page, the words that pour out different than the thinking, the reading and re-reading just to get the sound right. And the revisions. Tortuous revisions. This week, in virtual writing camp, has been a beautiful hardship. I am humbled and renewed as a writer and as a teacher of writing.

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Sanctuary

     I tighten my grip on the backpack and push my way through the double doors into the library. I’d
shout “Sanctuary!” if I didn’t think everyone would notice. Being noticed is something I try to avoid. I
it’s not that I don’t like people. It’s more that when people inch their way into my life, someone always
gets hurt.
      I shake the hair out of my eyes and move toward the rear. I know I’ll find what I’m looking for.
I always do. Kate leans against the Romance shelf with a book in her hand. She’s supposed to be
re-shelving. It’s her job as the 5th period aid, but she’d rather read than work. Just another thing
that makes us so different.
      “Kate, you need to take this from me,” I say as I hand her the backpack. Her eyes flicker just
for an instant before she aims those green accusations at me.
     “Not again, Ben. You promised.”
It  had been three years since I’d found trouble. Three years since we’d had to run, lie and cheat just
to stay alive. No wonder my sister was angry.

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I Like Quiet

I am not a morning person. I kind of always hated morning people. You know the type: bounce out of bed and have all too much to say too early in the day. I like quiet.

Actually, I like quiet at any time of the day, but mostly, I like quiet mornings in my front room. The sun whispers in the windows and warms the wooden floor. The sofa hugs my stiffness as dust dances fairy-like in the morning light. I read: books, magazines, Twitter. Scripture. I relax and renew. I learn and linger. All too often, the clock awakens me from my musings.

Upstairs I hear my sons rise and clomp toward the computer and the bathroom. Footsteps that used to tread tenderly with their cuteness, now thunder in their size 13’s. Back when they were 1 and 2 and 7. I yearned for quiet and found it when they were tucked away for the night.

Now I find it in the mornings. Time for me to think, ponder and pray. Pray for myself, my heart and my health. Pray for my family, my husband and my kids. Quiet mornings when I hear the Spirit whisper, “Come, sit awhile. How about this gorgeous day?”

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Apples and Twisted Ribbon

My mother loved apples. She decorated with shiny red ones in crystal bowls. She made sure the dish towels sported ruby red appliqué, and she papered uniformed round ones to dance high above the kitchen. Funny how I never saw my mother eat an apple, although she would eat apple pie on the rare occasion that she made one, usually for my brother Craig’s birthday.

I still remember watching my mother make pie dough. She’d carefully measure the Crisco, the flour, the salt. She’d lay out the waxed paper, mash the dough inside, and begin to press and roll with the old wooden rolling pin. She’d carefully place the dough in the tin and often let me cut the edges around the rim. Since the recipe made two crusts, mother would gently flute the edges of one while she directed me in decorating the other. Mother’s flutes were always perfect two-fingered imprints with spacing that would rival a ruler. Mine were less elegant, obviously the work of a child. “Make it pretty,” my mom would say. And I would try.

Mother constantly reminded me of the beauty in little things and taught me how to nurture that beauty in myself. She taught me how to stand up straight and make the perfect bow. She taught me how to set a table and twist floral tape into the perfect corsage. My mother’s soft warm hands taught me to see the beauty in every child as she held my face and whispered, “It’s those who are the hardest to love who need it the most.”

I miss my mother.

Now days I enter her kitchen. The apples are gone, as are the warm scents of baked goods or browning meat. My mother’s not gone though, but her mind is going. Alzheimer’s is poisoning what I hold most dear. Like the fruit in the hand of the wicked queen, this disease with its jealousy and rage will take what is not hers–memories that are my mother’s. And mine.

I hate this rotten apple.

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Top 10 Things I Learned from My Darling Mother:

1. Stand up tall. You are a daughter of God.

2. Remember, you are part of a family that loves and honors you. Do nothing to dishonor it.

3. Say your prayers on bended knee.

4. Love one another, even when it’s difficult.

5. Serve. Always.

6. Lay the pattern carefully so you cut the fabric correctly.

7. Set a pretty table for every meal.

8. Support your mate–loving, caring, giving– every day of your life

9. Decorate for Christmas. Lots of lights and ornaments!

10. Twist the ribbon just right, and you’ll make the perfect bow every time.

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Words of Affirmation

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