Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Google Surprises

Every once in awhile I google my name along with Teaching the Story. I found some sites that I expected, and some surprises:

Not Surprised by:

My "interview" with Joyce Hostetter on her blog. Not only do Joyce and I teach together, but I also consider her to be my writing mentor. When she invited guest bloggers, I thought I'd include musings I have in my head about writing historical fiction. Here we are at NWRESA.



There were several references to our newsletter Talking Story.



I saw Elysabeth Elderling's, author of the Junior Geography Detective Squad series, postings on how she is skyping with a teacher in Utah and using my book. Very cool!

There was an announcement about my upcoming library event (listed under "If You're Bored..." I guess that's a good thing!)

I found a review that I had read before, one which was fairly recent, one that I hadn't seen, and one from Orton Gillingham.

Surprised by:

I read a great blog about how social media is here to stay in the classroom written by Steve Johnson. Steve wrote the technology lessons for my book and is now completing his own book for Maupin House. Here he is teaching some students in Rockingham, NC:



I found an internet bookshop advertising my book in Spanish (the ad, not my book!); an Italian website offering English language arts materials; and a listing in an Australian bookstore.

I found several sites that had uploaded handouts from the book. Here are some from creating a Genre Setting; handouts from Making the Red Pencil Your Best Friend; and one of my favorites, my Build-a-Plot.

I discovered an excerpt about using technology to teach revisions that was on Literacy Connections and a blog from a teacher who attended one of workshops at the SC Middle School conference.

These were other surprises: an article in Better Teaching on "Show, Don't Tell" writing. (p. 3); and an article just posted 7 hours ago which shows my video on teaching creative writing in the classroom!

I found out that my blog was on a list of 150 useful, educational, and inspirational blogs.

Finally, I discovered a website about wikis in the classroom which showed my video about wikis. Here it is:


It goes to show. You never know where a Google search might take you.

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Friday, March 26, 2010

Reading & Writing Across the Curriculum


One of my popular workshops at teachers conferences is "Writing Across the Curriculum: How Short Fiction Supplements Science and Social Studies Instruction." In one hour I review the main elements of short stories and read from mentor texts which exemplify well-written characters and settings. We discuss how language arts teachers can collaborate with social studies and science teachers to help students write a story taking place in another country or time period, or one that includes scientific facts.

During the workshop I assign the teachers a writing task. I give them reproducibles from my book, Teaching the Story, and ten minutes to brainstorm a character from another time or place, and another ten minutes to begin developing a scientific setting. These teachers at the North Carolina Reading Association Conference, several of whom serve young adults in the juvenile justice system, enjoyed the activity. One said that it was the most useful workshop she had attended in two days, another wished it had been longer (a frequent "complaint,") and a third said he would try it in his world history and US history classes.

Here are some examples of what teachers at the Virginia Gifted & Talented Conference wrote during this same workshop:

SOCIAL STUDIES EXAMPLE #1
"As the night wore on, she continued to walk; exhausted by the miles behind her, yet encouraged by the thoughts of her final goal…freedom! She got her bearings from the Drinking Gourd and reflected back on the letter that started this journey…

Dear Brother,
I cannot believe that the purveyor of our goods was, in fact, a Negro man by the name of Thomas Bethune."

by Elizabeth Bourie, Norfolk Public Schools; Martha Nicholson, Alleghany Count Public Schools; Anne H. Moore Robious Middle School, Chesterfield County Public Schools.

SOCIAL STUDIES EXAMPLE #2
"Maria Rosetti takes a wheezing breath and hoists her grandson onto her lap. He goes gazes into her red-rimmed eyes and asks her why his last name is being made fun of.
Maria gazes into the distance and the memories come flooding back…

She is 11-years-old and still walking wobbly-legged from the month long boat ride from Italy to Ellis Island. She straightens her skirts and smoothes over the tatters. Maria feels the gap in her teeth from losing her back molar. She feels the rosary beads around her neck and gains strength from that. Glancing around, she makes sure her two younger brothers and sisters are following her parents and grandmother."

by Amanda Prettyman Rude

SCIENCE EXAMPLE #1
"Shortly before earth rise, the only thing they could hear was the sound of their breath from the re-breather. He had long since learned how to bound over the dusty surface in spite of his awkward suit.

Soon he was far from the safety of the dome and his destination loomed closer. Standing at the rim of the deep, dark crater, he gazed down at the wreckage."

by Jacqui Cecalupo , Holeymead Elmentary, Albermarle County; Liana Spring, Baber Buter Elementary, Albermarle County.

SCIENCE EXAMPLE #2
"He was 6’ 4” looming in the doorway, adorned with a large scary gun, his walkie-talkie strapped to his hip and a strange looking meter around his neck. The lead filled walls silenced the outdoors. As we settled into our seats, the quiet was punctured by an occasional electrical zapping- like a huge bug zapper for humans."

by Anne Moore, Chesterfield County Public School and CBG Teacher at Robious Middle School; Martha Nicholson, Allegheny County Public Schools; Elizabeth Bourie, Gifted & Talented for Norfolk Public Schools.
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Teachers are frequently amazed at the ideas which they generate and agree that writing short fiction would reinforce language arts, social studies, and science skills. For more information on this topic, see the most recent issue of Talking Story, where Joyce Hostetter and I highlight several books and activities which reinforce reading and writing across the curriculum.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Grammar Myths

If you don't already subscribe to Delancey Place, this excerpt might convince you. Five days a week you'll receive e-mail excerpts from a variety of nonfiction books. Subjects are as varied as the stars in the night: you'll read about ancient Rome, the Basque bombing of Guernica in Spain, Fidel Castro, or Central Park in New York. One thing you can be sure of, the writing is excellent.

Since this excerpt was about grammar, I thought that language arts teachers and writers might appreciate this expose of writing myths. These are quotes taken from John McWhorter, Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue, Gotham, Copyright 2008 pp. 65-69,80:

"Take the idea that it is wrong to say If a student comes before I get there, they can slip their test under my office door, because student is singular and they 'is plural.' Linguists traditionally observe that esteemed writers have been using they as a gender-neutral pronoun for almost a thousand years. As far back as the 1400s, in the Sir Amadace story, one finds the likes of Iche mon in thayre degree ("Each man in their degree").

"Maybe when the sentence is as far back as Middle English, there is a sense that it is a different language on some level than what we speak - the archaic spelling alone cannot help but look vaguely maladroit. But Shakespeare is not assumed to have been in his cups when he wrote in The Comedy of Errors, 'There's not a man I meet but doth salute me / As I were their well-acquainted friend' (Act IV, Scene 111). Later, Thackeray in Vanity Fair tosses off 'A person can't help their birth.' ...

"Or there's the objection to nouns being used as verbs. These days, impact comes in for especial condemnation: The new rules are impacting the efficiency of the procedure. People lustily express that they do not 'like' this, endlessly writing in to language usage columnists about it. Or one does not 'like' the use of structure as in I structured the test to be as brief as possible.

"Well, okay--but that means you also don't 'like' the use of view, silence, worship, copy, outlaw, and countless other words that started as nouns and are now also verbs. Nor do many people shudder at the use of fax as a verb....

"Over the years, I have gotten the feeling that there isn't much linguists can do to cut through this. ... There are always books out that try to put linguists' point across. Back 1950, Robert Hall's Leave Your Language Alone! was all over the place, including a late edition kicking around in the house I grew up in. Steven Pinker's The Language Instinct, which includes a dazzling chapter on the grammar myths, has been one of the most popular books on language ever written. As I write, the flabbergastingly fecund David Crystal has just published another book in the tradition, The Fight for English: How Language Pundits Ate, Shot, and Left. But the air of frustration in Crystal's title points up how persistent the myths are. ...

"English is shot through with things that don't really follow. I'm the only one, amn't I? Shouldn't it be amn't after all? Aren't, note, is 'wrong' since are is used with you, we, and they, not I. There's no 'I are.' Aren't I? is thoroughly illogical - and yet if you decided to start saying amn't all the time, you would lose most of your friends and never get promotions. Except, actually, in parts of Scotland and Ireland where people actually do say amn't - in which case the rest of us think of them as 'quaint' rather than correct!"



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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Writers Workshop at Highlights: Make Your Book A Page Turner

I received this in my in-box today and although I can't attend, I thought perhaps that one of you might be interested in this wonderful opportunity:

"One of the keys to great fiction is a conflict or struggle that has enough weight to carry the story and enough tension to keep the reader turning pages. That struggle can best be understood by looking deep into the "shadow"—your hero's adversary. Long-time editors Marileta Robinson and Kim T. Griswell have developed a workshop to guide writers toward understanding the role of the Shadow. They've planned plenty of time for critiquing and revising to strengthen an existing manuscript.

"Many stories can be seen as a struggle of the main character for wholeness. The adventure to which the hero is called is actually an invitation to take back parts of himself that have been rejected or repressed. These parts represent the Shadow. They have been shoved into the unconscious, where they become a destructive force. They may be projected onto another character, who becomes the villain the hero must confront. The journey is about acquiring the wisdom and experience to be able to accept and transform these shortcomings.

"What keeps your character from being complete at the beginning of the story? What parts of himself does he deny? What does she hate or fear? Like the missing pieces of a puzzle, these elements will determine what kind of struggle awaits the hero." Marileta Robinson

"The hero doesn't just confront the Shadow within himself on his journey for wholeness, he must confront—and overcome—the Shadow in its manifestations in the physical world. The Shadow shows up in many ways: Wild Things that need taming, dark towers that must be climbed, rings that must be thrown into the Crack of Doom. For your tale to have depth, you must be sure that the Shadow and its minions challenge your hero in many forms—not just the single form of the major adversary. These manifestations make your story rich, detailed, real, and—when well crafted—publishable." Kim T. Griswell

If you'd like to learn more from Marileta and Kim, they will be teaching The Hero and the Shadow for the Highlights Foundation from April 16—18, 2010. The workshop takes place near Honesdale, Pennsylvania, at the homeplace of the Founders of Highlights for Children. To reserve your spot, contact Jo Lloyd at 570-253-1192 or e-mail jalloyd@highlightsfoundation.org.

ANNOUNCING A SPECIAL GUEST SPEAKER!
Marileta and Kim are pleased to welcome special guest K.L. Going (Kelly), award-winning author of The Liberation of Gabriel King, Saint Iggy, and The Garden of Eve. Kelly will talk about her work and share the "shadows" that make her books outstanding. For more information, visit Highlights Foundation."

I wish I could go...it sounds terrific!

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Monday, March 15, 2010

The A, B, C’s (and D, E, F’s) of Blogging

On March 16th I’m speaking to the Charlotte Writer’s Club about “Targeting Your Blog.” Since I didn’t want to make 80 copies of my notes for the participants, I thought I’d post the notes here. This way they’re accessible to the Charlotte Writer’s Club as well as to anyone else contemplating starting a blog. Here are some easy points to remember when you begin your blog:

A is for Audience. When Kay McSpadden first asked me to speak to the CWC she complimented me on how focused my blog was. I can’t say I did that on purpose. All I knew was that I wanted to share my thoughts about reading and writing. From the beginning I expected that my main audience would be teachers and home school parents. Now I hope it also includes people who are interested in the novel I'm writing. My passion and my audience continue to shape what I post; I try to offer information that benefits these readers.

B is for Blogs. Visit other people’s blogs and think about what you find attractive or unattractive about them. One of my favorite blogs belongs to Joyce Hostetter. She uses pictures and videos well, shares herself, and writes succinctly. When you visit someone else’s blog, leave a comment. If someone visits your blog, check out theirs. It’s an unwritten rule in the blogosphere, but it generates enthusiasm, good will, and readers.

C is for Learning Curve. Be patient with yourself as you play and experiment. It takes time. Rome and blogs weren’t built in a day.

D is for Do’s and Don’ts. Do learn how to include pictures, graphics, and videos. This will make your blog more interesting. Don’t make it too personal unless that’s your purpose. Remember, whatever you post online is available for the world to read.

E Is for make it Easy to find information. Use tags (words or main points in your blog) which people can use to search your blog, or by which they might find your blog. Last summer when I attended the Highlights Writers Workshop I was pleased when Boyds Mills Press editor Carolyn Yoder, told me she had read my blog. She had found it one time by googling “historical fiction.”

F is for Focus and Finish. Make sure each of your blog posts is focused. Don’t ramble. And when you’re finished, print it out and reread it several times before hitting “publish post.”

Go ahead, get started. And when you do, post a comment here and let me know where I can find you online!

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Sunday, March 14, 2010

Two Points for the Charlotte Observer


On March 12, Fannie Flono wrote an article, "Can U.S. stop playing for 14th place?" She argued for the importance of national guidelines for a uniform set of standards in Math and English. She reports that, "Other nations already employ such standards and they have led to student performance." Flono concludes, "...when expectations and standards are set high, children most often live up to them. It's to our benefit and theirs that we push them to reach for the stars."

I thought her point of pushing students to achieve their potential was good and I wrote and told her so. But, I worried, wouldn't national standards produce more pressure on teachers who already just "teach to the test"?

The next day Kay McSpadden wrote a column, "School reforms wrongheaded." In it she summarized education historian Diane Ravitch's main points in The Death and Life of the Great American School System, her newest book. There were many excellent quotes, here are a few:

"NCLB [No Children Left Behind] was a punitive law based on erroneous assumptions about schools.... It assumed that shaming schools that were unable to lift test scores every year--and the people who work in them--would lead to higher scores. It assumed that low scores are caused by lazy teachers and lazy principals who need to be threatened with the loss of their jobs. Perhaps most naively, it assumed that higher test scores on standardized tests of basic skills are synonymous with good education. Its assumptions were wrong. Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators, and closing schools."

McSpadden writes how Davitch "concludes by calling for an elimination of testing as it is currently being used. Next, Ravitch argues for an emphasis on a content-rich curriculum and sound assessment to go with it. She suggests alternate, non-punitive ways to measure the quality of schools, and urges finding ways to attract and retain well-educated teachers who not only know their content but have a passion for their work."

Finally! Here is a well-respected professional who is questioning the test-taking environment which governs public schools.

I wrote to McSpadden and told her that I loved her points.

Two columns in the same paper. Are they opposites? Not exactly. But how do we fit them together? How can we have high national standards without creating a system that focuses on assessment at the risk of not educating children? If you are a parent or educator I'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ways That I am Like Karen Hesse (a very short list):

1 We both wake up early and look forward to writing.
2.We both eat our lunch standing up.
3.We both are excited about finding and using primary sources when we’re researching.
4.We both like historical fiction.



These are my conclusions after listening to an interview with her that accompanies her book, Witness. Although several of Hesse’s award–winning books are written in verse, Hesse wrote this short book specifically to be used in the classroom as Readers' Theater.

Suitable for upper elementary and middle school readers, this book tells a little-known segment of American life in the 1920’s. The plot is familiar: Jewish immigrants and a “colored” family are the targets of the KKK’s racial prejudice, hate, and violence. But the setting (rural Vermont) and the characters (eleven people whose lives are affected by the KKK) are unique.

Through sparse language but distinctive voices, the reader hears the unfolding story from each character’s perspective. As a result of this first-person point-of-view, the reader gets inside of Leanora Sutter, a young black girl who is scared and angry when she is teased at school: “At the Klan meeting last night/ the dragons talked about lighting you and your Daddy up to get them some warmth on a cold day” (p.10). The reader journeys inside Sara Chickering, a farmer who takes Leanora in out of the cold but “never had a colored person in my kitchen before.” (p. 12) And the reader feels the pain behind little Esther Hirsch’s observations: “In new York/I did see someone whose poor head/did have a bullet inside it/and he did/have blood everywhere in the street/where he did sleep so still.” (p. 17).

Eleven perspectives on a specific time and place in American history. As a new-to-fiction writer, I’m struggling to clearly communicate one perspective on a different time and place. Clearly, my self-comparison with Karen Hesse produces a very short list.

I highly recommend this book to be used as Readers' Theater as well as in Social Studies classrooms. I listened to it on a CD and although several months have passed, I can still hear the actors’ voices in my head as I reread passages. As I noted in my previous blog about Aleuthian Sparrow; I find Hesse’s word choice and use of imagery outstanding. Treasure this book with your students and for your own reading pleasure.

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Teaching Tidbits

Here are some dates for teachers to remember this spring:

March 31 is the deadline for the "Teach, Tape, & Win" contest sponsored by Schoolwide, Inc. This contest encourages teachers to film their teaching experiences and share them with fellow educators online.



April is Poetry Month. The Academy of American Poets has 30 ways to celebrate poetry. I like April 29-- "Poem in Your Pocket Day." Poetry lovers are encouraged to carry a poem to share with their friends, family, on a social networking site, or on the job.



June 25 is the deadline for students to send their original writing (essays, interviews, poems, plays, and short stories) to Skipping Stones. This non-profit, multi-cultural magazine recognizes both literary and artistic work by young people ages 7-17.
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