Saturday, December 29, 2007

A blog about blogging

Looking for more information about teaching, blogging, & technology? Check out,
Cool Cat Teacher Blog. I stumbled upon Vicki Davis' blog; she has lots to offer and her site is well organized and easy to navigate. Technorati Tags:

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Up the Down Staircase

Why don't you use one of those Barnes & Noble or Borders' gift certificates you just received and treat yourself to a picture of a NY public school circa 1960. I first read Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman (Prentice-Hall, Inc, 1964) as a teenager. Recently, my teenage daughter Lydia, brought the familiar pink and orange book home from the library after reading about it in Now, all we need is a Title. Kaufman's insights into the labyrinth of rules which teachers daily negotiate as well as the voices of the adolescents (who are the reason that teachers keep teaching) are timeless.

Written as an epistolary novel, the office memos, intraschool communications, and students' comments from the class "Suggestion Box," etc., show a novice English teacher's struggles between her desire to reach her students or the pull to accept a more comfortable university position. Here are some snippets to entice you into reading the entire book:

From the Suggestion Box (spelling & grammar are as they appear in the book). These are in answer to the question, "What did you get out of English so far?"

"What I got out of it is Litterature and Books. Also some Potery. And just before a test—a doze of English. Having Boys in class dis-tracks me from my English. Better luck next time." (p.74)

"I hate to think back on all my English years except one teacher I will never forget because when my note book wasn't so good (it was mostly in pencil) instead of telling me to do it over in ink she just told me to put renforcements on the holes and that will be enough. The next day she asked me did I put renforcements in. When I said I did she didn't even look she just said she'd take my word for it. That gave me a warm feeling inside because it was the first time a teacher took a pupil's word without asking to see if it was true. Most the of the time they don't even know your name." (pp 74-75)

"Dribs and Drabs. McBeth one week Moby Dick next, a quotation mark, oral debates on Should Parents be Strict? Should Girls Wear Jeans? The mistakes I made in elementery school I still make. I hope to achieve correction." (p. 80)

"I want to thank you for giving me your time after school, for encouraging me to write, for trying. But with 40 others in the class, whose problems are so different, I realize how little you can do, and I feel we are both wasted."(p. 114)

And on integration (p.212):

1. How stupid can you get?

  1. Bussing kids to school miles away.
    1. Just to juggle it around.
    2. Then got back to the filthy slums.

      (After school)

    3. Can't be juggle like different color marbles.
    4. It takes time.
      1. Lincoln (Slaves)
      2. Rome (Wasn't build in a day)

You'll laugh, you might cry, and if you're a teacher you'll nod your head and wonder along with the author of Ecclesiastes, "Is there nothing new under the sun?"

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Monday, December 24, 2007

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan

I love it when my 16-year-old daughter Lydia, recommends a book to me. As she predicted, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (Random House Inc., 2005) is a compelling, and at times disturbing, story about Chinese women in the 19th century. Unlike other popular young adult novels, this book is written as a personal narrative as the main character, Lily, tells her story directly to the reader. In this way the reader accompanies Lily on her journey as she is paired to another seven-year-old girl who becomes her laotong, her soul mate; undergoes the painful rite of footbinding; learns nushu the secret written language of women; is betrothed, married, and raises children---all within the strict rules of Chinese society.

In the course of the book, the reader learns about the shame, fears, superstitions, and traditions that ruled Chinese families as tightly as a seven-year-olds' bound foot. But it is also a book about love, asking the reader: what is true, unconditional love between friends that accepts without question a beloved's barbs and attacks? At the end, Lily confesses that her pride prevented her from loving rightly and gives the reader much to think about.
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Tuesday, December 18, 2007


"Real reading is reading and thinking at the same time," Ian Carle, fourth grade elementary teacher, Kansas City, Mo.

In a recent letter to the editor in Reading Today, Mr. Carle argued that it is time to invent a new word for reading which engages the reader. "...reading is more than just saying the words correctly. With that in mind, I combined elements of the words reading and thinking and readinking was born…Readinking is the act of specifically thinking while we are reading."

Quoting David Pears, Laura Roehler, Janice Dole, and Gerald Duffy in their chapter "Developing Expertise in Reading Comprehension," which appeared in What Research Has to Say About Reading Instruction (2nd edition) in 1992, Carle lists five activities vital to reading comprehension:

  • Questioning: What readers are asking before during or while they read.
  • Synthesizing: How readers continually change their mind as they read.
  • Schema: How a reader uses background knowledge to understand the text.
  • Visualizing: The pictures that are formed in a reader's head while reading.
  • Determining importance: How the reader is able to identify what is important.

This list compliments the presuppositions and themes of How to Read a Book, a book which I have blogged about and am still working through. (Some books require a lot of readinking!)

I like Carle's thoughts and new word for another reason. Say readinking aloud and another image comes to mind:


Sunday, December 9, 2007

A Physician who is Passionate about Literacy

Here is a novel idea. At each annual visit for thirty years, Dr. Pete Lemaster of Fayetteville, N.C. has asked his patients to read and write for him. "I start them with a drawing when they are four and continue until they're 18," he explained to me recently. By that time he's asking his high school patients to write about their life aspirations. Passionate about literacy, Dr. Lemaster also speaks to every parent about the importance of training their children as lifelong readers and writers. He sets an example to other pediatricians and physicians: take the time to not only check your patient's physical health, but take their intellectual pulse too.

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Saturday, December 8, 2007

A Gift of Words

"If I could have written any book, I would have been happy to write yours." That was the response I received last night when I introduced myself to a fellow writer and told her about Teaching the Story. "Look at how many kids you'll be able to reach through your book…and middle school students, no less!" she continued. It was an encouragement to see my book through a total stranger's eyes. And I realized she's right: if my book enables students to express themselves creatively and write the stories inside their heads and hearts—then I will have accomplished a significant purpose. And that gift makes me happy.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Lunch with Joyce Hostetter

You know you're having lunch with another author when she turns to you and says, "I'm sorry. Can you say that again? I was listening to the conversation at the table behind me." The mark of a true writer—always listening to dialogue, even if it's eavesdropping on a conversation about gastrointestinal clinics!

Over soup and sandwiches at Panera Bread, Joyce and I finished planning our week workshop at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching on "Is There a Children's Book in You?" With her experience as a novelist (her third book Healing Water is coming out soon!) and mine teaching teachers about writing fiction, we're expecting this week to be a great marriage of our talents.

I met Joyce last summer at the Mid-South Reading and Writing Institute in Birmingham. We both agree that our working relationship and friendship is one of the unexpected blessings of attending that conference.

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