Friday, February 29, 2008

My visit to Plumsteadville, Pa.

Despite icy roads and a 2 hour delay, my workshops at Plumstead Christian School on February 13 & 14th were well received. First, I taught the middle school faculty “How to Teach the Short Story” and we discussed the application to science, math, social studies, and Bible curriculums. That afternoon the faculty observed me lead the 7th graders through the process of creating an historical fiction character. The combination of first teaching the faculty and then allowing them to observe me working with their students reinforced the principles which I had just taught. I highly recommend this process for other upper elementary and middle schools which are looking for ways to improve their students’ writing.

The next day the their imaginations and created original science fiction characters. After some initial “Are you guys awake?” shyness, they ended up having fun 8th graders stretched as they worked in small groups and wrote descriptive paragraphs that were consistent and yet, out of this world. After a short break, I led the 6th graders through the process of creating a “non-criminal/everyday” mini-mystery. I had the opportunity to work/play with an Intelliboard for the first time; students had fun showing how their suspect was the “Whodunit”; and their teachers were impressed with their students’ ability to assimilate lots of material and write a short mystery in 90 minutes. What fun!
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A Small White Scar

If boys can keep reading beyond the first few chapters which tell the back story of "A Small White Scar", they will find rattlesnake bites, a dangerous flash flood, and a rodeo that is so real you can hear the calves bawling in their pens. Boys who like action from the first paragraph will have to wait for the story to unfold. But, it’s worth it. Readers will identify with Will, the 15-year-old protagonist who itches to carve a life out for himself separate from Denny, his mentally retarded twin brother. Both characters are well developed; Will’s anger is consistent with his life experiences and Denny’s thoughtful yet child-like responses are consistent with a person who has Down Syndrome.

My favorite line is towards the end of the book when their father reveals that although Will sees himself as Denny’s surrogate parent, Denny is the one who has taught Will about self-sacrifice, responsibility, and love. K.A.Nuzum
uses beautiful figurative language to describe Colorado in the 1940’s; teachers could use this book as a mentor text and ask students to find the similes and metaphors, as well as to identify the various types of conflicts which confront Will and Denny. Recommended for boys and girls from 6th grade and upwards. (Harper Collins, 2006).Technorati Tags:
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Monday, February 18, 2008

Charlotte Mecklenburg English Teachers Make Front Page News

On February 16 The Charlotte Observer ran a feature article about GranVille Caldwell and Ryan Marshall—two high school English teachers who have recently written and self-published a book of poetry about their experiences in the classrooms. According to the Observer,"Thoughts & Lamentations of Urban Education" is a "quirky 178-page saga of a year in the inner city schools, told through poetry, news flashes and takeoffs on pop songs."

A sample poem may make you want to purchase the book yourself:

Hair pulling, weave flyin'

Chairs broken, teachers cryin'

Security called, no one comes,

Got the teacher lookin' dumb

Fists flyin'—ooh la la!

Full-fledged brouhaha

This is from the book description on the website accurately reflecting Marshall's (and unfortunately other educators') experiences:

"Student bites teacher; student spits into administrators face; students openly swear at teacher; teachers are told to raise test scores or look for employment elsewhere." More information on the book is on Harding High School's website; Caldwell's school.

So far, Caldwell's assistant principal has been supportive of the book; I hope it stays that way. I applaud Caldwell and Marshall for not only voicing their thoughts about the problems they see in the school system, but trying to make a difference in their students' lives. They are examples of teachers who care about their students and are also modeling another important precept: "Your voice, expressed through written language, matters." Kudos to them.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Who reads for pleasure anymore?

According to International Reading Association president Linda Gambrell in a her recent column in Reading Today, the number of teens and young adults who are reading just for fun is decreasing. Citing data from a National Endowment for the Arts report released in November 2007, Gambrell recounted these unsettling statistics:

  • Nearly half of all Americans ages 18-24 read no books for pleasure.
  • From 1984-2004 the percentage of 13-year-olds who reported that they read for fun declined from 35% to 30%.
  • For 17-year-olds the decline was from 31% to 22%.

I know there are a lot more media options competing for a young adult's attention than when I was in high school and college, but as a lifetime reader, I find these results disturbing. A student who doesn't escape into a world of science fiction, fantasy, or history; or doesn't seize the opportunity to read poetry, plays, or biographies; or never ventures into Aztec ruins, Scottish castles, a coral reef, or the internal mechanisms of a modern machine-- is missing out on a galaxy of worlds found in the pages of books.

But not only that, students who don't take the time to read "just for fun" will most likely perform lower in school and on the job.

Consider Gabrell's insightful observations: "Individuals who engage in reading for pleasure are better readers and writers than nonreaders. Children and teenagers who read for pleasure on a daily or weekly basis score better on reading tests than infrequent readers. Frequent readers also score better on writing tests than infrequent readers."

And as I've mentioned on this blog previously, Gabrell points out that poor reading skills are surfacing in the marketplace also. "Employers now rank reading and writing as top deficiencies in new hires. One in five U.S. workers reads at a lower skill level than his or her job requires."

Although I may be preaching to the choir on this one, consider the impact we'd have if we each recommended a book a day to a child, adolescent, or young adult. It doesn't have to be something fancy or heavy duty—just a book that would pique their interest. I suspect we'd all enjoy the effects which would boomerang back to us in the classroom and work place.

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Friday, February 8, 2008

Cool Stuff

I'm busy preparing workshops for my trip to Pennsylvania next week, but just wanted to mention a few cool things from this week. One, Maupin House has set up their own blog now, and it is full of helpful information for educators. Second, check out this picture on the bottom right of the opening page of the National Middle School Association's conference information for next year. What a cool surprise for Jane Kiester and me! By the way, Jane and I are co-presenting at the SCIRA conference in two weeks where we're going to show several teachers how to "Jazz Up" their student's writing. Before we head down to Myrtle Beach for the conference, she's going to give a mini-workshop for the Carmel Christian and Covenant Day teachers in Matthews, NC.

Finally, Joyce Hostetter and I visited ImaginOn in Charlotte after getting an introduction to Second Life. At this point, I'm feeling slightly overwhelmed with my first life ---let alone manage a second one, but it looks like Keren Brandenburg (my avatar) is going to stretch my life experiences even more. For those of you, who may want to take a funny look at Second Life, check out this video.

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Saturday, February 2, 2008

Technology Toys & Tools

Last month when I was a presenter at NWRESA, I used this AVerVersion Document camera for the first time. After completing their "assignments" teachers used the camera to project their writing unto a screen so that everyone could comment on it. WOW! I found it to be a great tool for allowing everyone to give feedback to the writer who could then revise her work accordingly. I was impressed as I realized the classroom possibilities; little did I know about the range of technology toys and tools that can enhance writing instruction.

Spin forward two weeks. Today I talked with Steve Johnson, a technology facilitator who I met at NCCAT. He is writing the technology mini-lessons for the second edition of Teaching the Story. We are also writing a proposal for the National Gifted conference in Tampa next November entitled, "Beyond the Keyboard: Incorporating Technology into your Writing Curriculum." I am so excited about the possibilities that will open up as students use not only document cameras, but wiki's, MP3 players, Powerpoints, and a host of other technology that Steve is dreaming up to teach fiction writing. Stay tuned for updates!

For all of you who have already bought a copy of my book, I'll make sure that you receive these technology lessons also. Just e-mail me with and I'll pass your name along to Maupin House.

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