Monday, July 16, 2012

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Six years ago, I informed the professor leading my American Literature seminar course on writing influenced by Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre that I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings should be on the syllabus the next time he taught the course.  I have no idea why I told him that: I hadn't read the book and didn't know much about it beyond the title.  Six years later, I finally decided to read it.  Now I definitely think this book should be considered for the syllabus.

Maya Angelou is perhaps best known as a poet.  While this is not officially a work of poetry, what makes this memoir, er, memorable is the language laid out to describe and interpret each scene of her childhood and teenage years.  While its subject matter is not entirely uplifting (if you're going to read it, be prepared for descriptions of racism, child abuse, poverty), its tone is.  Angelou infuses her stories with realism and hope, which is probably what makes this a popular choice for high school reading lists.

On a side note....
It's funny what makes you decide to read a certain book at a certain time.  This book made the cut this week because it fit in my purse and I need something to read on a train trip to Toronto.  The trip passed in a flash, as I was completely wrapped up in the story shortly after rolling out of the station.  Next on my reading list is a phonebook-sized tome that not even my largest purse can hold.  Guess I'll be staying close to home for the next couple of days. ;)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Lives Of Girls and Women Audio Book

I spent the first four hours of my weekend road trip alone in the car, but in good company: at the last minute, I doubled back into the house and grabbed the audio book version of Alice Munro's Lives of Girls and Women.  I had originally purchased this with the thought that I could listen to it while I crocheted something, but it turns out audio books are great for long drives, too.

I really enjoy reading Alice Munro, in case my blog posts on Too Much HappinessRunaway and Dance of the Happy Shades didn't make that clear already.  I count Lives of Girls and Women among my top 10 favourite all-time books, but it had been years since I actually read it, so the audio book was a bit of a treat from memory lane.  I enjoy this book so much because it falls squarely into the category of outsider fiction, which is my default setting when it comes to choosing fiction.  Give me a realistic story of a lovable misfit and I'm pretty much guaranteed to give it four stars.  What gives this particular work a place on my top 10 list, however, is the extra layer that Munro's poetry adds.  This is great gifting material, but I think the giver should read it first, of course!

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Where Great Teaching Begins

Subtitle: Planning for Student Thinking and Learning
Author: Anne R. Reeves

For those non-teacher types, this is not a book recommendation for you.  Sorry.  Save yourself a few moments of reading and move on. ;)

This book was one of the ASCD Select Membership selections for the 2011-2012 year.  This means it arrived in my mail box at some point over the school year and it travelled from the table at the front door, to the hallway table, to my desk, to the upstairs bookshelf, to the office bookshelf...and no matter where it rested, I was in a state of unrest--or guilt, more accurately--for not finding time for professional reading.

Now, summer's here!  (Cue Alice Cooper....).  I've got a stack of books to read and the motivation to get through them.  I made this my BookADay selection for today and--seven pages of handwritten notes later--I'm glad I did.

It's worth noting that the first half of the book is all about defining/creating/designing learning objectives.  Essentially, Reeves argues that a good learning objective is half the battle when it comes to planning.  The other overarching message of the book is making sure that student thinking and learning is the focus of our planning.

Assessment should be based on the learning objectives.  We need to stop thinking about lesson plans as lesson plans and start thinking of them as plans for student learning.

I would recommend this resource to any beginning teacher.  (Five years into my profession, I'm still counting myself as a beginner!)  I've compiled my notes into a Google Doc, so that I can access this info when/where I want it (and anyone who follows that link can, too).

Sunday, July 01, 2012

The Element by Sir Ken Robinson

Purchased: Elora Book Sale ($2.00)
Started: June 13, 2012
Finished: not yet. :)  100 pages to go.

Subtitled: "How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything"

Recommended For: new grads, people seeking new direction in their careers, educators

My introduction to Ken Robinson came through Youtube videos, such as this (amazing) mind-mapped video on "Changing Education Paradigms"  and this TED talk, asking, "Do Schools Kill Creativity?"

If you're familiar with these videos (and others), then much of the first 30+ pages of The Element is going to read like a repeat of information you've heard before.  If you're looking for an inpsirational gift, however--for yourself or someone else--this will likely do the trick.

Robinson subdivides "the element" (that place/space/state of mind where passion lives and comes alive) into four features/conditions:
1. Aptitude (I get it)
2. Passion (I love it)
3. Attitude (I want it)
4. Opportunity (Where is it?)

Educators will appreciate this book because it focuses on all kinds of "smart."  Robinson encourages readers to ask not "How intelligent are you?" but "How are you intelligent?"

Creative types will enjoy Robinson's descriptions of "the zone" and the importance of "finding your tribe."

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Too Much Happiness By Alice Munro

More from the author who writes about the "dull, simple, amazing and unfathomable -- deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum."

If I had to sum up this book in just two words, I would choose "bleak" and "addictive."  Nobody writes a story like Munro, and while this isn't my favourite short story collection by her, a book by Alice Munro is a guaranteed good read.  I was surprised to read several with male protagonists in this collection.

The Observer has a few in-depth articles on Munro, including a 2009 review of this book.

Purchased at: Booksmarts, K-W's own version of The Book Vault.
Started: Friday, May 25
Finished: Monday, June 11

Monday, June 04, 2012

Sign Language Fun In the Early Childhood Classroom

Okay, I'm caving and starting the #BookADay challenge early.  Today I'm reading Sign Language Fun In The Early Childhood Classroom.  I picked this one up for a dollar at the Elora book sale.  Looks like I got a good deal.  In addition to sign language, this book has a lot of great ideas for teaching vocabulary--from feelings to weather to "likes."  Why not include a little sign language?  It's a valuable skill and I'm thinking it could help some of those kinesthetic learners. I'm going to bookmark this one as a reference for September!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Primarily Play

I was given this resource as part of a Kindergarten/Grade 1 Inquiry project this year.  It's a good starting point for shaping what should happen in the next few years in Primary education (i.e. finding a balance somewhere between accountability and authentic learning...we've moved too far towards being accountable and aren't giving students the freedom they need to make their learning meaningful.)
I like that this book points out the focus on play in the Kindergarten program and then the glaring absence of the word in almost all of the 1-8 curriculum documents.  It didn't contain the practical information I was looking for, however.  (How to plan, how to conduct assessment.)  I wanted more detail on those things.  As information to start a conversation about how we can make the Primary years more meaningful and engaging for our students, it has potential....

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guiding Readers - Lori Jamison Rog

A second inquiry project with which I've been involved over the past month is observing the 40-minute guided reading lesson that makes up our Early Literacy Intervention program for Grade 1s and working with other educators to discuss how guided reading in the classroom can be more closely aligned with what happens as part of the intervention program.  Around the same time as this project started, a book arrived in the mail: Guiding Readers by Lori Jamison Rog.  (Yep, that's the author of The Write Genre, for anyone asking "Where have I heard that name before?")

This year, I've adopted some of the suggestions from The Daily Five program to answer the question of "What is the rest of the class doing?" while I do guided reading.  It's working.  Oh, it's working.  Now that I have time to sit and work with a focused small group at the back of the room while the others are occupied with their literacy boxes, I'm working to fine-tune and make the most of what happens in that precious 20 minutes.

Why include a post about guided reading on a blog about technology?  Because (hold onto your seats, folks), I believe there are areas of learning where 21st-century tech is not required.  The passion and individualized response of a teacher beats any technology I've ever seen when it comes to literacy instruction.  Douglas Reeves, one of the current gurus of best practices in education, quips that, "technology is the servant, not the master, of education."  In this case, I'm inclined to agree.

When I read in The Daily Five about having students simply sit and read for 20 minutes, I'll admit I was skeptical that a 6-year-old could do that. But, we started with two minutes and worked our way up, adding and subtracting a minute a day until we had built the stamina and muscle memory needed to make it work.  In a recent ASCD newsletter, Reeves goes on to passionately proclaim:
"Perhaps one of the most important 21st century skills that teachers can impart is that of focus-devoted concentration to a task."
I think concentration is the key word there.  I can take my students to the computer lab, show them a new game that reinforces a concept, and they all appear to be focused, but there's something in that glazed-over zombie-like look in their eyes as they sit there, expressionless, clicking the mouse that I just can't call concentration.  (Think: Who or what is in control?)

That said, when we power up the LCD projector and display student work using the document camera, then there's a definite focus in the room.  When we use digital photos and video to capture student learning, there's excitement there, too.  I completely believe there is a place for technology in every classroom (that's why I started this blog!), but I also believe there are times to hold back, simplify, and remember Reeves' master/servant analogy.

Now, back to guided reading for a bit.  Talk about engagement!  We discussed in our inquiry sessions the concept of "Bottoms Up!"--that is, books that have children leaning out of their seats with excitement, ready to grab the book from the teacher's hand.  Rog writes: "Just-right texts for guided reading should have students standing on their tippy toes" (p. 12) (i.e. --exerting a bit of effort, but not toppling over).  Put those two together and you can see how there's hardly room to focus on anything else.

Another great quote from Guiding Readers? "Books are leveled, not children." (p. 13)  A running record does not tell the whole story.  In order for students to be engaged in learning, the content needs to be accessible.  There is an art to choosing the right texts for the right groups that involves knowing the child's interests, background and worldview that tells you whether a book is just right for them.  There is an onus on the teacher to make the whole experience as engaging as possible and book choice is usually where you hook 'em or lose 'em.

I read the whole book yesterday, sitting on the back deck in the sun.  I had my iPad beside me for googling and notetaking.  I was making shopping lists of simple materials to buy to enhance my guided reading lessons, looking up web resources mentioned in the book, and even crafting bits of parent communication for my next classroom newsletter.  Not to mention, I was sticky-noting up a storm.  Here's what the text looked like by the time I was through with it:

I would give this book a solid 4 stars out of 5.  There's nothing earth-shattering in here, but I like the way the book is organized and there are many new ideas on how to teach certain concepts in guided reading lessons.  I also like that the focus is on how to "make the magic happen" in the 18 minutes you've got in a typical classroom.  Since I'm teaching Grade 1, I did gloss over a few chapters on teaching older, more sophisticated readers, but there appeared to be good stuff in there, too.

For immediate access to a bunch of Lori Jamison Rog's work, download an ebook.  Guiding Readers is available for preview in its entirety on Stenhouse's website.  You can also visit Lori's website.  Scroll right to the bottom of the books page to access some quality (free) articles.

This posting is also posted on my Wired Like That education blog.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Books To Read This Summer

Professional Rereads:
The Element by Sir Ken Robinson
The Language of Art by Ann Pelo
Teaching For Comprehending and Fluency by Fountas and Pinell
Building Bridges Through Sensory Integration by Yack, Aquilla, Sutton
Conversations by Regie Routman
Where Great Teaching Begins by Anne R. Reeves
Classroom Instruction That Works (2nd Ed.) by Dean, Hubbell, Pitler, Stone
The MindUp Curriculum(K-2) by the Hawn Foundation
Creating the Opportunity To Learn by Boykin & Noguera
Differentiated Instructional Strategies by Gregory & Chapman

Books To Re-read or Re-visit:
The CAFE Book
The Daily Five
Making The Most of Small Groups

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Starbucked: A Double Tall Tale of Caffeine, Commerce and Culture

We are almost finished this book!  It's been traveling back and forth between both of our household cars and has gone with us on countless road trips since I found it on the shelf at the Belleville Value Village over Christmas holidays.  (We got stuck in traffic on the 401, finally made it to Belleville, and needed to get out and stretch our legs.  Where better to do that than in the used books aisle at VV?)

I didn't think it possible, but I think I love coffee more after having read this book.  It's not just about Starbucks.  It tells the story of the rise of coffee culture in North America (okay, mostly the U.S. but I'm trying to include 'us Canadians' in the story) and the effects of Starbucks' massive growth on the coffee industry (better coffee, good news for mom 'n pop shops, hope for fair pricing for coffee farmers).  It also gives some insight into what it's like to work for the Jolly Green Mermaid Giant and some of the quirks of some of the Starbucks bigwigs.

The bits of the book I'm enjoying most, however, have to do with the history of the coffee.  It's actually really cool.  I don't want to give it all away, but I will give you the book if you're interested. ;) (It will just come with a warning from me that every few pages you read will have you craving a cup of hot java.)

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Book Sale Haul

Attending the Elora Book Sale on the first weekend in May has become an annual tradition.  Arriving home to stack up my treasures and photograph them has, too!  Here are this year's fabulous finds:

From top to bottom we have:
1.  The Scottish Clans and Their Tartans
2.  The Rebel Sell ("Why The Culture Can't Be Jammed")
3.  A Short History of Progress (CBC Massey Lectures series - 2004)
4.  The Wayfinders (CBC Massey Lectures series - 2009)
5.  Leaning Towards Infinity
6.  Made To Stick
7.  Bachelor Girl ("100 Years of Breaking the Rules--A social history of living single.")
8.  Bowling Alone ("The collapse and revival of American community.")
9.  Everything Bad Is Good For You ("How today's popular culture is making us smarter.")
10.  In Praise of Slow:  How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging The Cult of Speed
11.  A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
12.  The Canterbury Papers
13.  Boom Bust & Echo 2000 (An "oldie" but a goodie: this was discussed at length at a workshop I attended last weekend.)
14.  Shakespeare's Wife
15.  The Element (I <3 Sir Ken Robinson!)
16.  Girls On The Edge
17.  Bartlett's Familiar Quotations  (I used to sign this out of the library a few times a year.)

This year's collection is very heavy on the non-fiction (highlighted with green numbers).  The collection of novels at this year's event was a bit uninspiring.  I'm wondering if the popularity of ebooks is already impacting the availability of used books?  Then again, there were several great books on the table, it's just that I have the same titles on my shelves already. :)

I also scored a few teaching resources:
1.  Sign Language Fun (anything from the Key Education Resources gets my automatic stamp of approval)
2.  Raffi's singable songs for the very young album.  (We had this record in our family collection; it was also a second hand find.)

Without fail, every year after the book sale I start imagining how wonderful it would be have a little cottage somewhere and to load all of these books on to the shelves for summer reading...

I also have to give myself an annual congratulatory pat on the back for all the great deals I found.  None of these items cost more than $2.00.  The whole pile was just under $30.  Thirty dollars!  That's the price of one new book, or the running tab of overdue fines on my library account at any given time.  I do love a good book sale.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The Prophet's Camel Bell

Not every second hand store has a book section quite as organized as the one at the MCC Thrift Centre in New Hamburg.  During last weekend's shopping adventure there, I came across a box of about 20 New Canadian Library books.  What I wanted to do was buy the whole box, despite the fact that I already have many of the titles sitting on my bookshelf.  The new covers are just so appealing!

The New Canadian Library (NCL) has been around since 1958.  It's a collection of the classics of Canadian Literature.  I like how all the books are the same size and style, so they fit together so nicely on my bookshelves.  However, the publisher keeps re-releasing the library with a new set of covers, so I have several mini-collections.  I know you can't judge a book by its cover, but I think you can justify having several versions of the same book on your shelf just because the covers are a little different.

I finally settled on four titles (but it was a complete exercise in restraint):
NCL editions, from oldest to newest.

Today, I started in on The Prophet's Camel Bell.  I actually read the first two chapters aloud to Dan while he did the dishes.  (I think I got the better end of that deal, but he says he likes hearing me read.)  Since it's a mix of Margaret Laurence's commentary on human nature (my love) and travel narrative (his), it was an enjoyable read for both of us.

Started: Sunday, April 8, with a mug of home-brewed coffee in hand (we will not buy Our Compliments Espresso again!)
Finished: in progress...

Manga Shakespeare - King Lear

After finishing, Fool, I looked up and saw a graphic novel version of King Lear on the shelf right above me.  This was a Christmas gift I gave to Dan this past December.  He's becoming a big fan of graphic novels; I enjoy them, but I feel that they flash by too quickly.  I need more words to help me slow down and savour the story.

This version of Lear has its appeal, though.  It relies solely on actual language from the most widely known version of Shakespeare's play.  Where it takes its departure is in the setting: this version is set in early days of colonization in America.

This would be a great text to read in parallel with the "original" (I use "original" for lack of a better word, because the version usually used is a conflation of two scripts).  I can see how the visuals would help a student better understand what was happening in the script version, but I can also see how the manga version on its own could be a little tricky to follow.

Started: Saturday, April 7th at Balzac's in Kitchener.  
Finished: Presumably later today. 

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Fool by Christopher Moore

Bawdy, bawdy, bawdy, bawdy, bawdy.  And hilarious.  Rather than reading one of the many "unreads" on my shelf this weekend, I went to the thrift store and The Book Vault and added several to my collection.  This was one of them.  I have seen Christopher Moore's books around all over the place, but I assumed they were all vampire novels.  Guess I'd never seen this one before!

Fool is a retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear from the perspective of Lear's fool (jester), Pocket.

Started: Saturday, March 31 at Balzac's in Stratford.
Finished: Saturday, April 7.  Ah, Easter long weekend: long stretches of time to lounge on the couch with a book.