Monthly Archives: August 2013

Introduction: Start Here!

Hi! I’m Stephanie Johnson, second year teacher, book connoisseur, beginning gardener, and outdoor enthusiast.  Venturing into year two of my teaching career, I’ve been searching for ways to get my 7th grade students more excited about reading.   Thinking back over my first year of teaching, the two most common questions my students asked me came to mind: What’s for lunch? and, Are we using the computers today? Aha!

This blog will hopefully help me accomplish several things.  First of all, I’d like to use it to share with students (especially at-risk readers), parents, and other members of the educational community some excellent pieces of literature.  So many books are out there that it can be difficult to sift through them all to find one you will really enjoy.  My goal is that one of the books I blog about will pique your interest and encourage you to crack it open.  Secondly, I’d like to provide a platform to encourage conversation about the books my students and I read in class.  Blogging can provide a friendly format for those too shy to speak up in class and also allows readers to carry on discussions about books that we may run out of time for during the school day.  Parents/guardians can also check out our blog and see what their student (and others) thinks about our literature.  Finally, I’m looking forward to incorporating more technology into my classroom so that my students become more familiar and comfortable with it.  This blog will give us the chance to showcase our thinking for our readers, and to possibly connect with other students hundreds or thousands of miles away.  Happy reading!

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My husband (Kyle), dog (Cash), and me in the Keweenaw Penninsula.

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Why a Blog?

What advantages does a blog have for students sharing their responses to what they read?  Where to start!  If you’ve ever been around a kid or teen for longer than five minutes you know how much they love technology.  Smartphones, iPods, computers, tablets, game consoles, the list goes on and on.  Instead of schools fighting the onslaught of technology, we need to utilize our students’ interest in it to help them develop a variety of skills.  Jenny Luca notes that blogs help students learn to communicate using technology in ways other than email or Facebook. This type of communication is common in higher education and certain workplaces, so the more practice kids have with it, the better.  Plus, blogs allow parents to see what is happening inside the classroom and gives them an opportunity to engage with their child about the content and skills they are learning.  Instead of hearing the same old non-specific reply to, “what did you learn at school today,” parents/guardians can read over the blog with their student.

Additionally, George Couros argues that blogs allow students time to reflect on their lessons in order to process and solidify their learning.  For me as an ELA teacher, blogs offer the promise to engage every student with the reading, not just the select few who get called on in class.  Plus, the fact that students are publishing their work on the web for anyone with a computer to access is a powerful way to give them an authentic audience.  Every student will see their words on the blog and know that what they say, and how they say it, matters.  Luca and Couros also credit blogs for helping students build a positive digital image; when students graduate they (or future employers) will be able to Google their names with positive results.

Finally, you may have heard about the new Common Core State Standards, which for us Michiganders are replacing the HSCEs and the GLCEs.  In addition to an increased emphasis on reading, the standards require teachers to integrate technology into our classes.  Jennifer Jones points out that a blog is the perfect way to combine reading, writing, and technology, while asking students to utilize their critical thinking skills.  So really we should be asking, “Why wait?”

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Encouraging Readers (and their Families!) to Blog

The first few times a person posts to a blog can be a bit nerve-wracking; after all, these words will be viewed by the teacher, many classmates, and potentially anyone with internet access.  At-risk readers in particular may feel intimidated.  Fear not!  I believe in building a strong foundation of blogging knowledge before anything is posted on the internet.  Any required blogging will be prefaced with a lesson on the blogging process and a step-by-step guide of how to post.  The first few blog assignments will be on topics students are familiar with, and will look at examples of good and not so good blog posts as a class.  Also, an excellent resource for those with questions can be found at Mr. Carey’s blog.

One way we will be incorporating blogs is with our literature circle units.  Students will be doing independent or partner reading during the week, filling out their role sheets, then posting their thoughts and questions to the blog.  This format will allow students to come to the posting already having material in hand, which they will only need to add a few questions and responses to.

It’s important for students to know that everyone’s opinion is important; the blog is a community where we will all learn from each other.  No two people interpret a book in the exact same way, and when we listen to what others have to say, we may begin to see a book in a new light.

As for parents, posting comments and questions to our class blog is welcome and encouraged.  Knowing that they have an audience outside of our classmates can be exciting for students.  It allows them to showcase their learning for others and may help them to think more deeply about a topic.

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A Quick Note on Mentor Texts

The first two books I’m introducing on my blog are mentor texts for memoirs.  Mentor texts are books used to teach a specific skill, which could range from making inferences to using figurative language.  In this case the skill is memoir writing.  I chose these texts because our first writing unit in 7th grade is a memoir, and I find it helpful to immerse my students in the genre they are studying.  These books will give students examples of what memoirs look like and will help them begin to identify the characteristics of a memoir.  We will use other mentor texts this year as we study writing; there’s nowhere better to learn the craft than from professionals who have written time honored pieces of literature.

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Mentor Text: Smile

smile

Author: Raina Telgemeier

Color:  Stephanie Yue

Publisher:  Scholastic

Copyright Date: 2010

Printed in Singapore

Find a copy here.

Recommended Readers

I would recommend this book for readers in grades 5-8.  While the vocabulary is not very difficult, the book deals with issues of adolescence and would appeal most to students in, or approaching, middle school.

Summary

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier, is a graphic memoir that follows artistic Raina through the trials and tribulations of middle school and early high school.  To make these awkward years more painful, Raina has a terrible accident in sixth grade which causes her to suffer years of dental work and pain.  Throughout her journey, Raina has run-ins with her first school crushes, endures hurtful teasing from so-called friends, and finally discovers her true self.  With fantastic illustrations, laugh out loud moments, and an easy to identify with main character, Smile is sure to be a hit with any middle school student.

Blogging

Blogging abut Smile will help students begin the conversation about what a memoir is and how this book fits (or maybe doesn’t fit) into that genre.  This text is a great book to start blogging with because it is a very inviting read.  The book is a relatively quick book to read, and the writing is not challenging.  However, the issues raised about peer pressure, the desire to fit in, and finding out what traits are important in friends are substantial and provide good discussion material.  Also, students who haven’t read a graphic novel before may have much to say about the set-up of the book and what effect the illustrations have on the reader.

For a class blog, I would pose one or two questions for students to choose from to answer, using evidence from the text to support their response.  Then they would comment on at least one other person’s post.  In addition, I would ask them to include one thing they noticed and one question they have (or had while reading).

Example Blog Responses

How might Smile fit into the genre of a memoir?  Why might it not fit?

A memoir is an autobiographical piece of writing about a small moment in time in which the author learned something.  Smile fits into the genre of a memoir because it is the true story of Raina Telgemeier’s adolescence, thus it is autobiographical.  Throughout the story Raina learns that the friends she had in middle school tear her down, make her unhappy, and are unsupportive.  She makes new friends and spends time focusing on things she enjoys, like art, and in the process discovers who she is as a young adult.  However, a few of Smile’s characteristics don’t fit in with the definition of a memoir.  The story takes place over four and a half years, which is not a small moment by any sense.  Plus, with so many detailed conversations it’s hard to believe Telgemeier remembered them word for word from her youth.  More than likely some places of the story have been recreated or embellished.

I noticed . . . as I was reading the pictures really kept my interest and helped clue me in about the characters’ feelings and emotions.  With so little text, I relied heavily on the illustrations to give me a fuller picture of Raina’s story.  This was my first graphic novel, but I’d be interested in reading others.  Raina Telgemeier has another book, Drama, which might be good to read since I enjoyed Smile so much.

I wonder . . . if Raina ever talked to her middle school friends again.  It’s strange how some school friendships can change so quickly while others remain strong for people’s entire lives.

 

Reader’s Response Questions

How would you feel if you had to go through a similar dental experience as Raina?  What fears might you have?

How did you like reading a graphic novel?  What features of the book were helpful?  Explain.  Was there anything you disliked about the format? Explain.

Have you ever had a falling out with friends like Raina?  What do you think Telgemeier’s message is about peer pressure and friendships?

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Mentor Text: King of the Mild Frontier: An Ill-Advised Autobiography

KMF

Author: Chris Crutcher

Publisher:  Harper Collins

Copyright Date: 2003

Printed in New York, NY

Find a copy here.

Recommended Readers

I would recommend this book for readers in grades 7-12.  The book is written at an eighth grade level and includes some adult language.  The themes in the book are also more mature and complex than those in Smile.  However, like Smile, King of the Mild Frontier deals with growing up, handling emotions, and finding oneself.  It is also an autobiography, in which each chapter represents a memoir in the life of Crutcher.  Once students have learned about the basic characteristics and format of a memoir from Smile, they will be ready to move on the more sophisticated writing of Crutcher’s book.

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Conclusion

Blogs offer a world of possibilities for me as a teacher and for my students.  The rich variety of skills that can be learned through this format are well worth the time it takes to build a strong foundation of knowledge about blogging.  Although my next post may be a month or two in the future, I plan to implement blogs this year in all of my ELA classes.  I look forward to continuing this journey into educational technology and hope you all will continue to check in for future posts and to check my students’ progress.  And as always, if you know of a good book for young adult readers leave me a comment!  I love hearing about high interest literature to pass on to my students.

Best,

Mrs. Johnson

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