Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Ghost Boys

I went to a training, and the presenter provided books for the “students” (us) to use while we participated in independent reading to use for reading/ writing journaling. 87 pages later, she asked for her book back 😂😂😂 So… I drove my happy butt to Barnes and Nobel and picked up their last copy.

 
It isn’t what I expected. I’d heard politically charged reviews, but reading it for myself was enlightening.

 
I wrote before about helping helping kids see themselves in books. That’s important. It is also important that we learn to see others, really see them. Books can help with that too. I’ve never lived most of the experiences or circumstances in the book. But at least, now I’ve read them through the eyes of a first person narrator. That’s a start.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Forged By Fire

This is the book that comes after Tears of a Tiger. I’ve started it, but a student asked to borrow my copy 2 years ago, and I let them have it without finishing it. Now, I’ve bought a new one, and I’m going to try again! Tears of a Tiger was good, but there was a lot I didn’t personally identify with. This book is a different story entirely. From the part I read before, I could sometimes see replacing the main character’s name with my own and calling it an autobiography… (not completely, but you get the point.) I look forward to helping some of my students find themselves in books, too.

The biggest mistake we can ever make is thinking we are alone in anything. If we can’t find a person to help dispel that myth, maybe we can give a kid a book instead. Shared experiences are powerful in delivering hope.

This book was… hard to read, but I couldn’t put it down. It tells of the wave upon wave of trauma that two young people suffer. This is a picture of my favorite page in the book—the last page. It is a sly reminder that giving a kid a book they see themselves in can maybe save their life. Give it a read: Forged By Fire.

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-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian

So… I read this book, and I loved it. The teenage narrator is authentic, and the book basically addresses nearly every contemporary issue a student might be seeing in the news these days. Poverty, “whiteness”, diversity, privilege, drug and alcohol abuse, death, Native American culture, racism, identity, and more. The book does a great job of presenting these issues authentically and in a way that a student book club would be able to tease them out and allow students to explore the topics further. It is full of gems of truth.

Something else I love is the inclusion of the narrator’s drawings. Yes, the book is partially illustrated! For reluctant readers, this is sure to draw them in even more.

When a book calls it out 😬😂

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When the teenage narrator accurately characterizes the teacher shortage in rural schools: 

If you are a human, you need to read this book. So much truth, so much wisdom, so much humor. There are a few awkward spots for adults, but for teens, it is spot-on. Read it!

***

After reading the book, I stumbled upon a debate on whether or not to recommend the book or use it in the classroom. There were two arguments worth noting (and plenty not worth the time).

1.) The author has had accusations placed against him for sexual harassment, and he has admitted to it.  Having been sexually harassed and abused myself, I honestly don’t know how I feel about the fact that I purchased the book and know that in some small way, I lined his pocketbook. I’m conflicted. (a.) The book is freaking beautiful. It needs to be read. (b.) Maybe people can change and his admission is a step toward that. (c.) Maybe I’m a dunce, and those who have boycotted his works are right.

2.) Secondly, the narrator and other characters repeatedly use terms like gay and faggot as derogatory terms. Some argue that given the book’s modern take on so many pertinent issues, it completely misses the mark on #LGBT issues. My only reservation with this argument is that I don’t know enough about Native American culture to know if these terms are still in regular use on reservations (where the main character lives). Maybe they are, and the usage represents the culture of the narrator. Maybe they aren’t, and Mr. Modern is stuck in 90s vernacular. I honestly don’t know. If it isn’t contextual, that is very disappointing.

The other arguments about the language (curse words) and the mention of masturbation make me roll my eyes. Clutch your pearls elsewhere; its a Young Adult read for a reason. If a teacher doesn’t feel comfortable using it as a whole-class selection in their context, I think it would still make a great literature circle, book club, or classroom library selection. Heck, I’d even read excerpts from it as read-alouds or passages to spur journal writing.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Sea Prayer

Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini

One of my favorite authors, Khaled Hosseini ❤️

This is a short illustrated story (basically a picture book) that humanizes the struggles of refugees. In fact, I think it would be a GREAT book to pair with Refugee by Alan Gratz. A teacher might even use this as a read aloud and point students to Gratz if they want more.

I love how books can show us another world. The narrator begins by describing memories of how his country had been before the war. The narration shows both the common thread of carefree childhood and the distinct cultural beauty of a place and its people. The narrator mourns the loss of a country and culture his son will never know in he same way he did.

I’ve read that books can cure fascism. That is because reading helps us develop empathy and compassion. Reading helps us live their experiences and see it from their perspectives.

“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies; the man who never reads lives only one.” -George R. R. Martin

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: The House on Mango Street

This summer, I’ve been reading lots of books both for leisure and professionally. After each one, I’ve been posting reviews/ thoughts on my instagram (follow me! Cwilsonspanish). I wanted to share those here, since they are basically blog posts!

Here’s today’s:

So, I finished The House on Mango Street last night. I started reading it because it was recommended multiple times by other English teachers. Looking back, I realize that I have read many excerpts from this novel in textbooks, and standardized tests, and just in the sharing of good literature. However, I realize that reading those excerpts gave me a false view of the book. What initially seemed to be a poignant and sometimes impressionistic view of childhood via excerpts is still that, but so much more. It is a look at being Latinx, at being poor, at being female, at having dreams in a dreamless place. The excerpts are beautiful, but cut from the context of the novel, they lose some of their complexity and power. The book is haunting. Genuine. Tragic. Real. It echoes in my life. It resounds in who I was and who I became and who I’m hoping to be.
Given the excerpts I’d previously read, I settled in for a beautiful but carefree read. I was way off base. The book is troubling. It should be. There are moments of such intensity in this book that left me gasping for air because I was breathless reliving the common experience of being a woman. I see now that this book has layers. A young reader will read it at face value and miss much. The mature reader, having background knowledge and experiences, will read between the lines. The mature reader will read a tragic but honest piece.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

The Speech I Didn’t Give

Tonight was our school’s 8th grade graduation. I’ve known these particular kiddos for just this one year, but with a 75 minute daily ELAR block and most of them taking my Spanish 1 class as well, I’ve gotten to know these 10 students as well as I’ve known any. I didn’t speak at tonight’s graduation, but if I had, I know just what I’d’ve said.

To my 8th graders:

Tonight’s graduation is just one of many you’ll sit through in your academic career. All of you will go on to high school graduation, and then upward and onward to other graduations, formal and informal. College graduations, certificate program graduations; graduations and commencements and milestones like driver’s ed and marriage and parenthood and student loan debt await you all. But tonight, we are here.

Tonight we are here to celebrate your commencement, your forward motion, into the next chapter of your life: high school. Any time you get ready to move on, move forward, I encourage you to take stock of what you are bringing with you. You have your suitcases packed. But what’s inside? Your K-8 education has equipped you with the basics. You can all read and write and “math”. But this year, we’ve done much more than equip you with the basics. 

I feel honored to teach in a state that values critical thinking. Our English Language Arts and Reading standards here in Texas push our students to do more than “know”. Our kids are encouraged to evaluate, synthesize, question, discern and most importantly: decide. If I’ve done my job right, I’ve created moments for you this year to take what you know, what you’ve been taught, what you’ve been given, bring it to the table and examine it closely. 

The purpose of this examination is not so that you will cast aside these building blocks of who you are, rather it is so that you will build a deeper understanding of who you are and what you believe. 

All of us here come to this place knowing what we are told. Your families have instilled in you values since your first breath here on Earth. Many of you are religious, and most of you are already vocal about your political leanings. However, this leap from the safety of K-8 education into the world of high school is not only an exciting time; it is the beginning of your adolescence. Your “teenage-hood’ is many things: it is fun and excitement and emotion and hormone and independence all rolled up into the most awkward freshman yearbook photo you can imagine… but it is more than that. These coming years are also the beginning of the season in your life when everyone questions who you are. Others will be asking, and you’ll be a step ahead if you know more than the “what”. You need to know the “why”. 

As we’ve examined readings from all sides, and you’ve been asked to write and explain and defend and counter-argue every point this year, I’ve been trying to bring you to this one understanding: today, here and now: you need to know where you stand and why you’re there. 

You guys are lucky, though you may not always feel that way in the coming years. Although I know your middle school team, Mr. Day, Mr. Oliver, Mrs. Cranfill, and me, has given you a solid start on evaluating the information you come across in your daily life, we all know that this is a process. What we’ve started, in partnership with your families, will continue. In fact, this process never really ends. You are lucky because each of you sits here today getting to explore these ideas in the safety of family. I said that you may not always “feel” lucky, and that is because sometimes we disagree with our parents. I promise you though, every one of the people in this room tonight is on your team. Even when you disagree, I encourage you to remember that. 

Tonight I’m looking out at one of the most interesting, entertaining, talented, intelligent, resilient, genuine groups of students I have ever had the privilege of teaching. I’m honored that our school, your parents, and yes, even you, have allowed me the privilege of teaching you this year. Thank you for that. Thank you for belly laughs and inside jokes and reminders that sometimes you know more than me. Thank you for rising to every challenge we’ve set before you. Thank you for your enthusiasm for learning. Thank you for the deep friendships you have amongst yourselves. As an adult, it is truly a blessing to watch young people love each other so deeply and so thoroughly and so freely. Lastly, and most importantly, thank each of you for being uniquely YOU. There is only one “you”, and the world desperately needs what you have to offer. I say that to each of you, and I mean every word. 

As you prepare to leave this place in 7 short school days, know that the future is everything that you imagine it to be. Now, go take the world by storm. 

-CL

Posted in English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching, Uncategorized

Mistakes vs. Choices

During a free write, I wrote this on the board.

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After I call time, I always share my writing and encourage anyone who wants to to share all or part of their writing. This time, I asked them to correct my work. They had a LOT to say. 

After taking a few suggestions, I posed this question:

Did I make mistakes? Or did I make choices?

There was a short, but spirited debate before I changed the question:

What was my purpose, and was it effective?

Clearly, I was trying to sound frantic. I intended to entertain my middle school students. And believe me, if you’d heard the dramatic reading I did of this piece, you would have been entertained, too, for sure! (They thought I had lost my mind!)

Eventually, they determined that I had made choices. This is when I introduced the term “craft”.

Author’s craft is all the choices we make when we create something.

So, I asked them:

What is on your paper: author’s craft, or author’s accident?

Circle one thing you chose to write, one choice you made on purpose because you knew it was good.

It was one of my favorite lessons so far this year.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching, Uncategorized

They Sing of Rain

We are studying poetry right now in my ELAR classes. Usually, I have my students write whatever genre we are reading, that way, I can give them effective mentor texts and strategies. Today, I taught a strategy called “free association” to help my students generate topics and ideas for a new poem in their individual collections.

Anytime they write, I write. Today, I came up with this:

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Posted in classroom management, English escapades, Lesson plan component, teaching

First day of school

I started a new teaching job. This year I’m teaching English, Spanish, and Theatre Arts at a small school. I’m mostly teaching 5th-8th grade, though I do have a specials rotation with 3rd abs 4th grade.

Every year I start my classes out basically the same way: students fill out info and goals sheets as bell work while I do first day attendance and housekeeping. Next, I do a basic introduction presentation and go over my syllabus. If there is time, we do the name game, and class promptly ends. Seven years. ~1000 kids.

This time, I did something different. Year 8 began with stations. I said hello, we made name tents, and off they went to 5 different stations. (1) student info and goal setting, #goals, (2) syllabus puzzle (using block posters) and syllabus quiz, (3) book tasting from my classroom library, (4) a reading survey, and (5) write a letter to yourself.

Doing something different has already changed everything about my class. I was able to teach my expectations by showing my students instead of telling them. They were able to experience my procedures for grouping and moving around the room. And, I got to see how and with whom they interact. It was a success.

-CL

Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

a little bitty star.

I want to reflect a little bit on last school year. It was hard, and I doubted myself a lot. I was a first year English teacher. I tried hard to project confidence. I really did. I comforted myself in the silence of the night by rocking back and forth and repeating “I taught Spanish Literature for college credit… I taught Spanish Literature for college credit.”   I had to force myself to believe that if I can get students to read 38 works of literature in one school year and earn college credit when they really didn’t want to do all that work… I could do anything, even this.

I started last school year with a post about all the reasons I could, and would do this job. But, for all the confidence I posted last year, each day and each month proceeded to break me a little bit more. Could I really do this? Were my kids learning? Would they pass their exam? In May when we got our results, I was elated and disappointed. If I’m honest, I was mostly disappointed. Our pass rates aren’t nearly what I am used to and what I expected. However, despite that, we improved by 10% or more in every category. I was bum-fuzzled to say the least. How do the kids improve in every. single. area. and still only the same number of them pass? I knew my kids had significant gaps… but hadn’t I worked to fill them all year long? Perhaps a school year isn’t enough time to fill years of gaps…

This summer I wracked my brain. I made changes. I beat myself up.

Then, in August, we got our State Accountability Ratings back. I was shocked to learn that our campus had earned a distinction in ELA / Reading. We only have 2 English teachers in our high school. Between the upper division teacher taking on and encouraging more dual credit students, and pushing them to earn credit, and the incredible reading / writing growth in my 9th and 10th graders… this is what I saw:

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I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t cry. I cried. I freaked out. I jumped up and down a little.

Our campus only earned this one distinction this year. Although we are consistently considered one of the better schools in our area, the standards for this distinction are very, very high. Additionally, our campus has never, in the history of distinctions (since 2002), earned the ELA/ Reading distinction. 

This little star restored my hope and my confidence that what I am doing/ and did do works. This little star is actually a really big deal. This is the culmination of every crappy day last year, every email dealing with another parent unsure of my methods, every fight with a student, every doubt, and every kid/ parent/ colleague who occasionally thought I had fallen off my rocker.

This little star holds every student who came to school and pushed their limits in grades 9-12, every teacher/ coach/ sponsor who pushed literacy and writing techniques and encouraged kids to focus on school, and every parent who made their kid show up and buck up. This little star is the STARt of something big.

My home is Spanish, but my home away from home isn’t so bad after all. 

-CL