Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Long Way Down

So. In February, I walked in to a training on literature circles (5 min late) and the group was just finishing a read-aloud from this book. I didn’t actually hear any of the book; I just saw their faces. I knew then that I had to read the book. What followed was a discussion on the value of engaging options for students to read, student choice.
I’m also part of an ELAR teacher group on Facebook and this title regularly comes up!

 

I finished the book; then I offered it to my exchange daughter from Spain.  Before I started it that morning, I flipped to a random page with her, and we admired the fact that the book is written in verse. Then, I turned it into a read aloud, and ten pages later, I realized she was hooked. So, I closed the book. I read it, and that evening at dinner I offered it to her.

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Sitting there, she started to read. And flip page after page after page. #win
See, she was my kid for the year, but her mission here was education. I’m a language person, so I’ve been paying close attention. One thing her mom mentioned to me in the beginning was wanting her to read while she is here. Being a language learner and a teenager, I picked a couple of less complex but super engaging texts. She started both and set them aside. The picture below is from the book #180days, and the middle box could have been a direct quote from our girl: this bright, bilingual future lawyer hasn’t read a book cover-to-cover not assigned by a teacher in… a very long time, in either language.

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We talked about it this evening before she stole away with my book. She said that when she was little, she remembers going to a place to “rent” (borrow?) books and videos. The place still exists but nobody goes there.

Not every kid in the room is a non-reader because they lack skills. Sometimes it’s something else all together. It is more than the “readicide” referred to in the book 180 Days. It is a cultural shift away from following through.

Here’s what I mean. The micro-texts we spend hours a day consuming (memes, texts, comment sections, headlines), they don’t tell a full story. They aren’t developed. And in fact, the only reason we can enjoy those texts is because our brains can fill in the rest of the allusions and implied texts. But what about the people after us who have never followed a story’s pattern to its end? The micro-texts lose meaning.
I commented on this to my kiddo, and she said, “yeah. I’m reading all the time, but I’m not learning anything.” From the mouths of babes…

 

-CL

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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

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Kids turn into adults.

Well, as my mom would have put it: no shit, Sherlock. Kids turn into adults. Duh!

But these 8 years of public education have made me so much more aware of this seemingly obvious point. Gifted children turn in to gifted adults. Children with trauma turn into adults with trauma. Obvious, but disconcerting.

For two reasons, really:

(1) We are infinitely more compassionate toward children who are still learning to navigate the world given whatever conditions are present in their lives.

(2) Unfortunately, that compassion fades as said child reaches adulthood.

The second point is a no-brainer. But the problem is that many children don’t actually learn to navigate the world in their conditions.

I was a gifted kid that turned into a gifted adult. And what had been an advantage in my childhood has become a liability in my career. I see things others don’t. I say things others can’t wrap their minds around or don’t want to hear. People interpret my words with malicious intent if I point out a problem or suggest a solution because it threatens a balance of power. Self awareness. Self awareness. Self awareness. What was praised in my student-hood is undervalued in my work setting.

I didn’t really even know how to deal with myself until I began attending mandatory trainings for educators of gifted students. Because no one taught me about myself. Everyone else was taking notes on how to approach a child, and I was realizing that they knew more about me than I had ever been taught about myself. What an eerie feeling that was. But the self-awareness changed my life. I can mitigate what I know about.

The same was true when I learned about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE scores). I was learning about how trauma influences the behavior and health of a child and the resulting adult, and I was also learning about me.

Why do we keep the knowledge of self-awareness and understanding from children? I’m not advocating that every kid needs to know every thing, but I do think there is value in helping children understand who they are.

Because kids turn into adults.

Just a thought. -CL

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#whatimreading

#whatimreading #180days

This book is rocking my world so far. I just finished my 8th year of teaching and my 3rd year as an ELAR teacher. Teaching English has changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined 3 years ago. It brought me back to the reader and writer inside; it has renewed my passion. The last three years have taught me a lot about all the ways I can engage my students in authentic reading and writing, but this book is all about the one question I haven’t found a good answer to: how am I supposed to fit all this in?

Luckily, it looks like the authors have the same answer I do: you don’t.

I’m looking forward to reading more about the “how” and “why” of their decisions. The wheels are already turning in my head as I think about everything I want to share with my students next year and all they can share with me. ❤️

#teacher #english #elar

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

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New Year, New Semester

The spring semester is the busiest time of year for me as a teacher. I don’t necessarily mean that I’m physically more busy, though sometimes I am. The spring is more demanding of all my cognitive and emotional resources. If you know a teacher, that person likely feels the same way. Pray for us ❤️

What I used to dread has now become my favorite part of what I do. This part of the year is like a marathon I’m running until May, and by February I’ll be enjoying a runner’s high. I’ve spent today knee deep in theory trying to put together the best of all I’ve ever done to offer it to my kids. And you know what? I’m going to have fun. If it isn’t fun, then my job is boring, and I can promise you no one can accuse me of having a boring job.

Here’s to Spring.

-CL