Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Shout

Shout, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Whoa. There is a lot to unpack here. I borrowed this book from the library, but I love it so much and plan to use some of the poems in my units next year, so I’m going to have to buy it.

I have a lot to say, but I want to split my thoughts up into sections that make sense because all of my thoughts are jumbled.

Classroom Use/ Library

This book and other books that address abuse, trauma, sexual violence etc. should absolutely sit on our shelves. I’ve written several times in this series of posts that our kids need to have access to books that they can 1.) see themselves in and 2.) see others in. What I love most about this book is that the reader can see what becomes of the survivor. She grows up and becomes an author and tells her story and raises kids and lives her life. Our kids who’ve suffered horrible things need to know that this can be in the cards for them, too.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, it is a memoir in verse<– two things our students probably don’t read enough of, but will fall in love with if they do. Memoir is a powerful genre that our students should be reading and writing in, and verse is an amazing vehicle for it. I find that reading in verse can lower the burden of length for students who don’t view themselves as successful readers. The pages flip faster, and this builds confidence. A student who likes this book might pick up other books from the author.

Personal Reflection

This book was both hard for me to read and too easy for me to understand. It is hard to relive familiar experiences. It’s easy for me to empathize with things I already know too well. I suspect that will be the case for many of my students who pick it up.

I love the complex characterization of her parents. Humanity is complex. We are complex. We forget that about people. I want to explore this more with my students. How can we love someone we know is flawed? What does it mean to love someone? Does it mean we should put ourselves in danger? (no).

In a lot of ways, I feel like she wrote the book I’ve wanted to write about my life. Of course, the books would be different. But she said so much of what I wanted the world to hear. Does that mean that I can breathe deep and move on? Or does the world need all of our stories?

I feel an uncomfortable dichotomy. When people suffer trauma and they don’t recover, others view them as victims, or they view them as weak. After a time, empathy breaks down. (If they ever received it at all, since so many people never report abuse and sexual violence). When people suffer trauma and manage to survive and even thrive, others minimize their pain. It frustrates me to the point of wanting to scream, but that would make me “weak”, so I’ll stick to blogs instead. 

CL

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Posted in English escapades, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Dear Martin

So, as I started reading this one, I didn’t love it initially. I’m a language person, but the language isn’t particularly beautiful. There isn’t a line in this book that rocked me or made me need it as a tattoo. I struggled with the male protagonist because of how he objectifies his female counterparts. In the first 10 pages, it was *almost* enough to turn me off completely.

But then…

I gave it a chance.

  • The male’s thoughts are pretty authentic. Honestly, it’s what I hear come out of the mouths of high school students in the hallway. I wish it weren’t the case, but here I am in 2019 admitting that people actually talk about others that way. If nothing else, it is an entry point for a conversation about how we talk about others. As I read the book, I tracked the character’s evolution not only in his ideas about his identity, but also in the way he related to his girlfriends and spoke/ thought about them. It was refreshing to see him grow in that way.
  • The language isn’t beautiful, but it isn’t bad. There is a LOT that a teacher could use in the classroom from this book.
    • The book is code-switching heaven. For any teacher wanting to focus on dialogue an dialect, this would be a great read. The narration is primarily in standard English, but the dialogue ranges from “teen speak” to various levels of cultural interaction depending on the social context of the scene.
    • The book is a mix of typical narrative writing/ script-style dialogue/ and of course, the letters to MLK Jr. Introducing students to books written in mix-ed genres is always fun, and a great way to cover multiple genres with one text.
    • The situations are realistic. The bring up questions that society and teenagers are asking. What does racism look like today? Who’s fault is it? What is “my” identity? Why does it matter? How does poverty affect my education? Am I a traitor if I…? If I am successful, am I betraying my family, my culture, etc.? There’s a lot of substance here. And it’s worth exploring.

Once I decided to give it a chance, I couldn’t put it down. There were points that it seemed like the protagonist just couldn’t “catch a break”. One might say that is for dramatic effect or to add to the plot, but I know for a fact that life really breaks that way for some people. Some of those people are my own students who just never seem to be able to break the cycle that was started long before they were born.

Here’s to them, and the strength to change what we can.

#bookreview #books #ELAR #English #BlackLivesMatter #WeNeedDiverseBooks #Teachers #Education

-CL

Posted in English escapades, professional development, teaching, Uncategorized

Summer Reading Series: Freak The Mighty

My 6th graders and I started this book as a read aloud, but then I missed 3 days of school for a family funeral and I assigned the rest of the book as independent reading. Little did they know I hadn’t read the book 😬😬😬 Kids read at different speeds, so as they got to the climax and began to then finish the book, I could tell it was GOOD! I kept telling them to remember not to spoil it for “the rest of the class” aka: me 😬😂 I finally had time to finish it this summer.

This one was really good. There were several things I didn’t see coming at all, and to be honest, after reading as many books as I have, patterns emerge. This one does some things I didn’t expect.

Another thought: I’ve seen that several #ELAR teachers read this book during their Hero’s Journey unit. In a way, I could see it being a best companion book to a literary analysis unit also… not just as a piece to analyze, but as a piece to learn from. The author weaves a King Arthur allusion throughout the book, but more importantly, the allusions are broken down and explained along the way. The piece analyzes itself in many ways. What could our students learn from that? 

-CL

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

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: 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, 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

Posted in teaching

New adventure, new look

Teaching is full of new adventures all the time. This summer has taken me from the school and department I’ve worked with for the last 3 years, and away from my beloved subject area: Spanish.

Next week, I start a new adventure teaching high school English.

But I hope you’ll follow along on my English escapades as well as my tech-ventures and occasional Spanish relapses. 

Oh man. I’ve had months to mourn my loss. I’m comfortable in the Spanish classroom. I’m in love, in fact. I’m in my zone; I’m on my game. I know the TEKS like the back of my hand; I know where the students struggle. I know where I can drive a point home to make an impression that lasts. It is my home, my happy place.

saying good bye
Saying good-bye to my beloved room 116 at CHS.

I’m still a little bit sad, but I’m looking forward to a new adventure. Here’s the truth:

  1. I’m a teacher. I’ve always been a teacher. And the subject area doesn’t matter. From middle school Spanish to Spanish Literature–I’ve done it. From 2nd grade to 8th grade math and 8th grade English–I’ve been there. The subject area isn’t really my passion. Teaching and learning is my undeniable passion.
  2. I’m looking forward to speaking the same language as most of my students again. Going from teaching mainly English speakers in Spanish, to teaching mainly English speakers in English is going to take down a huge barrier I’ve had to fight every school day of the last 5 school years.
  3. I love a challenge. The STAAR exam is a challenge. I learned an important lesson teaching AP Spanish (Lang & Lit): don’t waste time complaining about the test. There would have been no point in wasting time complaining to my team, to my students, and to their parents. There would have been no point in giving the students a time and place to complain. We had work to do… and we killed it with 100% participation, and 100% pass rates in both classes. I’ll add to this: while I had the very best students, they didn’t all come to me in the ways that we usually define as the “best”. They weren’t all rich, they weren’t all white (or all hispanic), they weren’t all well prepared, and several of them rarely experienced academic success. I’ve set goals going in to this position, and I’ve spent a lot of time analyzing the test, and the TEKS. A lot of teachers will say there are gaps, there are. A lot of teachers will talk about teaching to the test–but I know that it is not possible on this new generation of tests. To those teachers, I’d say that I’m not interested in all the reasons my students can’t be successful.
  4. I love a challenge, part 2. I’m getting to re-read literature I loved. I’m having to read the literature I pretended to read … I am having to learn new TEKS and a new set of expectations. It is a challenge and it has been a lot of fun.
  5. I’m a learner. Most of teaching is continuous learning. I believe that when I finally know everything, and no one can teach me anything, it will be time to retire. Of course, I wish all the people who’ve already gotten to that point would go ahead and retire too…

So, here on this blog, I’m going to keep on adventuring. I’m still @cwilsonspanish, and these are still the adventures of a Spanish teacher–because at my core, that’s what I’ll always be. But I hope you’ll follow along on my English escapades as well as my tech-ventures and occasional Spanish relapses.

To celebrate, I’ve updated the look on the blog, gotten a fresh and fancy domain name, and  connected my social media pages. Enjoy 🙂

-CL