Thursday, November 18, 2010 says I know what I'm doing

I've posted recently about using classroom read-alouds to foster a love of reading in my students.  Of course, it's not completely unselfish...I love reading, I love reading good books, and I love watching my class fall in love with a book.  I also know it's good practice, but every once in awhile it's nice to have an outside reminder that you're doing the right thing.  A recent article did just that for me.

"The Read Aloud Experience", by Cathy Puett Miller, touts reading aloud to students as the way to move students from learning and practicing discrete skills (phonemic awareness, phonics, etc) to being engaged readers.  In the article, she lists the components of "good practice" read alouds.  I was pretty happy to see that I hit these.  Here are her recommendations and what it looks like in my classroom:

  • "Read aloud for at least 15-20 minutes a day, at the same time(s) each day."  We read for about 15 minutes each day, sometimes a little longer, right after lunch.  Check!  
  • "Present the read aloud as an enjoyable experience, not as a 'learning opportunity'." Our read aloud isn't tied to our curriculum, it's purely for the joy of listening.  If possible, I'll refer back to something from our story if it comes up in a class, but that's not the goal.  One thing she suggests that I don't regularly do is incorporating a variety of material...newspaper, poetry, etc.  I can remember loving Shel Silverstein's poetry as a kid...I ought to drag out my kids' old Silverstein anthologies.
  • "Choose materials of interest to your students and think outside of the box." You'll have to read the actual article if you want specifics for any of these, but I'm not as on target with this one.  I don't give my kids a choice, as she suggests, though I do choose material that's above their reading level--for me, that's half the point.  I don't choose books that connect with content learning, though as I mentioned above, I'll certainly link to it during instruction--or link to instruction during the story--where appropriate.  Check!
  • "Introduce new vocabulary in at least one daily read aloud session." Because the stories I read are above my students' reading levels, and because some of them come from homes where vocabulary and experience are somewhat limited, we come across lots and lots of words they don't know.  So we stop frequently and talk about the new words.  Today, we even came across a word I didn't know (galluses), so then we had to stop and look it up.  Check!
  • "Make it your aim to turn reading from a chore into an adventure." She goes on to say, "The cardinal sin is to have no interruptions and little expression."  My cooperating teacher, when I student taught, told me I was one of the best questioners she'd ever heard.  My current student teacher said the same thing.  We stop a lot to talk about what's happening, why someone is acting that way, etc.  And there's expression to spare, both from my voice and my hands.  :)  Check!
  •  "Close the read aloud session at a cliffhanger moment." Always!  Sometimes I end up reading extra just to find a good stopping point.  I love it when I stop and they say, "No!....just a little more!!" Check!
  If you're teacher or a parent, I'd encourage you to check out the full article at the link above.  Lots of good information and a few additional resources.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wish list

A short list of books I'd like to read.  Most of these are books that have caught my eye at the store.  It's mostly so I don't forget, but I'd welcome any suggestions.

  • The Happiness Project
  • Once a Runner, by John L. Parker, Jr.
  • Teach Like a Champion--I want to buy this every time I see it at the store, but I know it's cheaper on Amazon.  But then I never get around to ordering it.  So I want to buy it every time I see it at the store.  And so on.
  • Half Broke Horses, by Jeannette Walls
  • Her Fearful Symmetry, by Audrey Niffenegger
  • Sara Gruen's other books--I've read Ape House and Water for Elephants and loved them.
  • Passing Strange--think I heard about it on NPR
  • The Cookbook Collector--another NPR suggestion
  • Stolen Horses, by Dan O'Brian
  • Juliet, Naked, by Nick Hornby
  • I noticed Stephen King has another collection of short stories out.  I'm thinking I'll buy it for my son and read it first.  That's what I did with The Dome.  :D

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Book Review: The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs

I read and reviewed this book in March 2009, and it still sits on my "keeper shelf".

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As PossibleThe Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible As Literally As Possible by A.J. Jacobs

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a book club pick. I had previously read Jacobs' book The Know-It-All, about his experience reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. I thought that book was funny but often found the author habit of overthinking everything annoying. I guess I expected the same thing from Living Biblically, but it was a pleasant surprise to me.

I was quickly caught up in Jacobs' evolving view of religion and was intrigued to see where his beliefs would fall at the end of the experience. His emphasis on following the entire Bible, particularly the more obscure laws led to a lot of funny incidents (and the revelation that his wife is a paragon of spousal tolerance!), but he never made fun of his subject(s) and occasionally came up with something profound (or quoted someone else's profound observation).

Rather than "go it alone", he had a team of Biblical experts from different traditions to help with understanding the context of the Bible passages he was exploring. I learned a lot about the Bible--or, at least, I learned a lot about different views and interpretations regarding the Bible.

The bulk of the book relates to Jacobs' exploration of the Old Testament. Towards the end he also delved into the New Testament. I thought this segment of the book was weaker, which is maybe not so surprising seeing the author's background as an agnostic Jew. It gave an interesting look at some fundamentalist Christian organizations...some of which were pretty surprising...but this section didn't have near the depth of the rest of the book.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading the book, following the author's progress and misadventures, and just seeing the way that the idea played out.

Verdict: Definitely worth reading.

Giving it another try

My brother gave me The Echo Maker, by Richard Powers, for Christmas back in 2008. According to the cover, it's a Pulitzer Prize Finalist. I've started it a couple times but never gotten into it. I think I was on the elliptical machine at the gym last time I tried, so maybe it's just not a good exercise book. I'll be at my son's volleyball tournament all day with lots of downtime, so maybe this time I'll read enough to get into it.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Fostering a love of reading...or trying to

I always usually love my job, but Wednesday was one of those days when I really loved my job.    I love books.  I love to read.  I loved to read to my boys.    I want, more than anything, for my students to develop a love of reading.  Books have been so much to, entertainment, education (those smutty romance novels were quite an education!).  If my students love being read to, they'll be much more motivated to learn to read.  If they can learn to read proficiently, they'll be able to access all the benefits of reading.

 Every day, I read a section of a chapter book to my class.The first book we read was The Swiss Family Robinson.  They loved it.  Lots of adventure.  Lots of animals.  Every year, we read The Indian in the Cupboard.  These are a couple of the books that I read to my boys, but this year I also wanted to read them some of the books that I loved as a girl.  So after The Swiss Family Robinson, we moved on to Little House in the Big Woods.  The first chapter or so, I was wondering what the heck I'd been thinking.  It was kind of slow.  Not much happened.  But then I started to see some great connections we could talk about between the family marooned on a previously uninhabited island and the family living alone in the middle of Wisconsin with no one around.  And the kids really have taken to the book.  Yesterday, as I was ending for the day (I always try to leave off right as something is about to happen), the kids were complaining, "No!  Can't you just read a little more?"  (Love it!)

"No," I told them.  "We have to do math."

"Ohhh," said E.  "I hope this book never gets over.  I love it!"

I don't need any kind of award or recognition for the rest of my life: that was enough right there. :)  And, of course, she'll be getting Little House on the Prairie for Christmas.  I just hope someone will read it to her.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Not spongeworthy

OK, I looked on youtube for a clip from the "Spongeworthy" Seinfeld episode and couldn't find one. I haven't watched the show in about 13 years, but I still use that term...and my non-Seinfeld-watching husband always looks at me like I'm an idiot. As you may be if you never watched the show. So, if you're one of "those" people, instead of spongeworthy, insert the term blogworthy. As in, the following books weren't worth a blog post of their own.

Mistress of Rome by Kate Quinn

Entertaining, somewhat smutty fun.  Will never be mistaken for great (or even good) literature, but it was an easy read.

Good beach read.

Faithful Heart by Al Lacy

Christian romance novel set in the old West.  I like Christian novels.  There are some wonderful authors writing for the Christian market.  Al Lacy, at least based on this book, is not one of them.  Lame plot, poorly written, underdeveloped characters, and a story full of "tell, don't show". 

Don't bother.

The Wordy Shipmates by Sarah Vowell

Since Vowell is a contributor to This American Life, one of my all-time favorite radio programs, and because I'm something of a nerd, I was excited to find her book on clearance.  The story is about the Puritan settlers from just before their trip across the Atlantic through their settlement in America and dealings with each other and the Native Americans already here.  Vowell uses quotes from Puritan writings (of which there were a lot, hence the title) to illuminate this feisty group.

Lots of good information and an interesting concept, but it was a slow read.  Definitely not a book that grabs you and keeps you on the edge of your seat.  Worth reading, but not, you know, when you're driving or otherwise need to stay awake. 

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand
When a married couple at the center of a close-knit group of friends is lost at sea, what exactly happened is a mystery.  The point of view rotates among each of the surviving characters, and we gradually learn that this group was more intertwined that any of them even realized.  As the story progresses, the history of the group is unveiled.
This book managed to keep my attention (which really isn't such a difficult feat, but it seems like I'm always saying in reviews that a book was hard to get into or stay interested in).  The characters were well-drawn as were the relationship among the individuals in the group of friends as well as the group dynamic, and the mystery surrounding the circumstances of the shipwreck kept me interested.
Interested, but not riveted, which is what I really want in a book.  Worth reading if there's nothing better on your bookshelf.

Best Friends Forever by Jennifer Weiner
I have really enjoyed some of Weiner's books, but after a while, they all seem to sound the same.  My thought on the Weiner-Franzenfreude brouhaha: he may or may not be a "white male literary darling" of the New York Post, but the reason that books like those of Weiner and Picoult are "overlooked" isn't their general topic or the fact that they're written by women; it's that if you've read one of theirs, you've pretty much read the others.  Only the details change.
And don't get me wrong--I have read books by both Jennifer Weiner and Jodi Picoult that I have loved, that have kept me on the edge of my seat (OK, in Weiner's case it was the movie version of In Her Shoes; I haven't actually read the book yet.  But Picoult's The Pact was a powerful, disturbing book that I thought about long after closing it).  I just don't know that they qualify as "great literature".  That's fine.  They're wonderfully readable and enjoyable books.
Anyway...Best Friends Forever...formerly chubby main character (FCMC), though she's lost a ton of weight and has a cool job, still lives alone in her parents' former house, where her former best friend (FBFF) comes knocking on the door one night after their class reunion.  FBFF (despite having betrayed FCMC back in high school when FCMC was only looking out for FBFF) is in a bit of a bind, fearing that she may have accidentally killed one of their former classmates.  FCMC warily agrees to help out FBFF, and they make the rounds of some additional former classmates trying to figure out if the guy is still alive or what.  Meanwhile, still vulnerable divorced cop (FVDC) is investigating a blood trail from the reunion site.  If that preview isn't enough for you, read the book.
Not one of her best, but it's OK.

Hearts in Atlantis by Stephen King

Believe it or not, the king of horror wrote a bit of a snoozer here.  It was OK.  Growing up, Vietnam War, a little spooky stuff thrown in there.  Say what you will about King's genre, he writes some serious page-turners.  And he writes so well that no matter how crazy his topic, you believe it.  The man had me sleeping with my mattress on the floor (you know, so I knew there was nothing under it) for years after It (AKA scariest. book. ever).  This so much.

Verdict: Skip it and reread The Stand.

Candy Girl: AYear in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper by Diablo Cody

The writer of Juno regales us with tales from her year working in the sex industry.  Funny at times, disturbing at others (serious ewwww factor comes into play with stories of a regular who frequents the peep show windows she works at for a while), Candy Girl leaves no doubt that stripping is not the glamorous life it might appear to be.

Verdict: Yeah, read it.  Be prepared to scrub your mental viewscreen afterwards with Lysol, though.

My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands by Chelsea Handler

I expected more from someone who is supposed to be so funny (I'm not a big TV watcher, so I don't know from personal experience).  There were a couple of laugh out loud moments in the book, but overall the stories ranged from "Your poor parents..."  If I'm identifying with the parents of the my-age person narrating the story...not a good sign for me.

Verdict: Skip it.  Watch her on TV if she's funny there.