Tuesday, August 30, 2011

top ten

Summer 2011 Top Ten (Working) List

#10 Late night TV - I really didn't start this until last week. I stayed up wayyyy late most of this summer doing other things - surfing internet, reading, Angry Birds, Netflix movies, etc. The best late night TV for me is Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" marathons on the Travel Channel (like right now when I'm typing #1 through 6 and 10).

#7 - Time alone, solitude, no need to take care of someone else, to fix something for something else, to do something for someone else. Time to think, rest, make decisions, plan, dream. Maybe I need this time alone more than others because I'm an only child (who is raising an only child). Summer is my sabbatical.

#6 - Knitting - I finished a purple hat and started a scarf. I started the hat at the end of June, right after I learned how to knit by watching YouTube videos. Occasionally I picked it up, knitted a few rows, stopped because I was bored. Then a few weeks ago I finished it in a huff and was so enamored with (the idea of) my handiwork that I started a scarf (that will be a surprise gift for someone) and bought more yarn to knit another hat, more scarves, and a tie. I knitted so much this past weekend that by Saturday night bedtime the muscles in my forearms and the back of my hands started to tingle, and I woke up with searing aching muscle pain in those parts in the middle of the night and needed an ibuprofen to get back to sleep. There is something really special about creating a common but utilitarian object.

#5 - Time with my daughter, to hang out and do nothing at home, to drive her to violin lessons/piano lessons/soccer games/playdates, to watch her aggressive nature (usually not evident) materialize on the soccer field and in the swimming pool, to obsess about nail polish and give ourselves mani's and pedi's in our home "salon", to watch her immersed in reading books, to shop at the malls and discuss/debate fashion styles, to cook lunches and dinners for her, and so forth.

#4 - Summer cooking, using a lot of summer veggies from local farms; favorite dishes include cabbage tomato soup, salsa, tuna fish cucumber boats, 

#3 - Writing workshop with two friends that resulted in about 30 handwritten pages of stories of my childhood in Taiwan

#2 - Reading 23 books - including Forever, Beauty Queens, Athletic Shorts, and many picture books by Jane Yolen and Allen Say (prompted by my participation in the Book-a-day challenge and the 2011 Reading Challenge on Goodreads.com)

#1 - New England vacation in early July, our road trip through New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts.

Friday, August 26, 2011

the main event

That's my 10 year old in Barnes and Noble today, not too old for Knuffle Bunny or a fluffy bow hair clip.

The Main Event of this blog is my teaching life, so you may be happy to hear that I am mostly prepared for September. I learned a few days ago that the remedial ELA course I teach will not be an every other day class, but once every four days, I will teach twice as many students as last year (current count: 165), and I will teach 6th grade in addition to 7th and 8th. So that big news pushed my work brain into high gear, and, regardless of the circumstances of this change, I'm mostly ready!

I'm going to focus on (approximately) monthly topics, starting with literary elements review, followed by a different literary genre each month (short stories, poetry, informational text, editorial/opinion text, drama). Test-taking strategies and practice will precede our state assessment. (When IS the ELA assessment anyway? The state education website is a nightmare to navigate; I can't find the date anywhere, but a friend said mid-April, immediately following spring recess. Of course.)

To help students stay organized in a course that they attend once every four days (i.e. about five times a month), I'm creating study packets for each monthly unit that contain important terms, puzzles for vocabulary practice, spelling, reading practice, and grammar. Classroom instruction will focus on "big ideas" from the unit and hands-on activities to practice substantive knowledge and skills. Each unit concludes with a test that will be the basis for student/teacher conferences and the letter grades I give each report card cycle.

What I'm giving up, at least in the foreseeable future, due to the big changes in my course schedule: helping students with assignments in their "regular" ELA classes. What I don't want to give up: support their independent reading. I have to think about it a lot more, possibly work in my own book talks at the end of every class, or make book review posters for different rooms where I teach. (Yes, I'll be traveling again.)

Saturday, August 13, 2011

2011 Reading Challenge

Thanks to Goodreads, I'm even more immersed in books now than when I first started the Book-a-day challenge about 2 weeks ago! I've pledged to read 100 books this year, and based on my best estimation (thanks to Library Thing, which I used until I became active in Goodreads), I've read 31 books already. Eleven of those 31 are "picture books" that I read to keep up with Book-a-day, and I'm delighted to increase my knowledge of children's books and writers. (Many thanks to my public library for facilitating this reading pace!)

In addition to finding book recommendations on Goodreads, I share my reviews and reading updates ALL OVER THE PLACE - on this blog using widgets, plus Twitter and Facebook! I LOVE WIDGETS! I don't understand HTML code (or whatever else programming is involved) at all, but I know enough to plug those widgets here! I think I joined the Goodreads 2011 Reading Challenge primarily to use the widget, haha.

Now that you can see my current book reviews and updates in the lovely widgets on the right side of this page, I need to figure out if and how I want to write book review posts on this blog. Stay tuned!

Small note about back-to-school - My first official work day is September 6, even though I plan to set up my room before then. Students start school September 7. That's 3 more weeks...

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

the antidote

Last night I learned from a teacher/blogger/friend that some of our high stakes/standardized ELA and math test scores had been released, so an online search yielded the stats - proficiency rates of every school in New York State. Many hours of dejected thoughts and counter thoughts followed.

Books are the antidote, as you probably know. Here's my Book-a-Day progress: After a short stall ( also called the weekend, when I couldn't find the time or brainpower to read American Gods), I recharged on children's picture books. (I'm on Goodreads and have reviewed all these books, so I need to find out how to connect those reviews to this blog directly. Stay tuned.)

Grandfather's Journey by Allen Say
The Lion and the Mouse by Jerry Pinkney
Queen of the Falls by Chris van Allsburg
Good Griselle by Jane Yolen
We Are America: a tribute from the heart by Walter Dean Myers and Christopher Myers

I also started reading Athletic Shorts, a collection of short stories by Chris Crutcher. I've only read the first story "A Brief Moment in the Life of Angus Bethune" - utterly heartbreaking and humorous. How does Chris Crutcher DO that?! (I repeated that question over and over in my head when I read Whale Talk. I can't think of a suitable way to book talk Whale Talk to my 7th and 8th grade students, but MAYBE I can manage a few of these short stories.)

Sunday, August 7, 2011


My first school dream of the new school year was this past Friday night. I was in a large chaotic classroom with a co-teacher, and neither of us knew what we were doing. Oh well!

Book-a-day update - I was gangbusters for a few days. After Girl who was on Fire, I read Elephant Run (fascinating historical fiction set in Burma during Japanese occupation/World War II), Rapunzel's Revenge (fun graphic novel), Teen Angst? Naaah... (very funny memoir by Ned Vizzini), and Demigods and Monsters (essays about Percy Jackson series, a few really interesting ones, several ho-hums).

Then I hit a wall. I wanted a solid novel, a great story, something challenging and important, so I started American Gods that I had borrowed from a friend a month ago. I felt like the last person on Earth who had not read any Neil Gaiman books, even though I enjoy reading his tweets and know his fans are LEGION. (I just can't bear to read The Graveyard Book. I tried but couldn't read more than a few pages. I think the premise is too gruesome and unbearable for me personally.) It's hard to describe what I think and feel about American Gods so far - it's NOT a fast read, can we all agree? But it's interesting, and I want to continue, so Book-a-day is more or less in limbo. I can read picture books to fill in, but why bother with formality? I am reading a book every day, the same book, until I finish.