Sunday, September 15, 2013

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I read two wonderfully different books this week on the recommendation of a fellow teacher.  Both are for the more mature young adult or young adult reader, and both are wonderful!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstren – First paragraph:

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des RĂªves, and it is only open at night.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, is a highly enjoyable book about a magic competition, taking place within the setting of a mysterious circus.  Two players are pitted against one another in a competition without clear rules or even how to win.  Marco has intelligence and hard work on his side, while Celia has natural talent makes better connections with people.  Their feats of magic are well beyond simple illusions and tricks.  When they fall in love, it could not only destroy the circus and the people within it, but each other as well.  

There is little violence, almost no salty language or significant physical romance.  But it is a book for a mature reader, who can follow the plots as it weaves in and out over thirty years with little regard for following chronological time.  However, that is some of the magic of this book, as you are given hints of what is to come and only later come to find out why.

The characters are deep and rich and full of real life.  The circus and its amazing feats draw the reader in and make the impossible suddenly seem believable.  Just like a fantastic magic act, the reader knows there must be some trick, but they want to believe and thus, they do! 

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, is about a senior in high school who plans to kill his former best friend and then himself by the end of the day.  It is told in the raw and uncensored voice of Leonard Peacock as he goes through his school day, giving four presents to four friends before facing his ultimate “goal.”  As the day progresses, the reader is given glimpses of his pain, his previous hopes, and background with each of the people who were important in his life.  The reader follows Leonard deep into his depression, his uncertainty, his confusion about life and his part in it.   Very mature themes are in this book including consistent curse words, abuse, neglect, sexuality confusion, and of course a student walking around school with a gun and planning on killing a fellow student and himself.  But it is a book that many young adults will connect with as well, but they need to be ready to face these issues in their reading before they read this book.  I highly recommend it, but teachers/parents may want to read it before handing it to a middle school student.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Slice of Life September 3, 2013 -- Max's Class Reads!

Link up or read other Slices of Life at
“My dad's been trying to get me to read Of Mice and Men forever. At least now I have validation that it's good. The Clockwork Three sounds pretty interesting.”

The above quote is one of my favorites from my first week of school, and it is an online comment in response to another student’s blog post.  Teachers and parents can suggest good books until we are blue in the face, but a suggestion from a classmate is obviously better.

My class of twenty-two sixth, seventh and eighth-graders has entered the blogosphere, sharing and commenting on the books we love.  After some discussion about reading and the best books we’ve read, I guided my class through the process of starting a blog and how to share it on the class blog I created.  The assignment was to give an introduction of who they were as a person/reader, list their top three books of all time, and give a couple of sentences about each book. Then they had to comment of five other classmate’s posts.  Sounds simple enough in theory.

In practice, I’ve been building to this assignment all summer and this is only just scratching the surface of what I have planned.  I had never blogged or shared my writing online before Linda Baie helped me get started in June.  Since then, I’ve been consistently posting my Slices of Life on Tuesdays and intermittently posting on the “It’s Monday, What are you Reading?” blog as well.  I’ve been amazed at the positive reinforcement I felt from each page view and comment left on my posts and knew this was a tool I needed to experiment with this school year.  I have a class that is highly intellectual but almost 75% introverts, so verbal discussions were not as effective as I wanted last year.  Twelve of my students were in my class last year so a new way to reach out is very warranted.  After just the first assignment, reading their blogs and their comments, I feel like I know more about them as readers than I did all last year.  Kinda of sad looking towards the past, but pretty exciting contemplating this year.

In my school, in the middle school grades, we expect students to read a book a week.  Overall, that high standard sets a good tone, but there are plenty of students who struggle with reading, don’t like it, or who are too swamped with the rest of their work to achieve that standard.  I’ve generally asked students to write a short response on a note card, practicing correct bibliographical at the top and answering a question.  But it all felt somewhat contrived and I had plenty of real and suspected evidence that students were taking short cuts or just plain being dishonest about their reading. 

So my goal this year is to create a culture of reading in the class, where students are the ones doing most of the talking and sharing.  Since their general introversion leads to some very long wait times in my classroom, creating a blogging community seemed like a good idea to try.  We had plenty of hiccups in the computer lab trying to everyone started and we left Friday with only six students having posted and linked up.  Several were feeling frustrated as they tried to navigate the process of setting up an account and a blog and I just had to hope that their generation’s general skill with computers would work for me over the long weekend.  At this point, only one student did not link up, but she thought she did and left a comment with a link that did not work.  But I am excited and feeling like it is already more successful than I hoped it would be from the start.  Most students are commenting on more than the minimum five posts, and several are commenting on each post.  I’m interested to hear what they have to say Tuesday, but I may need to ask it in a blog post and ask for comments if they choose not to speak up verbally. 

My hope is that we are able to have real conversations about reading, both in class and online.  We can share books we love, share a little more about ourselves and get excited about reading in a new way.  I also have big plans to do some Slicing as a class and Tara's posts about student Slicing (especially last week's) are much of my inspiration.  So thanks to those of you who have helped me add this new tool to my teaching toolbox by creating this community and welcoming me along for the ride.  

And to answer the typical teacher question several you may have already asked in your head: Yes.  I created a new blog for this class and posted about myself as a reader and my favorite books and plan to do so weekly. :)