Goodbye, My East Kiddos!

It has been so great getting to know and work with you all, and I hope that you will stay in touch and let me know how things are going for you.

Here are some pictures we took that last couple days of school, and I know that many of you still OWE me pictures!!! :-)

But, again, it has been great and I will miss each and every one of you!!!


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Greetings Class (4/28):

Yes, we're getting down to the end, and I hop you're enjoying the final written project -- the choice piece!

As I posted and discussed in class, I have the basic rubric and then you were going to complete the rubric with your groups. I offer the first part of the rubric because 1) I wanted to show you how to create them and 2) because these are basic standards of all good writing and things we've discussed throughout the year.

I post them here so you are able to refer to them as you draft and revise this final project.

Basic Rubric for Choice Piece (C.P.)
1) C.P. must have explicit or interpretable message, idea, theme, or lesson.
2) C.P. uses significant detail and is well supported
3) C.P. uses elements of writer's craft -- i.e. figurative language and / or plot elements
4) C.P. is relatively free of structural / grammatical errors

Remember, the other criteria on which you will be graded is something you and your group will help determine!

Also, for those of you writing short stories, here is the story map I promised:


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Today's prompt

We've read lots of books this year, so let's reflect on which one was our favorite and why. For this prompt, offer us your favorite book you've read this year, a very brief summary about what happens in the book (no spoilers) and briefly explain why you liked this book best.

This should be about TWO paragraphs of about 3-4 sentences in length.

Also, if you get this assignment done you can post a picture to supplement your blog entry.

My favorite book I've read is Saul Williams' poetry book entitled "She."

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Your Favorite Thing

This is your prompt, so please write and publish this in your blog!

Today, as we get reacquainted with our blogs in preparation for our next writing piece, I would like you to write a brief description of your favorite thing.

This can be your favorite thing to do. Your favorite song, movie or book. Your favorite animal. Hobby. Anything. Provide enough detail to write a full paragraph of at least 7 sentences.

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Interesting videos about a new world changing education

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Fun with Predictions

You're a literacy teacher looking for a way to talk about reading strategies, make that discussion accessible for students and hopefully engage them in the process.

One strategy you want to illustrate is prediction. The idea is that active readers use clues from the text to guess what is going to happen next. Then the reader gathers information from the text to confirm or not confirm that prediction. This helps make reading active and assists in making meaning.

-- If you want to use a Choose Your Own Adventure book to model predictions, continue reading below.

-- If you want to find another way because you think CYOA books aren't rigorous enough, click here

Last week I used a CYOA book (the one featured to the left) and found it to be very helpful. If you've read them before, you'll notice I modeled how it works above. If you haven't read one, then you'll likely be confused about what I'm talking about and should go get one and check it out. Then come back and read this post!

I read the story aloud to students and asked them to help me make decisions about where we should take the story next. When we came to a decision, I asked students to turn to the person next to them and discuss which is the best decision and why. Then I called on volunteers and usually quiet students to argue for us to make one choice over the other. Then we voted and moved on.

Before voting and prior to their discussions with their partners, I also asked students to talk about what they think will happen if we made one decision over the other. I wanted them to use what we've read so far to make guesses about the consequences of those decisions. Basically, "what clues do we have so far that make one decision over the other."

Students were engaged and begged me all week to continue reading so they could find out what happened. Students who normally don't engage during a think aloud (which we call "demos") had tons to say when called on, and our discussions were very rich. Honestly, these days were among the best moments I've had in my short career as an educator. Obviously, I couldn't talk about prediction through this book alone (it works very different for other texts), but using CYOA was a great way to introduce the concept and make the concept clear for many students -- and fun as well. And isn't that what we hope for during our lessons?

I know many teachers have used CYOA books before. I remember them when I was in high school. But I don't remember encountering anything that champions these books as a way to model reading strategies, so I am urging fellow Literacy teachers to give it a try and see if it works for them.

Additionally, I don't have any solid evidence of this, but I remember growing up there being this idea that CYOA books were "fake" books. It is too choppy and doesn't develop a sustained, deep plot riped for intellectual consumption bla bla bla. And I also remember CYOA being for students who didn't read much of anything. Students who if you got them to read a word on a page that was a huge success, and the hope that this was a gateway to "real" reading. (Note: if you clicked on the link above you'll notice what you find reflects my view of the views I am describing).

Certainly, a student shouldn't be narrowed into one genre. I wholeheartedly agree that students need exposure to many different types of text and need to develop skills to read a wide variety of text. However, CYOA books are fun for many, and they also resemble our hyperlink culture. Reading online is all about reading brief chunks of text and electing to advance our reading using a series of hyperlinked choices (i.e. places like wikipedia).

Because CYOA resembles online reading, I believe that is one reason why my students liked this book and could readily access it: it is how they (and WE) read nowadays. Furthermore, CYOA can show students how to actively make meaning with a text, and its structure is built for their participation!

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The poet Chris Leja

Chris is one of those students who inspire you to be a better teacher. He is also someone who inspires me to be a better poet!

One of the coolest things about my time at Polaris was watching the students get excited about poetry and, especially, poetry slams. We started a poetry club and did everything from read to each other to word ticket poetry to slams. Some of the greatest times I've ever had, and its no hyperbole, were working with these students and watching them thrive as poetry.

When I have the technology (seriously, a stupid little cord) I will post video of some Polaris students slamming last year.

Chris won the slam with the poem below, and in some lame twist of fate I wasn't there but was thinking about going! I knew he was in Fort Collins (he now is in college in Washington and was in town for winter break) but I didn't know he'd be there.

Luckily, I was still able to read it and it simply floors me! And I'm sure it will floor you as well!

by chris leja

Charlie was a soldier.
A rebel without a cause,
A poet without a pause
And one of the greatest tragedies I've ever encountered in my life,
The only man I've ever met who could make dying beautiful.
See, when Charlie got home from Iraq,
He borrowed, stole, Drank and smoked
Just to keep breathing. Because the weight of the world was a noose around his neck,
A boulder on his chest, crushing every breath,
And every step was a battlefield,
Between his dreams and his tragedy.
But Charlie was a soldier,
Depressed and isolated,
And every day he seemed to grow a little colder,
A little bolder,
And in his gaze you could see he was stressin' for aggression,
See, Charlie started to get this look on his face,
Like maybe God had overlooked him when he was handing down his graces,
So Charlie wanted a fight.
He fought with the trees,
And all of his dreams,
Tore them to shreds,
Left them for dead sunk in puddles of his blood.
But Charlie was a soldier,
And every day was a warzone.
So Charlie learned to speak with a swagger,
Learned to make every word a weapon.
He held his voice like a box of bullets under his breath,
Until he could only speak in threats.
But he wrote some of the most amazing poems I have ever read,
On the backs of old love letters,
And whenever I'd ask him why,
All he'd say was that "Ink never dies."
But Charlie prayed that in his vices he could find
Some previously unforeseen insight into the mind of God
And with a cigarette between his lips, he finally found it.
So he blew the world a farewell kiss,
And whispered, softly, "Life, you're beautiful. It's not you, it's me.
It's always been me. And I'm so sorry,
That every embrace leaves me feeling tawdry,
Like the world is clean, but I'm filthy.
Don't touch me, please.
I've got the blood of someone hopeful all over me."
So when he slashed his wrists,
He held them up to his lips
In a toast to life.
With that kitchen knife sunk an inch beneath his skin,
He embraced his sins And died with a smile on his lips.
Because Charlie was a soldier,
And with his veins cut like kite strings, he was finally free to fly.

Nobody cried at Charlie's funeral.
It didn't feel right.
Because Charlie was a soldier,
And he wouldn't have cried for us.

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Weekly Reflection (Jan 24, 2009)

Hopefully I keep up with this because it is a very good habit to start. Like I stress to the kiddos, if you don't reflect on your learning then it is as fleeting as trying to remember what you ate two weeks ago for lunch.

Right now we're studying how to Unlock Difficult Texts, so I'm revisiting active reading strategies we studied earlier, and I'm trying to show students how to know when they're actively reading versus merely looking at words. Active readers converse with text and interact with it, while passive readers see words, and while they may know some of those words, they are not making meaning.

I used a strategy from Cris Tovani's I Read It, But I Don't Get It to help show students how to monitor their reading. In it, Tovani provides a class text that features two students playing hooky and going back to one their homes to goof around. The text offers information about tall hedges hiding the house, thus cloaking it from view. The house is also miles away from the next house, has recently had new plumbing installed and has a dining room full of expensive china, silver and cut glass.

To show students the importance of knowing whether they are making meaning, you ask them to look for and mark important information in the text. This is deliberately vague and meant to underscore how readers need purpose when reading. Readers need to have some idea about what they are looking for before and while reading if they are to pull meaning out of it.

The next step is to have students look for information a burglar would think was important and information a homebuyer would find important. With this purpose, students see that a burglar would think the expensive items in the house are noteworthy, as well as it being secluded and far away from other houses. Then you have them look for information a homebuyer would find important, and students note the new plumbing, the size of the rooms and fresh coat of paint. Sometimes, both a burglar and homebuyer could find the same piece of information important, like its seclusion and distance from other houses.

This activity worked well for me. It was concrete for students, and it emphasized the importance of purpose for reading. It also inspired dialogue because nearly all students found ample amounts of information to add to the discussion.

The "House" text also emphasized how if we don't have purpose, we as readers are a bit aimless and don't know the relevance of what we are reading or how it connects to meaning.

P.A.S.S.I.V.E Reading

Building on the above, I started introducing strategies that are designed to offer students purpose. I attempted to be clever by creating an acronym that offers readers strategies for creating meaning by first establishing purpose. Thus I urge students not to be passive readers, but rather P.A.S.S.I.V.E readers. (Admittedly, this was and still is confusing for many students, but I plan on reinforcing the distinction).

P.A.S.S.I.V.E stands for Predict, Ask a Question, Stop and Think, Speed Up or Slow Down, Infer, Visualize and Establish a Connection. Again pulling from some of Tovani's ideas and strategies.

We rounded out this week focusing on Prediction. I used a video from YouTube to show how predicting while we are watching a short film can help us guess what is going to happen next and give us a purpose while viewing.

I showed the video below and stopped it at 3:00 and 4:34. Both times I asked them to predict what was going to happen and why they thought that.

Most students were able to predict that the trees would get married, and that the evil tree would attempt to cause havoc but that the good trees would win in the end. This activity allowed a great opportunity to show students the importance of predicting because through it they guessed what was going to happen next and was looking for it while they watched. We also were able to discuss how we build certain expectations given what we know about the text (or in this case film) before we read it. For example, many students noted that in Disney films the good guys always win, so we were able to discuss how previewing text helps us create meaning as well. It helps us make our predictions.

I then read aloud part of a book and showed them how I made a prediction, and I handed out post-it notes and had students make predictions in their own text.

However, while I think the activity worked well, my next challenge is to assure that students transfer this into their reading and don't make predictions without following through. Meaning, they have to actually look for parts in the text that confirms or negates that prediction. And it is important to emphasize that whether they got it "right" or not, prediction gives them purpose with their reading and offers them a path to making meaning.

At this point I notice many students still aren't seeing how prediction does this. Thus, my goal for this week is to follow up on the predictions I made earlier in my text and show them how it helps me make meaning.

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Slideshow of Our Classroom

You can expand it by clicking the arrows at the bottom right corner,
and you can click "Show Info" at the top right for information describing
each picture.

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I am

By Elnora Thomas
3/4 Block

I am awesome and gorgeous
I pretend I am a bubble-gum vomit pink Barbie
I feel warm like a Teddy Bear who accidentally got put in the dryer
I touch your heart with my love
I worry about tripping like a lifeless zombie
I cry like there's no tomorrow
I am awesome and gorgeous

I understand summer before winter
I say hello and you say goodbye
I dream of dancing on the stars with angels
I try to scare little kids who are brats and really deserve it
I hope to fly into the summer sky
and see the world outside my box
I am awesome and gorgeous!

Nori wrote this from a poetry frame (click on I Am ... in the left box) we used during freewrite -- she obviously revised it and changed it to suit her needs!

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My Master's Project: Learning to a Different Beat

To continue with my archiving flood, here is a link to the online version of my Master's Project. In it I make a case for using music as a way to foster a critical literacy among resistant students. While so much has changed in my views and experiences since I wrote it two years ago, I am still proud of the work I did and hope you find it useful.

My main target audience is teachers, but I imagine anyone interested in how music shapes our lives might find it somewhat interesting. I tried to balance some serious and complicated theory discussion with project and activity ideas and narratives and anecdotes.

I would be remiss if I didn't offer my thanks to my friend and mentor, Louann Reid, for her support and guidance -- not just with this project, but throughout my time in graduate school.

Louann, you are simply a wonderful person and a great mentor and I am eternally grateful for all you've done for me.


Also, I've linked a multigenre project I completed during one of my final semesters in grad school. I plan on posting an argument for multigenre projects, and some assignment sheets and examples in a later post, but for now here is one I did.

I post it because it makes a case for bridging the "digital divide" and might also be interesting for my teacher readership! I hope anyway...

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Power Point for Week of Jan 5

Here is a new feature that I hope to keep up with. In our class I use powerpoints to post daily Learning Targets and writing prompts. I've been wanting to post these because they might be handy for parents and students if the student missed an assignment. I also figure it is good to archive these sorts of things.

You will either need powerpoint or a powerpoint viewing software in order to view these files. You can go here to download the viewer.

I hope you find this a useful resource.

PP for wo Jan 5 (The link will also always be available in the title)

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Unit Learning Targets (01/05-01/30)

•I can define “revision” and why it is important for good writing
•I can use “writer’s craft” to appeal to my readers
•I can polish and revise a choice piece
•I can “unlock” difficult texts
•I can compare texts and find their similarities and differences


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