Posts from my previous blog. Please browse, read, comment as you wish. New posts will only appear on Books, Bytes, Blog.
"You can't fit a square peg into a round hole."
We've all heard that expression, and as teachers we tend to classify children as round or square - they fit in the hole or they don't, they understand or they don't.
But what about the children who don't fit in either category? The ones who don't follow either path.
Last week, during a lesson on social media, I asked a 6th class how they would describe Twitter to someone who had never heard of it before.
The answer from the boy waving his hand in the back of the room? "Very, very carefully."
After the laughter stopped, I rephrased the question and the same child was able to provide the answer I was seeking. He understood the question, he knew the answer, and he knew exactly what I was looking to hear. But he chose to take it in a different direction. He is not round, he is not square - he is a triangle.
Did this child's answer benefit the class? Probably, because it forced me to use precise verbiage. The second time I asked the question I knew that every child in the room understood it.
Triangles are creative, bright, add dimension to our classroom, and cause us to be a bit more thoughtful in what we say and do.
They also take our classes off on tangential romps, they hijack focus, they disrupt.
Our job is to harness the triangles and aim their energy into the task at hand. Much easier said than done. Triangles don't always respond to traditional teacher tactics, and more often than not they delight in the attention they bring to themselves. It's challenging, especially when we have to admit that a student noticed a facet of our question/lesson/activity that we failed to foresee.
But that is the beauty of the triangles.
By causing us to consider another meaning, another opinion, another path, they figuratively push the button that prompts us to reevaluate our thinking and our teaching.
Dealing with the triangles can be difficult and sometimes we do need to shut them down. But if we try to view them as an asset and can channel their triangleness in the right direction, it can benefit everyone in the room.
So the next time "that child" brings your lesson to a crashing halt - take a deep breath, think "Triangle!", grab the reins and hang on.
Look at the three linemen in the picture. Specifically the one furthest away.
Do you notice anything unusual?
My son sent me this picture with no explanation.
I was able to pick him out immediately - that child who gave rise to many sleepless nights, refined our parenting skills, caused us to consider carefully how we stated things, and taught us that a leap of faith - whether literal or figurative - can indeed end well.
He is not round, nor is he square. This child is our triangle.
Inspiration can come from the tiniest slivers of your day. A colleague told me not long ago that I should make a favorite things list, “You know, like Oprah. You always have the good stuff here in the Media Center.” On a lark, I sat down to make a list and as I wrote I realized that I am the Sally Albright of school supplies. Perhaps I need some help. In the meantime, below is my list.
Note: These endorsements were not requested nor have I received any compensation. All opinions are strictly my own.
Mrs. Porter’s Favorite Things – School Supplies Edition
· Ticonderoga® Pencils – Seriously, ask any teacher, there truly is no better pencil. You don’t even have to turn them around in the pencil sharpener to get the wood to grind down evenly.
· My First Ticonderoga® - For those who need/prefer a chunkier pencil
· Paper Mate® Clearpoint® Pencils - For your automatic pencil needs. 0.5, 0.7, and 0.9mm lead options
· Large White Pentel® Hi-Polymer Block Erasers - The paper is new again.
· Paper Mate® Ink Joy® Retractable Pens – Offered in an incredible array of colors
· Staedtler Triplus® Fine Tip Pens – Perfect for grading
· Quartet® Liquid Ink Dry-Erase Markers – Chisel tip! Deep colors! Erases well.
· Scotch®600 Transparent Tape – Comes in 1” and 3” core. It truly is clear and is the item that sparked the comment from my colleague.
· Staples® Bright White Laser Paper – Looks and feels crisp. It’s a heavier weight than most printer paper, which makes it stand out.
· WausauTMAstrobrights® Colored Paper – Deeper colors, if I’m using colored paper, it should stand out. You will not find pastel paper in our Media Center
· Tru-Ray® Sulfite Construction Paper – Smooth. None of those weird chunks of fiber you find in other construction papers.
· Staples®Paperclips – I prefer the gold, but metallic is a close second. This applies to both standard and jumbo sizes.
· Sharpie® Accent® Liquid Highlighters – Cap top, not the retractable. Foray® is an acceptable substitute, but Sharpie® is definitely preferred.
· Post-It® Brand Notes – No substitutions here. The size, color, and shape options boggle the mind. I even have templates to print custom notes.
So there you have it, my favorite things. Have fun stocking up!
"It must be nice to have the summers off."
If I had a nickel for every time I heard that or some variation on the theme, I could retire. I do believe it is the single most irritating phrase one could utter to a teacher. That said, it is nice to have the summer off. What do I do with all of this free time over 8 glorious weeks?
It is a little over half way through 2014 and I have decided to revisit my New Year's Resolutions and see how I am doing. My resolutions are below, along with some commentary on my progress.
I resolve that in 2014...
1. I will regularly post to my blog with the goal of at least one new blog post per week.
This lasted about 6 posts. I am using this mid-year review as a chance to jump-start the process.
2. I will post one picture a day to my 365 Project account to create a visual record of 2014.
This did not even last a week. I do take many pictures, but tend to be organic instead of organized when it comes to timing. Lesson learned.
3. I will keep a record of the books I read on Goodreads including a written review of some sort not just stars.
Success!!! I have accomplished this goal and in the process have recorded and briefly reviewed 60 books since January 1st. It is a great way to hold myself accountable for what I read. As an added bonus I found that some of my students were using my Goodreads page as a suggestion list. :)
4. I will not feel compelled to join every social media site on the planet just to try to keep up with the teeming hordes. I will just use the media which make sense in the context of my personal and professional life.
Check. This goal was easy as there are only 24 hours in the day and I do not want to spend all the waking ones online. I am on Facebook primarily for personal use, Twitter for keeping up with my Professional Learning Community, Pinterest to archive/curate resources for students and teachers at my school, and Instagram as a means of occasionally sharing photos with family and a few close friends. According to the Journal of Clinical Psychology and Forbes Magazine, approximately 8% of people achieve their New Year's resolutions and 49% of people achieve infrequent success so I choose to feel good about what I've accomplished.
I am a middle school library media specialist. I am also a member of the Black-Eyed Susan Committee (Maryland state book award) for 6th – 9th grade. As such, I read a large number of middle grade fiction and non-fiction books and express my honest opinions of those books to both children and adults. Last night, as I updated my Goodreads account I decided to read what others have written about books I’ve recently read and I was a bit taken aback by some of the reviews. Apparently there are adult readers writing negative reviews of books for seeming juvenile. I’ll say that again, some adult reviewers are writing negative reviews of young adult and middle grade books for being too juvenile.
In a book targeted at a teen audience the language, the action, the thought processes, the drama, the angst of the characters, and the style of writing and presenting information are all going to be (or should be) geared to the tastes of teens - NOT adults. My students are increasingly more sophisticated in some ways, but their life experience and exposure to history is still quite limited when compared with that of most adults. Certain plot twists may seem obvious to an adult, but to a 13-year-old they may be fresh and unexpected. Short bites of information may seem lacking in depth to someone with background knowledge of the subject, but to those for whom this is new information it may be the right amount for them to process.
I am not saying that there are not books deserving of low ratings, but to knock them for catering to the intended audience seems unfair. While adults may read and enjoy YA fiction and non-fiction, they should be mindful that young adult books are written for young adults and in my opinion, should judge books through the lens of the those for whom the book was written.
1. You can move the keyboard on an iPad to the middle of the screen by holding down the keyboard button and clicking "Undock".
When I was showing students how to split the keyboard on their iPads to better facilitate typing to the "Text" Generation, one of them chimed in, "You can move it up the screen too!" We hooked his iPad up to the SmartBoard and he did a demonstration for the class
2. There several teachers in our school who are familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan tunes.
The Elements app by Touch Press has a feature you can use to listen to Tom Lehrer's Element Song. The science teacher and I found that if we played it for the group at the beginning of class it saved a lot of time and cacophony. We had several teachers who walked by our open space media center as we were playing the song and ask "Gilbert and Sullivan?" The kids thought that Gilbert and Sullivan were scientists. Next year we'll have to get the music department involved with the 8th grade chemistry unit!
3. Children are shocked that the names of chemical elements are much the same in Japanese as they are in English.
The Elements app has the option to listen to the Element Song in either English or Japanese. The science teacher told our students that if they worked hard, we would play the Japanese version for them at the end of class. Burning question from all 6 classes: "Why are the words mostly the same in Japanese?" Next year we'll have to get the Language Arts teachers involved with the 8th grade chemistry unit!
4. The Preamble song is forever.
Received an email from a student I taught 15 years ago when I was still teaching U.S. history. Apparently learning The Preamble Song in my class something that has stuck with him and he had the chance to demonstrate his Preamble prowess last week. The idea that he then thought to track down my email and share with me made my day.
5. Middle School children love trivia questions. Middle school teachers, administrators, instructional assistants, secretaries and substitutes also love trivia questions.
Last Monday, on a whim, I posted a trivia question on an easel outside of the Media Center. Most of the school population walks by there each day and I thought a few of the kids might think it was fun. I had the answer read on the afternoon announcements.
WOW! I had no idea the response this would generate. I posted a new question each morning and by Friday there were an increasing number of traffic jams in the hallway that included both children and adults. People were stopping in to guess the answer and a certain competitiveness has emerged among staff members. I had one student tell me that students in his technology class tried researching the answer
Winter Doldrums at LMS? I think not.
We often talk about favorite books - favorite books of all time, favorite books of the year, favorite books of the century, favorite children's books, etc. Go to a search engine, type in the words "favorite" and "books" and you will get upwards of 1,000,000,000 results. But what we won't necessarily find are the personal lists - the favorite books of the people who love us, teach us, and help shape us into the beings that we are.
My mother was a reader. I know that my love of the written word is a legacy from her. Mom had degrees in English education and journalism; she worked as both an editor and a writer. Many of my strongest memories of her include books. I don't remember a time when she did not read to me, recommend books to me, discuss books with me. Everywhere she went, Mom took a book; there were shelves and stacks of them in our house and the library was a weekly event. All of this and I have no idea what her favorite books were. None. I never asked.
It is amazing how much you can learn about a person by simply asking them about their favorite books. Usually, the picks are inspired by strong memories and/or intellectual passions. When I consider my own favorites, I realize that these titles contain more information about me than my Facebook profile. They are a window into my life, who I am, and what I love.
This week, I challenge you to share your favorite books with someone important to you. More importantly, ask them about their favorites and see what you learn.
My favorite books:
I didn't get to tackle my reading wish list over break as I had read from the wrong list in preparation for my book committee meeting. Here is a list of what I did read both for pleasure and the committee, with a brief synopsis and impression of each. I might add that I am pleasantly surprised that I truly enjoyed all of them, not always the case.
Steve Jobs: Genius by Design by Jason Quinn - Graphic biography of Steve Jobs aimed at middle grade readers. Tackles the subject well without sugar-coating his personality. Well done.
Zero Tolerance by Claudia Mills - Thoroughly enjoyed this book. The voice rang so true, I felt as though one of my middle-school student had dictated this to the author. A good example of why one should avoid absolutes and how we sometimes teach students to not do the right thing by punishing the messenger. My only criticisms would be that children would never be left to their own devices in in-school suspension and the sub-plot with the secretary tied up a bit too neatly for me.
Never Say Die by Will Hobbs - Action and adventure in the Arctic Circle. I have a slew of students who are hunters that will devour this book. This would be great to add to the study of climate change in science classes as well.
Wake Up Missing by Kate Messner - Sci-fi thriller combines the current concern with head trauma with a modern day Manhattan Project. I kept turning the pages to find out where the story would turn and was not disappointed. Loved the references to Bigger Than a Bread Box by Laurel Snyder which gives me a wonderfully sneaky way to book talk two books at once!
Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan - Haunting and beautifully crafted story of one girl's journey through grief. Gritty and uplifting though heartbreaking. I read straight through with no breaks as I was invested in all the interesting characters and how they all reacted/changed/grew through their relationships with one child and her misfortune.
The Girl from Felony Bay by J.E. Thompson - Intriguing mystery set in the Carolina swamp. The characters were well-drawn and engaging. I loved Abbey Force the intrepid main character. What a fun read with twists and turns. Definitely sharing this as soon as we return to school!
The Final Four by Paul Volponi - I started this book with supposition that it was a "boy book" and that it would be so technical about the game that I would be bored. Boy was I wrong! Two chapters in I was totally hooked by the characters, the drama and the suspense. There were characters I was not sure whether to love or hate and I was impatient to find out what happened as the story unfolded. Wow!
Jump Into the Sky by Shelley Pearsall - Truly enjoyed this book. World War II historical fiction including the Triple Nickels, Jim Crow, racism and family dynamics. Levi Battle has a wonderful narrative voice and is the type of character that you truly care about. Recommend reading Courage Has No Color, The True Story of the Triple Nickles: America's First Black Paratroopers by Tanya Lee Stone as a non-fiction partner. I had read it already and the background knowledge of the Triple Nickels made the story even more compelling.
Four Secrets by Margaret Willey - Secrets are power. Power over ourselves and power over others. In the wrong hands, secrets can be wielded as weapons. Set in a middle school, a place where social heirarchy reins supreme, Four Secrets is the story of how secrets can bind together or imprison their holders.
2-Minute Biographies for Kids by Steve Reifman - Very cool format. Information on famous peoples' lives, with the names withheld until the end. Well-written and interesting. Would be great for a research activity in the library. Can't wait to use it.
As I read for our state book award committee, my reading time is pretty much spoken for most of the year. However, I view Winter Break as a time where I can sneak in a few "grown-up" books with less guilt. What would I most like to read? Here it is, my grown-up book wish list:
History Decoded: The 10 Greatest Conspiracies of All Time (Brad Meltzer)
George Washington's Secret Six (Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger)
Miracles and Massacres: True and Untold Stories of the Making of America (Glen Beck)
Prodigy and Champion (Marie Lu)
Mary Poppins (P. L. Travers)
The Bully Pulpit (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
Can you tell that I used to teach 8th grade U.S. history prior to becoming a school media specialist? I'll report back after break on which of these I was able to check off the list along with what I actually read.
Wishing you Happy Reading and the time to do it!
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