Friday, June 6, 2014

School's Out

Summer reading! I'm very excited.  I'm thinking about whole days devoted to nothing but eating fresh fruit and reading.  Of course, there is still life to deal with, but I'll have at least a few hours each day to transport myself to some other world, riding the waves of words that great writers have spent lonely hours laboring over just for me. 

E.L. Doctorow is first on my list.  I was going to pick up something light and easy, and just breeze through its pages this first week out of school, but I thought, I'll finish in three hours and be sad that it's ended.  So I found City of God and wondered how I haven't read this book in the past fourteen years.  Easy enough to rectify that.

If you've never read Doctorow, all I can say is, Start!  He has a unique voice; he is at once a novelist and an historian, however, his narrative sucks you in so thoroughly you forget that he is either, and he becomes someone you know, just talking, telling you about his thoughts and life.

The scope of his knowledge astounds me.  If I could meet him the first thing I would ask is how on earth do you know so much about everything?  I've been around a while.  I read with a bottomless-pit sort of appetite, I'm often tapped for information by friends and colleagues, I'm a researcher by nature, so I feel like I know a lot. But Doctorow? Puts me to shame.  I would look at the toes of my shoes and draw circles in the dirt like an eight-year-old if I were in this man's presence.  And that's why I love his work - he teaches me.

I think Andrew's Brain is next on my list.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Reading Strategies

I often share "life stories" with my students. I have a million thoughts pop into my head on every subject that comes up, and there are things I wish people had told me when I was in high school, so I share them with my students. For instance, there are things we love to do, and there are ways to parlay those loves into a career. Find the thing you can't stop doing, figure out what drives you, and then put that same drive behind your future. No one wants to think about being 50 when he is 15, but it helps kids to know that one day, they will look back over their lives and think, If I'd only…

Or, maybe not. I saw a man on a bicycle in the pouring rain the other day. He was about 65 or so. He was fully dressed in street clothes, so not out for mere exercise. He was singing. Full on, top of his lungs, belting out a tune. Happy. I thought, Where does that kind of happy come from?  And maybe I know. 

This man obviously loved to sing. He probably didn't have a billion dollar music career, or he wouldn't have been getting soaked on a bicycle. He did what he loved, whenever it struck him, shared it with whomever could hear him, and it made him happy. 

I love to read. So, to make myself happy, I read. (Singing is pretty great, too.) But I also share that love of reading. I bring books to life for people who think reading is a bore. My job involves teaching reading strategies, but beyond that, I show the haters that reading opens worlds for them. Can they time travel? Yes. They can sit on the porch or lie in the bed and transport to 1930s Alabama, and get inside the heads of people who lived and breathed socially acceptable racism, and, through the eyes of a child, understand how that could have been normal. They can aspire to be defenders of the innocent, they can boil with rage over injustice, and they can learn how social classes kept people from realizing dreams. All from the front porch. 

By reading aloud to older students, and sharing my thoughts about the writer's intent, or what a seemingly obscure passage means, together we make heads and tails of the text, and they grow to appreciate the story, the knowledge, and the interactive quality of reading.  I'm teaching them how to become a part of the story. And the real story? Life. Their own. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Mental Floss History of the World

This is a shout-out, really, with thanks to Erik Sass and Steve Wiegand, as my daughter is about to take her first Advanced Placement test tomorrow: AP World. Since I'm somewhat fanatical about history, knowledge, and information in general, it will surprise no one to find out that I have a houseful of history books. They're all excellent in their way (oh fine, maybe not all), but the people at Mental Floss go outside the realm of explanation to include tidbits that make history relevant and readable. 

For instance, there is a section on fast food, something most teenagers know more than a little about. The passage is actually about the Russian occupation of Paris in 1814.  Interesting, informative, and helps to bring the history home. 

When did the Ottomans take over the Byzantine Empire?  In Chapter 7, of course, titled, Renaissance Anyone?  I'm very fond of the timelines included. Handy for impressing your friends. (1453, just in case you don't feel like looking it up.)

Good Luck to all the young men and women who will spend the morning tomorrow sweating over Europe's constant conflict, why Lenin wanted Trotsky and not Stalin, and how The Great Depression still bums us out today. 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Teaching Today

Today I set up a "fun" lesson.  My 9th graders have been exploring law and deciding if they're going to our Law Academy for their next three years of high school. They're a diverse lot, with a common thread: they are more open and forthcoming than any group I've had in ten years. They aren't children who've been coddled, but rather, they come from hard working families and are expected to contribute. Some of them are better off than others, but they, for the most part, make few judgements. They impress me daily.
Yesterday we had some fun with out-dated laws, so today we took a look at some dumb criminals.  There are a few young men in my classes who wear their pants low enough that I will say, "My goodness, hike up those trousers, you're traumatizing me!" and they laugh and tug up their pants. When those same boys watched would-be thieves trying to run off with their loot only to have their pants trip them up, their laughter was loudest. I often admonish them: "Be classy!" so one young man today said, "Hey Miss, that sure wasn't classy!" when a fellow who was attempting to make off with a case of beer fell flat on his face as the cans rolled away.  We discussed the laws explained by the Discovery Investigation show, and the criminals' behavior, and then we went to ABC's dumb crime videos. 
As we all know, one video leads to another on sites like these, and the title of an unrelated video caught our collective eye. It seems a young man killed his parents about an hour south of our high school, and the judgement has just come back in his trial. 
If ever an impromptu problem solving lesson worked, this was it. 
The students frequently asked to pause the video to discuss the details and merits of the case, the testimony given, the "look" of the defendant and the interview of his best friend.  They questioned the interviewer's tactics, the program's agenda, and the mystery of why none of us had heard of this case.  I was in awe.  They didn't even realize they were brilliant, kind, analytical, and sensitive. They were just thinking. And learning. So was I. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

John Green, writer, vlogger, nerdfighter extrordinaire

John Green is one of those writers who feels like a friend.  He writes YA Lit, and has some amazing YouTube videos which give his readers and fans some insight into his personality - much more so than the writers of my youth did.

I remember feeling like authors were something akin to Angels - you couldn't see or talk to them, but you knew they were "out there somewhere" doing good in your life.  It's probably good that one of my favorite authors, Roald Dahl, did not have a YouTube account, because since his death I've read some unpleasant things about him, which I hope are exaggerations, or better yet - simply not true.

However, John Green has an energy and enthusiasm that is positively catchy.  His Crash Course videos are delivered at break-neck speed, and quite often my students report that they were forced to "rewind" and watch them several times over.  I say Good!  Repetition is not the devil it has been made out to be.

The book of Green's that impacted me first was Looking for Alaska.  The voices and ideas in the story are so teen-aged, that I looked to see if the writer was indeed a teenager himself.  He was not.  Young, yes, but no teen.  And yet, he remembers.  He remembers extremely well -- and that is evident in his other novels as well, particularly in The Fault in Our Stars. 

I'm not going to talk about his books.  Plenty of other bloggers have done that already, and you can find tons of questions and information on John's Tumbler account, and in many other places.  Just Google him.  And before you do  - check out his books, and read them for yourself. You'll thank me later.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Busy reading... ?

I borrowed a book from the library six days ago and promptly got too busy to read. That shouldn't happen.

This afternoon I was determined that nothing was going to stand in my way and as I began reading I realized that I've started this book before. I probably borrowed it from the library before, and got too busy to read.

I like to be busy, don't get me wrong. I just don't want to be busy doing the wrong things, like sitting around playing a mindless trivia game on my phone (yes, I admit it, I do this sometimes ... I consider it therapy - it's a quiz after all!) for HOURS.  Housework is a real issue.  There are not enough hours in the day to work full time, do housework, cook meals, and read.   So, I have to work, and while I don't eat very much, I do need to eat.  I can say this with honesty too - I need to read.  There are people who will completely understand that, and others who will cock their heads to one side, perhaps, and say, "Need?  I doubt it."

And so my reader friends, I forego daily housework. And why not? It'll only be dusty again tomorrow. I do regular cleanings, and while I do, I pretend it's someone else's house.  That way I don't get bogged down putting things away.  I just chuck it all in a basket, and leave it on a chair for the owner (me, later) to go through.  Works like a charm.

Now, back to that book... 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

11/22/63 Stephen King - Part 3 Living in the Past

Jake, in advance of Lee Oswald, heads for Dallas in a hurry when life in Florida gets too hot. Not talking weather, so you'll have to read for yourself to see what I mean. 
Dallas, like Derry, is giving Jake the Heebie Jeebies. Something is wrong, and he senses it. Finally the place becomes intolerable and he heads out to find a good place to bide his time since Oswald is still in the USSR. This he does, in a town called Jodie. 
Once a teacher, always a teacher, Jake gets in at the high school and becomes integral. I can foresee problems with this, but Jake/George is ignoring them, or hasn't figured out how he might be adding to the butterfly effect. 
King again ropes us in at the end of this section with mysterious links to the Yellow/Orange Card Man, and I can feel my heart rate accelerate just a bit. Nicely played, Mr. King.