Friday, January 29, 2010

Feedback - Make my day...

A MT student I had helped a couple of months ago wandered through the Doucette recently and was kind enough to let me know that a couple of resources I had recommended had really worked well with some grade 12 students.

As I remember, she was working with grade 12 accelerated readers, reading The Kite Runner (823 H794K FIC).  I don’t remember exactly whether she actually asked about supplemental material but I do remember dragging her off to the shelves to show her a couple of great books I thought might work with this unit.  Forsaken by Lana Slezic (958.1 SLF 2007) is enticingly illustrated with photographs (with short, narratives interspersed throughout) that show the lives of women in Afghanistan.  Apparently, the kids were gripped!

Another title that I think supplements studies about Afghanistan is
Under the Persimmon Tree by Suzanne Fisher Staples (823 ST27U FIC) to whom I’m very partial.  This is definitely for the high school crowd and would be less challenging than The Kite Runner.  For elementary students I would recommend The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (823 EL585B FIC).

Other suggestions:

Afghan Dreams by Tony O’Brien (958.1 ObA 2008)  (suggested for gr.7 and up)

Come Back to Afghanistan: a California Teenager’s Story
 by Said Hyder Akbar (958.1 AkC 2005)
(suggested grades 8 and up)

Kabul Beauty School by Deborah Rodriques (958.1 RoK 2007)
(suggested for grades 11 and up)

One last suggestion is Sweet Relief: the Marla Ruzicka Story by Jennifer Abrahamson (361.74 ABS 2006). This is a biography of a young woman who lead the fight against the U.S. government to get compensation for war victims in Afghanistan and Iraq.  The story tells how she became a social activist and how it shaped her life.  A quick and readable book for senior high.

Any others?

Monday, January 25, 2010

What is she reading now?

Well, it would be more accurate to ask “What has she just finished reading?”

And that would be The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt (823 Sch53W FIC).
Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderful!

I discovered it by reading The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller (372.416 MilB 2009).  Her grade 6 students compiled the ‘Ultimate Library List’ and The Wednesday Wars is included.

Besides being a very interesting and very readable book about teaching language arts the Book Whisperer show us her struggles to find the best way to teach kids to read.  And it comes down to letting them do just that – read.  And letting them find the things that they like to read to get them engaged in the first place.  She structures her class in such a way that the kids have to read lots of books (she sets the bar high at 40 books in a school year, which as it turns out, is rarely not reached) she improves comprehension skills, increases vocabulary, spelling and grammar as well as leaning about storytelling in different genres.

This book is filled with her experiences and strategies for getting the most out of her students.  This is not to be missed.

Neither is The Wednesday Wars.  In case you missed, I LOVED it!

P.S. Just discovered that Donalyn Miller has a blog.  Check out

Friday, January 22, 2010

'Pop' goes the assignment

I love the MT program for a lot of reasons but one of the best is collaborating with instructors.  It’s very rewarding to be involved in the ground-level planning in some of the classes.

For example, I recently had the opportunity to pull many ‘toy and movable books’ (aka, pop up books, books with movable bits such as maps and fold out papers, envelops with letters, etc.) for two instructors. Their idea was to inspire their students with lots of remarkable resources to show how their work could be presented in innovative ways – not necessarily just as written text but perhaps incorporating artwork, too.  After lots of discussion, the instructors decided to include more than just the pop up books and bring in books with various, unusual ways to tell a story.

Wow!  This threw it wide open for me and the resources which I could pull.

Check out some of the following titles:

Archie’s War  (823 W6741A PIC BK)
Charles Darwin and the Beagle Adventure  (576.82 WoC 2009)
Trail  (736.98 PeT 2007 PIC BK)
600 Black Spots  (411 CaS 2007 PIC BK)
Quest for the Lost City of Gold  (793.93 BiQ 2008 PIC BK)
Blue Lipstick  (811 GrB 2007)
I Live Here  (305.906 KiI 2008)
The Jolly Postman   (823 Ah47J5 1999 PIC BK)
The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam  (793.8 FlM 2007)
The Black Book of Colors   (535.6 CoB 2008 PIC BK)
The Night Life of Trees  (398.20954 ShN 2006 PIC BK)


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lost and Found Opportunities

So what to do about a wonderful novel written for the junior/senior high level that I really enjoyed but wonder what kids out there will actually read it. Bah….

The green glass sea by Ellen Klages (823 K661G FIC) is one of these books.

Briefly, it takes place in the US during the Second World War where we get to know girl-geek, Dewey (really loves to mix it up with machines and gadgets). Her widowed father is a scientist working for the government on a top secret project. Lots of speculation but no one knows for sure exactly what it’s all about. Most adults reading this book will recognize the scenario as the development of the atom bomb. Dewey’s story meshes with a bossy-boots, little miss known as Suze. The girls’ relationship becomes the main focus of the story but with the secret project going on in the background there is a certain amount of tension building throughout the book.

So, will kids read this? I think it does have great merit but would likely have to be ‘sold’. A young teen or preteen would not necessarily gravitate to it on their own.

But, what about using a book like this in a book club setting let’s say in a science class? This is one of those opportunities where making a cross-curricular connection between reading and science could be fantastic. Possible discussion topics: girls and science, the ethics of scientific endeavors, or learning about the atom bomb are just few. This may provide a point of engagement in an unexpected way for those not usually drawn to science.

Just a thought…

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Looking for WOW!

Working to develop lesson plans or units with students is always interesting but it’s only occasionally that I get see how a student fleshes out a particular unit. It’s a bit of a thrill to know that resources I’ve suggested have enhanced the learning experiences for both MT students as well as for the kids they are teaching, too.
An example of this was just last fall and a student was teaching junior high students about plants. Did I know of any ‘interesting’ videos or DVDs that would excite her students? she wanted to know. I suggested she view a new DVD, The World According to Monsanto (363.19 WO 2008 DVD) which presents some pretty provocative information about this multinational company and its practices for developing and controlling seeds. Junior high kids love to get into issues that spark controversy. So there was potential here.
But an extra bonus was that about two weeks later I read a fairly lengthy article about Monsanto developing drought resistance corn in the local newspaper. Ah ha, a cross-curricular opportunity (science, social studies, current affairs, language arts, possibly even math) if there ever was one. Gotta love serendipity!
In addition, we gathered together some related books and kits but I found that few of these resources really wowed me. So what to do? I went looking to find something that would wow anyone.
Check out The Bizarre and Incredible World of Plants (580 StB 2009) that has some amazing photographs of plants, fruits, seeds often shown at the microscopic level. You would never guess what some of these images are. This is another strategy to help engage all sorts of learners of all ages: finding highly appealing, visual books or posters that show us things we think we know but puts a whole different spin on it. I love books like these as they have so much potential for grabbing the attention of almost anyone.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Thoughtful Borrowing or Total Rip-Offs?

Though films have been mining literature for the big screen for decades, I can’t quite figure out which kids’ book was similarly tapped first. Fairy tales and folklore seem prominent but were these stories, back-in-the-day, really written for children?
What got me thinking about this was the banner fall 2009, with three movies derived from children’s stories. Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Where the Wild Things Are and Fantastic Mr. Fox are all based on classic picture books from the 60s and 70s. Whatever you may think of their renderings there is no denying the impact of kids lit on the movie industry.
Can you guess which of the following films are based on children’s books?
Night at the Museum
Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Mrs. Doubtfire
Freaky Friday
Toy Story
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Chicken Run
Tuck Everlasting
City of Ember
It might prove to be a great reading strategy (especially for struggling readers) to have students analyze both a movie and the book it was based on. Discussions about the differences and similarities between the two mediums could prove to be provocative, promote critical thinking skills and deepen understanding of the nature of storytelling.
As well, using films to teach about literature and literary conventions is well supported in two books:
Reading in the reel world: teaching documentaries and other nonfiction texts (791.4307 GORE 2006 )
Reading in the dark: using film as a tool in the English classroom (791.4307 GOR 2001)
Oh, and if you figured out that Toy Story and Chicken Run are NOT based on children’s books – good on ya!

The What About Who

New year and a new mind map for the big idea IDENTITY.

Some of you may be familiar with the Inspiration mind maps that I’ve developed around big ideas or questions which are ‘exploded’ into a wide range of subtopics and then supported with resources found in the Doucette Library of Teaching Resources.
Last fall I was working with teachers around the idea of identity and realized that there was enough really interesting stuff to work with that would be worthwhile in sharing. Identity is one of the core concepts found in the K-12 social studies curriculum program here in Alberta.
PLEASE, do not take this as a fully developed unit or lesson plan. This is a way for me to show how to make a mind map, ways of developing questions, and then providing a ‘jazzy’ bibliography.
Click on Identity from the list to find out how to use the mind map and discover the lists of fabulous resources to support plus some of my behind-the-scenes thinking in developing the questions and subtopics.
Let me know what you think.

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