The Horn Book » Lolly’s Classroom http://www.hbook.com Publications about books for children and young adults Fri, 17 Oct 2014 22:25:31 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.8.4 Stuck on Post-Its http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/stuck-post/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/stuck-post/#respond Thu, 16 Oct 2014 10:01:57 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41269 Still hanging onto their summer tans and beach weather, most people dread that time of year when the big, red “BACK TO SCHOOL” signs appear plastered on the doors of CVS, Staples, and Walgreens. I was never of that ilk; I’ve always loved the opportunity to buy school supplies, and start my year off fresh […]

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stacy post it 388x500 Stuck on Post ItsStill hanging onto their summer tans and beach weather, most people dread that time of year when the big, red “BACK TO SCHOOL” signs appear plastered on the doors of CVS, Staples, and Walgreens. I was never of that ilk; I’ve always loved the opportunity to buy school supplies, and start my year off fresh with crisp notebooks and sharpened pencils. Now, as I walk the aisles of these stores as a new educator, I always make sure to stock up on what is still a relatively new addition to the classroom environment — Post-it notes.

I’m here to present a mini-debate with respect to the Post-it note phenomenon. My school curriculum requires third graders to begin using post it notes during both Read Aloud and Guided Reading groups to make text-to-self and text-to-text connections, relay their predictions, record moments that they can picture vividly in their minds, and jot down any questions that they’d like to bring up later during class discussion. It’s always great fun to see the bursts of neon colored paper scattered inside a well-read text, and we model these comprehension strategies from the very first day of school.

On one hand, I think Post-it annotations are incredibly useful. They require students to use reading comprehension strategies in a natural setting, provide tools in discussion for students who aren’t off-the-bat thinkers, and help set students up for the older grades when annotations and margin-writing become a more integral part of the curriculum. The size of a Post-it note also allows students to use good note-taking skills, and deliver succinct thoughts.

However, the counter argument questions if we are allowing the flurry of capturing our thoughts on paper to get in the way of the pure enjoyment of taking in a story. Stone Fox is the traditional third grade read-aloud for September at the small private school where I teach. As I reached that pivotal, heartbreaking ending, I noticed that some of my students had been so busy trying to reach our “four Post-its” rule by the end of the chapter that they barely reacted to the major event that had occurred in the story. Some teachers would recommend waiting until the end of a chapter to allow students time to write down their thoughts, but what happens if that thought is then forgotten? Some try to find good stopping points to allow Post-it note writing, but is that taking away from the fluidity and natural process of storytelling?

What are your Post-it note guidelines? Have you instituted a limit on the number of Post-it notes used, or does that then take the focus off of “quality vs. quantity”? Do you guide students toward different comprehension strategies when they’ve solely been writing up predictions, or wait for them to naturally progress towards that stage? Do you allow time at the end of the chapter to record Post-it notes, or is there no specific “time” set? Post your thoughts below; I’m eager to see how others establish this classroom routine!

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How I Live Now http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/live-now/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/live-now/#comments Wed, 15 Oct 2014 10:01:48 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41922 At the outset of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, Daisy and her cousins in the English countryside are blissfully removed from the threat of impending war. In some ways, the insular, adult-less world of the young people might exist in any time and place, yet their world is irrevocably changed as the story progresses.  […]

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rosoff howilivenow 194x300 How I Live NowAt the outset of Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, Daisy and her cousins in the English countryside are blissfully removed from the threat of impending war. In some ways, the insular, adult-less world of the young people might exist in any time and place, yet their world is irrevocably changed as the story progresses.  Are there other stories, set in times of war, or not, that Rosoff’s novel invokes for you? Which characters, scenes, or ideas from the novel linger with you after reading?

You can also comment here on the article we’re reading this week: Interview wth Meg Rosoff in The Sunday Times.

 

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Adolescent lit class book discussion http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/adolescent-lit-class-book-discussion/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/adolescent-lit-class-book-discussion/#respond Tue, 14 Oct 2014 14:34:28 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41846 As some of you know, this blog does double-duty by serving as a platform for pre-class book discussion for students in the children’s lit and adolescent lit classes at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. AND for all the other blog readers who we hope will help us talk about the books we’re reading. This year, […]

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lollyclassroom books  Adolescent lit class book discussionAs some of you know, this blog does double-duty by serving as a platform for pre-class book discussion for students in the children’s lit and adolescent lit classes at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. AND for all the other blog readers who we hope will help us talk about the books we’re reading.

This year, Lauren Adams is teaching the Adolescent Literature module, a 6-week class on Monday nights starting October 20. For their first class, they will jump into the deep end reading How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. Most weeks, we will put up book discussion posts the Tuesday before the class the books are assigned for.

Here’s a rundown of what we will be reading and discussing, and when.


Class 1 — Overview of Adolescent Literature
Monday, October 20 (post will go live Wednesday, Oct. 15)
Reading assignments:

  1.  How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff (WendyLamb, 2004)
  2. Interview with Meg Rosoff from The Sunday Times

Class 2 — Windows and Mirrors: Seeing others, seeing ourselves
Monday, October 27 (posts will go live Tuesday, October 21)
Reading assignments:

  1. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie (Little, 2007)
  2. Read one of these two books:
    Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2013)
    The Thing about Luck by Cynthia Kadohata (Atheneum, 2013)
  3. Read Sherman Alexie’s article, “Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood

Class 3 — The Past Made Present: Historical Fiction and Nonfiction
Monday, November 10 (posts will go live Tuesday, October 28)
Reading assignments:

  1. One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad/HarperCollins, 2010)
  2. Read one of these two books:
    Bomb: the Race to Build—and Steal—the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steven Shenkin (Flashpoint, 2012)
    No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of Lewis Michaux, Harlem Bookseller by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson (Carolrhoda, 2012)
  3. Spend 1 hour browsing one of these two information books:
    Claudette Colvin by Phillip Hoose (Farrar, 2009)
    Marching For Freedom by Elizabeth Partridge (Viking, 2009)
  4. Read Rita Williams-Garcia’s profile and CSK acceptance speech in Horn Book Magazine

Class 4 — Beyond the World We Know: Fantasy and Science Fiction
Monday, November 17 (posts will go live Tuesday, November 11)
Reading assignments:

  1. Feed by M. T. Anderson (Candlewick, 2002)
  2. Far Far Away by Tom McNeal (Knopf, 2013; pb Ember 2014)
  3. Read article “Hot Dog, Katsa!” by Kristin Cashore from January 2010 Horn Book Magazine.

Class 5 — Pictures: Illustration, Graphic Novels, and Visual Literacy
Monday, November 24 (posts will go live Tuesday, November 18)
Reading assignments:

  1. The Arrival by Shaun Tan (Scholastic, 2007)
  2. The Tree of Life: Charles Darwin by Peter Sís (Farrar, 2003)
  3. Read one of these three graphic novels:
    Either Boxers or Saints by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, 2013)
    Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri, illustrated by Randy DuBurke (Lee & Low, 2010)
  4. Read Gene Luen Yang’s 2014 National Book Festival speech AND “Graphic Novels in the Classroom” [link to come]

Class 6 — Last class
Monday, December 1 (post will go live Tuesday, November 25)
Reading assignments:

  1. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (Dutton, 2012)
  2. Read the Horn Book article, “What Makes a Good Love Story” by Katrina Hedeen and Rachel L. Smith and blog addendum on Eleanor and Park

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The value of re-reading http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/value-re-reading/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/value-re-reading/#respond Thu, 09 Oct 2014 10:01:23 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41155 I was recently privy to a conversation that I have participated in countless times in my twenty-plus years in education. It was a version of “The 8th grade teachers are stealing the 9th grade teachers’ books” discussion. You know that one, right? Of course, it does not reside exclusively in the domain of middle or […]

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secretofwoodenlady The value of re readingI was recently privy to a conversation that I have participated in countless times in my twenty-plus years in education. It was a version of “The 8th grade teachers are stealing the 9th grade teachers’ books” discussion. You know that one, right? Of course, it does not reside exclusively in the domain of middle or high school. I have heard it across all levels of schooling conducted at all different tenors and pitches. It is often a difficult and deeply personal conversation.

Teachers work hard to craft compelling units of study and lesson plans that meet the needs of their students. How frustrating it can be to feel like the special text you have chosen to gift your students is no longer the surprise you intended it be. As teachers we often have so little time with our students that repeating a text can feel wasteful. I understand that — I really do.

But having worked across the K-12 spectrum, I also know that repetition of text is inevitable. We cannot stop students from reading a text because it is taught in 10th grade world lit. Similarly, I don’t really want to tell the second grade teacher to hide Owl Moon in her closet because it is a mentor text in third grade. Rather, I would like to consider designing a deliberate unit of study in reader’s workshop focused on re-reading a text.

The first assignment we had as students in Lolly’s YA Lit module several years ago was to revisit and reflect on a text we had not read since adolescence. I wrote my paper on a Nancy Drew mystery story (The Secret of the Wooden Lady, #27). With the demands of middle school English, I mournfully left this series behind as an early adolescent.

Reading it as an adult, I chuckled at the frenetic pace with which Nancy solves her mysteries and the number of times in each episode she narrowly manages to escape disaster. So while I acknowledged that the writing style might not meet my adult expectations, I also saw elements of this text I could never have recognized as a ten or twelve year old. Nancy Drew was a competent and smart young woman who often managed to outwit and outperform grown men. No wonder Nancy Drew books are still in circulation some seventy years after they were first published.

I learned so much from that assignment. I learned about myself as a more mature, critical reader. And I came to understand something about the resonance of theme — what it might mean as a young reader and what it means as an adult. I think our students might benefit enormously from being asked to re-read a text and reflect on that dual reading experience.

I envision a unit of study wherein students select a book from their reading past and re-read it with a critical eye on how the second read differs. Perhaps the teacher might offer mini-lessons guiding students to attend explicitly to craft or theme. Or, students might be encouraged to write and discuss how returning to a text as a more experienced reader affects the reading process. Rather than guard against the fear of spoiling the story, I would urge us to celebrate the resonance of a great book.

Have you ever incorporated deliberate repetition into your reading work with kids? If so, I would love to know about it.

Welcome back to school and happy re-reading!

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I wish I wrote that http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/wish-wrote/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/wish-wrote/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 10:01:12 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41086 Every teacher I know is writing a book. Okay, that is probably an exaggeration, but I would venture that there is a sizable percentage of teachers ranging from kindergarten teachers working on picture books to high school English teachers working on YA novels. Some may be writing as a hobby while others might already have […]

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sharkvstrain I wish I wrote thatEvery teacher I know is writing a book.

Okay, that is probably an exaggeration, but I would venture that there is a sizable percentage of teachers ranging from kindergarten teachers working on picture books to high school English teachers working on YA novels. Some may be writing as a hobby while others might already have a literary agent and publishing deal.

The reasons a teacher might choose to write a book vary as well. Those of us in the teaching profession most likely have a love of the written word and want to try our hands at contributing something meaningful. Of course, there is also the allure of money. It is hard to ignore the fact that it seems like every successful picture book or YA novel is being turned into a big budget movie. Writing the next Hunger Games could mean spending your vacation charting a yacht with Jay-Z and Beyoncé on the Mediterranean Sea as opposed to taking the Blue Line train to Revere Beach. This leads us to the meat of this post: sometimes you encounter a new book and think to yourself, “Darn, I wish I wrote that.”

I remember a few years back first coming across the picture book Shark vs. Train by Chris Barton while looking through the stacks at my local library. In this book, a shark and a train battle it out for supremacy in a variety of tasks in different settings such as burping, basketball, playing video games, and skydiving.

When reading the book, two thoughts popped into my mind. First, that the children in my Pre-K class would love this. I was soon proven correct when the book became a favorite and resulted in often-intense debate between the children who rooted for the train and the children who rooted for the shark. My second thought was, “damn it, I should have come up with this.” As a Pre-K teacher, I knew that many children love sharks and trains. Why didn’t I think of combining the two into a funny story? I even had the nefarious thought of ripping off Barton and writing a book called Dinosaur vs. Spaceship or something like that.

The truth is, there is a reason that I did not come up with Shark vs. Train first. Writing a good and/or popular book is ridiculously hard, and getting it published takes tenacity and luck. But I think I will keep trying because it’s fun to write and the miniscule chance of hitting it big and having Jennifer Lawrence star in the movie adaptation of something I wrote is always a motivator.

I end with a question to the readers of Lolly’s Classroom. What books have you read that you wished you had written?

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Are you ready for some football…books? http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/ready-footballbooks/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/10/blogs/lollys-classroom/ready-footballbooks/#comments Thu, 02 Oct 2014 10:01:22 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41078 I love the fall. I do not love people asking me, “Hey, how about that [insert-local-football-team] game?” I have nothing against the sport; it’s just not my thing. Working at an all-boys school, though, I am surrounded by a mass of gridiron fans. As stereotypical as it may be, I think any of my coworkers […]

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I love the fall. I do not love people asking me, “Hey, how about that [insert-local-football-team] game?” I have nothing against the sport; it’s just not my thing.

Working at an all-boys school, though, I am surrounded by a mass of gridiron fans. As stereotypical as it may be, I think any of my coworkers would agree that the vast majority of our guys live for sports. They play them. They watch them. They passionately debate about them. And in the fall that means football.

Being a sneaky English teacher, I try to capitalize upon this interest to trick kids into reading. Here’s a list of books about football I find myself recommending to students time and time again.

wallace Muckers 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bradley CallMeByMyName 198x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   herbach StupidFast 200x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   bissinger FridayNightLights 197x300 Are you ready for some football...books?   smith winger 196x300 Are you ready for some football...books?

Muckers by Sandra Neill Wallace
Based on a true story, Muckers follows a 1950s quarterback from a struggling mining town as he tries to lead his team to a state championship in the final year before the high school closes. A great look at a town on the cusp of historical change and the spirit of determination found in athletes.

Call Me By My Name by John Ed Bradley
Set in a slow-to-integrate Louisiana town, Bradley tells the story of two friends and teammates — one black, one white. It’s a well-told tale that explores the power and limitations of athletics to bridge the racial divide.

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
A growth spurt punts a once-runty kid into the world of the jocks. With a wonderful voice, Herbach tells a hilarious and real story about navigating sudden change. (My “reluctant” readers often tear through this one.)

Friday Night Lights by H. G. Bissinger
The source material for the movie (best soundtrack ever) and the TV series (one of the best TV shows ever), Bissinger spends a season with the Permian Panthers of Odessa, Texas. It’s a great look at what happens when gifted high school athletes are treated like throwaway gods.

Winger by Andrew Smith
Winger tells the story of a 14-year-old high school junior and rugby player as he tries to navigate life and girls at a boarding school. Smith’s hilarious and soul-crushing novel perfectly captures both the real and tenuous bonds that exist between teammates. (Yes, I know that rugby is not football. But I don’t foresee myself making a “books about rugby list” anytime soon, so here it is.)

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El Deafo http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/el-deafo/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/el-deafo/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 10:01:21 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41089 This week, I was lucky enough to have a thirty-minute window when I could pop into my favorite independent bookstore in Los Angeles. They have a large children’s section on the second floor that I love perusing because they do an excellent job at getting new books. On one of their displays sat El Deafo […]

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eldeafo El DeafoThis week, I was lucky enough to have a thirty-minute window when I could pop into my favorite independent bookstore in Los Angeles. They have a large children’s section on the second floor that I love perusing because they do an excellent job at getting new books.

On one of their displays sat El Deafo by Cece Bell. Intrigued first by the illustration of a superhero bunny and second by the title, my immediate thought was “What is this book about and who is this written for?” As if by fate, a children’s book worker looked up from her task of stocking new books and said “Oh that’s a really cute story. I highly recommend it.” I inquired about the reading level and she said it could be from fourth grade to middle school. Opening it, I was stoked to find out it was a graphic novel. Sold. It may be one of the best impulsive $20 I’ve spent of late.

I read this book in two days. It follows the author’s childhood experiences of being deaf, and specifically highlights her experiences in school. What captured me was the depiction of how people treated her and, since it’s from Cece’s point of view, how she felt. Her emotions come through strongly in the text and illustrations, and made me stop and think about how I treat people even if my intention is good. I connected with Cece’s superhero persona, “El Deafo.” Cece uses El Deafo to imagine the ideal way to handle tough situations, even if that doesn’t play out in real life (something I did as a kid too). What I really loved about this book was how the author depicted her friendships with the other kids (the good and the bad). It reminded me that children can sometimes do really mean things but that most of the time they mean well and can be really amazing friends to each other. It’s a lesson I need to carry for the school year.

Cece’s journey starts at the age of four and ends in fifth grade, so as a fifth grade teacher, I’m very excited to bring this graphic novel to my classroom. I think the students will enjoy this book and learn a lot from it. I believe that it will carry lessons of tolerance and respect for those who are hearing impaired, and prepare my students with tools (Don’t cover your mouth while someone is lip reading! Don’t assume all deaf people can sign!) to create meaningful and comfortable experiences with someone who can’t hear well.

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Same theme, different level http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/theme-different-level/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/theme-different-level/#respond Thu, 25 Sep 2014 10:01:42 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=41093 It’s a new year with new kids! I’m working with the same population, but the way this school deals with the social and emotional components of learning is amazing. With that said, I have a group of 8th graders who are very low-level readers. It was a bit surprising because most of them are articulate […]

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It’s a new year with new kids! I’m working with the same population, but the way this school deals with the social and emotional components of learning is amazing. With that said, I have a group of 8th graders who are very low-level readers. It was a bit surprising because most of them are articulate and fluent, but it turns out that academically, their language level is quite low.

Right now, I am preparing my literature circles and have been looking through books that hit relevant topics, such as bullying, abuse, and coming of age. Unfortunately, it looks like the books I had last year are a bit too high for this year’s group. Last year, I had a few of my kids read Meg Medina’s Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass and Leila Sales’s This Song Will Save Your Life. Both the boys and the girls were understandably thrilled by the titles and read them avidly. It led to many interesting discussions.

flake skin 199x300 Same theme, different levelWith this year’s group, however, I am not certain about being able to introduce those books. Or at least, I’d have to wait until the end of the year. However, our interests were piqued by another book that addresses the same issue of bullying, but has a lower reading level: The Skin I’m In by Sharon G. Flake. This book centers on Maleeka Madison, a middle-school girl who is the target of widespread bullying. Although the reading level is low, the subject matter is not, and Flake’s way of deftly introducing us to the key characters and issues is both satisfying and quick!

I know there are other books about bullying and peer pressure (many by Jerry Spinelli and Walter Dean Myers), but I think something about Maleeka really resonated with my students. Perhaps they are better able to relate to the context and issues that arise in The Skin I’m In than in the others. Regardless, my students and I are definitely huge fans!

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The kid-friendly, kid-maintainable classroom library http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/kid-friendly-kid-maintainable-classroom-library/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/kid-friendly-kid-maintainable-classroom-library/#comments Tue, 23 Sep 2014 10:01:55 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=40390 If you’re a teacher reading this blog, you likely devote significant attention to carefully selecting literature to add to your classroom library. And, if you’re like me, you want your students to have access to these books, but also to not spend hours after school reorganizing and looking for titles that have mysteriously disappeared. Last […]

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If you’re a teacher reading this blog, you likely devote significant attention to carefully selecting literature to add to your classroom library. And, if you’re like me, you want your students to have access to these books, but also to not spend hours after school reorganizing and looking for titles that have mysteriously disappeared. Last year, I found a solution to keeping my classroom library well-stocked and maintainable, but before I share it, let me explain the rationale behind it.

When I was in elementary school, there were always books out on display in my classrooms, but there were also many, many titles hidden away in cupboards and closets that my teachers would search through after exclaiming, “Have I got just the book for you!” This practice always struck me as odd and restrictive — I loved going to the library precisely because the number of titles was overwhelming and it seemed that there were treasures to discover as I explored the shelves.

In my own classroom, I am committed to making sure that my students have constant access to as many titles as possible. However, it is essential to me that the books can remain organized without much effort from me — which is something of a challenge when you work with second graders.

The solution that I’ve come up with for my own classroom library is pretty simple. I started by drawing up a list of categories into which I could sort all of the books in my classroom library. Current categories include biographies, world cultures, biology and chemistry, and, my favorite, “Books Miss Hewes loves.” Next, I assigned each category a specific color-code, using dot and star stickers. For example, biographies have a yellow dot with a green star, while easy readers have just a silver star. Then, I bought bins and clearly labeled them with the proper codes and category names.

photo 1 e1409716191871 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

photo 2 e1409716078349 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

The next step was the most labor-intensive — putting the proper labels on each and every book in my library. While I was doing this, I also used the free tools available at Book Source to create a digital catalog of my library, which came in handy during the year as I wondered whether or not I actually had a certain book. (You can check out the organizer at  http://classroom.booksource.com/). Finally, after labeling the books, I put them into the appropriate bins and then put all of the bins on display in my classroom.

photo 3 e1409715975770 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

photo 4 e1409716039837 375x500 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

This system proved to be an overwhelming success last year. It allowed me to saturate my students in books without needing to go find a perfect book that I have tucked away somewhere in my room. Additionally, when I looked through the bins over the summer to check on them — something I faced with trepidation after having seen my students’ cubby area — I only found four books out of place. Most importantly, I am confident that my students found books to treasure as they independently navigated the bins — something I hope helped steer them towards becoming lifelong readers.

photo5 500x375 The kid friendly, kid maintainable classroom library

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Blasting the canon http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/blasting-canon/ http://www.hbook.com/2014/09/blogs/lollys-classroom/blasting-canon/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 10:01:01 +0000 http://www.hbook.com/?p=40047 As a new English department chair, I’ve already been faced with decisions about book orders. Our high school opened in 2007, but our middle school just opened with a sixth grade class last year. This means it was time for us to create a seventh grade curriculum. I believe in leadership through structured freedom, so […]

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As a new English department chair, I’ve already been faced with decisions about book orders. Our high school opened in 2007, but our middle school just opened with a sixth grade class last year. This means it was time for us to create a seventh grade curriculum.

I believe in leadership through structured freedom, so I decided that I would create a list of texts and let the seventh grade English teacher select the books she wanted to use for her class. My instinct, like usual, was to turn to Google. I searched terms such as “books all middle schoolers should read,” “classic literature for middle school,” and “best seventh grade texts.” I scoured random syllabi and reading lists from all over the country.

Though there was variation, by and large the books I kept coming across could be considered part of the literary canon. You could probably guess several of them, and chances are you read many of them if you attended middle school in this country over the last century.

I know I have a habit of blogging about old questions, but here I am with another: how important is it that our students read canonical works?

Do our West Philly middle and high schoolers really need to study Red Badge of Courage or Call of the Wild? Why not The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang, or Copper Sun by Sharon Draper?

crane redbadgecourage2 225x300 120x160 Blasting the canon     london callofwild 197x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

graveyard book 107x160 Blasting the canon     yang americanbornchinese 204x300 108x160 Blasting the canon     draper coppersun 198x300 105x160 Blasting the canon

I’m not saying that the newer texts are better. Some are. Some aren’t. However, I do think that many of us—especially those of us in the position to put books in front of kids—need to question our unquestioning allegiance to the “classics.”

I suppose there are two arguments in their defense: 1. These books represent the very best writing in the English language; 2. Students will gain cultural capital from familiarity with these stories.

Yet, neither of these sway me.

I think it’s more accurate to say the canonical works used to represent some the best writing, but times change. Great books are published every year, whether or not they end up on some school’s curriculum or a bestseller list.

As for the cultural capital argument, that seems to me just a straight fallacy. The true value of a book comes not from the power to impress others but from whatever that book impresses upon its reader.

So instead of automatically turning to the canon because of faulty assumptions, let’s trust ourselves to find stories that will speak to our children.

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