Dear Year 20,

Dear Year 20,IMG_4187

You were a tough one. From Day 1, when I saw my own son sitting alone at a cafeteria table in a school that I had been so nice to me, I knew it was going to be a unique year. Did we make the right choice to bring him to this school, out of his district? But worse, how could he be a middle schooler already? Time, you are so cruel.

And then, there were the student challenges. Broken homes, broken hearts, broken languages, broken dreams…so many pieces that I had to be assembled, IMG_4184

 

reassembled, glued tightly and held even tighter to stay together.     Students moving in and moving out, here and then gone. Keeping up with their work as they kept up with their lives…or we both tried to, at least.

Sickness…why was this year different? I thought I’d have an iron immune system by 

IMG_4185

Sinus infections, flu, bronchitis,  mold allergies when they started tearing the ceiling out. Pollen allergies through the open windows.      

 

 

And home life…will we move? When? Where? Will I stay and he move? The kids have adjusted so well this year. Do we have to move them?  Interviews…disappointments…plans…changes. 

Then staying put and waiting and wondering. 

You brought it all to us, year 20.

But I’m still here. To quote the beloved Langston Hughes,

I’se been a-climbin’ on,

And reachin’ landin’s,

And turnin’ corners,

And sometimes goin’ in the dark

Where there ain’t been no light.

 

My classroom is dark now.classroom

The boxes are packed,

the chairs are stacked.

Everything is labeled

because I’m coming back.

I didn’t get it all done this year. They will be back next year, and so will I. The needs will still be here, and so will I. Time marches on, and so will I.IMG_4188

 

Book Talk: Suddenly!

Screen Shot 2015-05-16 at 6.29.22 PMSpoiler alert: You’re gonna want this one.

Another brilliant find at my local used book store! Preston Pig was simply walking home one day and SUDDENLY! he remembered to stop at the store for his mom. You thought I was going to say the wolf attacked, didn’t you?! Well, that’s the point through the whole book. As each page turns, SUDDENLY! something happens to foil the wolf’s plan to eat tasty Preston.

Kids love this one as a read aloud, and I love it for it’s instructional potential in class. The obvious first skill would be predicting what will happen as the page is turned. After Preston’s first few narrow escapes, students will no longer guess that the wolf gets him…but what will they predict? ANDDDD, what is the author’s tone or mood in writing this humorous book of escapades? What can students conclude about Preston and the wolf while hearing the story? Which details keep Preston alive? How quickly could students summarize this story? Expressive reading could also be practiced, whole group or in small groups, with this exciting text.

This one is a keeper. I’ve used it as a read aloud, but it’s in my stack to use this coming year in my middle school language arts class. Colin McNaughton has several others that I’m going to have to explore to see if they’re as SUDDENLY useful as this one!

Happy reading!

~Kara

Photo credit: http://www.amazon.com/Suddenly-A-Preston-Pig-Story/dp/0152016996

Book Talk: The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy

Cover-Penderwicks-1-450wOh my heart! This book. I was a dreamy-eyed teenager again when I read it. Such a sweet story of family, friendship, loss, and gain.

On summer vacation, the widowed Mr. Penderwick and his four daughters encounter a handsome young gardener, his uppity boss Mrs. Tifton, and her adventure-craving son Jeffrey. The inquisitive Penderwick girls seek to make themselves at home in their summer location, the Tifton guest house, while staying out of Mrs. Tifton’s way…and her award-winning gardens.

Rosalind, the eldest daughter, quietly falls in love with Cagney the gardener. Jane and Skye, the middle sisters, compete for time with Jeffrey, while Batty, the youngest Penderwick, explores the terrain and makes her own adventures with Hound, the family dog. Each has to experience her own disappointment during the summer, but each grows as the flowers in Mrs. Tifton’s garden along the way. Each girl works through the grieving process of losing her mother to cancer as she encounters new situations this summer.

This book belongs in the hands of middle school girls. It’s a gentle, kind story…a realistic story of sisters, friends, and happiness. A sweet read-together with upper elementary or independent read for older girls. ANDDDDDD, it’s the first in a series!!!

Happy reading!

~Kara

(picture credit: http://jeannebirdsall.com/books/the-penderwicks/)

Hello, old passion; meet new passion…

Shortly after I graduated from college with my degree in education, I landed a long-term substitute job at a rural middle school. My first thought was, ‘$70 a day! Sweet!’ My second thought was, ‘Eighth graders…at the end of the year…dear God, please don’t let them eat me!’

And that was when I found my passion. I loved middle schoolers. They are aloof, awkward, misguided, over-sensitive beings. They are temporarily trapped between childhood and adulthood, and they swing between the two stages like a drunken trapeze artist. Moody, irrational, argumentative, intriguing humans craving direction but rebelling against any suggestion. they want to make wise choices but the dumb ones are so much more entertaining. ‘What is life all about?’ meets ‘Hey, y’all watch this…’ I love ’em.

I taught middle school English for a total of nine years in two separate school divisions. My students have grown up to be teenage moms, environmentalists, lawyers, nurses, Masters students, pot heads, teachers, beauticians, nuclear scientists, and even an NFL player. I loved (almost) all of them. (There were a couple that I’m certain were only placed on this earth to teach me character traits that I didn’t possess at that time…)

After my second child was born, I have only worked part-time as a reading specialist…until now. On Friday, I accepted a position to return to one of my former middle schools as an English teacher. Mommy is returning to full-time teacher status.

And I’m scared. How will both of my passions fit into my one heart?

I wanted to have four or six children until I realized how much of my heart one child took. Then I knew I couldn’t have more than two. So how is my heart going to hold 72? I don’t know.

Do I still have it in me to care so deeply for all my charges? Will I still care whose parents are divorcing, who forgets their meds, who needs extra non-verbal reminders, who needs more time on tasks, who needs extra reassurance, who needs lunch money, who needs a winter coat…AND who needs me to send in a check for yearbook or lunch, who needs poster board for a project, who needs more pencils or glue sticks, who has a field trip and wants me to attend, who has a test and needs that napkin of encouraging words in his lunch box…

I love both so much. I want to do it right for them all. But right now, I’m afraid that I’ll hurt the ones who matter most.

Oh my heart, oh my soul, oh my mind…God be with me.

kids

Book Talk: Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse

I picked this book up at a used book store, merely because the illustrations caught my eye. The details are just amazing…the hairs on the mice (and dog, cat, and rabbit in the story), the blades of grass, the crevices on the rocks and stumps…incredible. The book is slightly large in size, and the full-color, fully detailed illustrations are just so eye-catching! Props to Lindsay Barrett George for this little beauty!

Then, I perused the story, and it was equally as attention-getting! One mouse begins the story inside, sleeping in a clock; the other mouse begins outside in a stump. They each wake up and start their adventure. The mouse inside the house travels down the wall, across the rug, in front of the dog, between the socks…while the mouse outside journeys down the stump, across the ground, in front of the squirrel, between the rocks. The story ends with the mice meeting through a glass window to say ‘Hello!’ to each other.

My teacher brain nearly exploded when I began considering the lessons that could be taught with this book.

First of all, point of view…what would it be like to be the inside/outside mouse? How would each perspective be different/alike? What about the viewpoint of the dog/spider/rabbit/cat in the story?

Then, there are the prepositions…oh the prepositions! Every page has those descriptive directional words…over, under, through, around, up, down, in front of…Students could act out the words, write new prepositional phrases to add to the story, write their own story with their own prep phrases…

A clever teacher could take the text and rework it to make a Reader’s Theater for two voices (like Joyful Noise by Paul Fleischman).

Preschoolers would love acting out travels of the mice during a read-aloud. Elementary and middle students would listen to it but would glean the most from extension activities. Art teachers may even want to collaborate with this book, perhaps a joint effort could create a sequel!

So glad I found this beautiful gem! Inside Mouse, Outside Mouse may be what you need to spice up a preposition or point-of-view lesson.

Happy Reading!

~Kara

Book Talk: Once Upon a Time, the End (asleep in 60 seconds)

This one was hilarious. A great read aloud with so many options for upper elementary.

The premise is that a dad can’t get his child to go to sleep, so he continues to tell stories, with some details eliminated, until his offspring gives in to sleep. Tales such as Chicken Little, Princess Pea, and The Little Red Hen are told. Others such as The Two Little Pigs; Small Girl, Red Hood; and Goldilocks and the Bears are summarized with exhausted parental insight. “There were some bears; It doesn’t really matter how many. There was a bunch. Let’s get to the point…” and “Small girl, red hood, big wolf, in the woods…”

We laughed hysterically when we read it aloud in second grade, but I see great potential for this one in upper elementary and middle school. Oh, the lessons on summarizing!! Main idea and details!! Plot lines were never so entertaining to teach. Introduction to characters, setting, and conflict…BAM! Resolution and conclusion.

Writing extensions would be just as fun as reading these fractured fairy tales. The students could have a blast shortening a tale of their own…working collectively to decide which details to keep or slash. Turning these tales or student rewrites into Reader’s Theater could combine writing and fluency to benefit everyone.

Go check this one out. You’ll be glad you did. You’ll probably add it to your repertoire of fairy tales for next year.

Once Upon a Time, The End by Geoffrey Kloske and Barry Blitt

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Book Talk: That Is Not a Good Idea!

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 6.42.09 PMWell, it’s Mo Willems, so you know it’s going to be entertaining. What I love about this one is its versatility for upper grades as well.

With a layout that hearkens back to silent films, picture page and then text page, the book begs for predictions. After the wolf and the goose meet, little chicks warn ‘That is not a good idea!’ With each invitation from the wolf, the chicks warn the goose away from certain doom by repeating their manta, adding a few more ‘reallys’ each time. Readers will cringe with suspense at each turned page until the fateful (surprise!) ending.

I can’t wait to use this book for so many instructional purposes. Predictions are a given…but then there are inferences to be made, conclusions to be drawn, fluency to be practiced (this could so easily be turned into a Reader’s Theater), foreshadowing to be identified…oh my gosh!!! And the writing extensions are just as exciting…a sequel, a prequel, a letter of advice, a letter of regret, a recipe, a play…will it stop?!!?

And the character lessons…making wise decisions, peer pressure, stranger danger. AND, the spiritual lessons about temptation too…

This book is just a treasure in so many literary AND instructional ways! Go check it out from the library or just buy it. You’re gonna love it!