Friday, April 17, 2015

Always seeking ways to spread Book Love

Last night I attended an event at my town's public library. It was a reception to introduce the community to the book givers for the Canton Book Project, which is the Canton Public Library's version of the now dissolved World Book Night. I was excited to be one of the people selected as a book giver for a program that seeks to reach out to residents who might not have been infected with reading bug yet. For me, I wanted to find a book that would appeal to middle school students who have yet to discover a love of reading -- or maybe they used to love reading but don't anymore. As a middle school English teacher, I see so often what school does to kills students’ love of reading. In our quest to "cover" all the material in our planned curriculum, we have left our students' love of reading and love of learning in our wake. So I have made it my mission to try to bring that love of reading back into my students’ lives.  

The book I chose to give out as a book giver in the Canton Book Project was  The Crossover by Kwame Alexander.

The Crossover is one of those few books that has universal appeal. The gateway is basketball but at its heart it's a story about family and growing up. You don't have to love basketball to love The Crossover. Kids love it. Adults love it. It appeals to lovers of language with its bouncing, rhythmical verse. It appeals to reluctant readers with its minimal text on each page and accessible use of poetic language. And yes, it appeals to sports lovers too. 

Canton Book Project
With the book givers and also, I'm a READ poster!
I have made it my mission as a middle school teacher to show students who think reading isn't for them, that it is for everyone. And so while I am grateful to be giving out copies of a book I think many kids will love, I'm also cautious. As universal as I think this book is, as a teacher, I also need to respect that there is no one book that appeals to all people. I want this book to be a conversation starter rather than shutting it down before the discussion even begins. I don’t want this to be yet another way for adults to force their “because it’s good for you, that’s why” agenda on kids' reading lives.  

So if you're a teacher and you care about your students' reading lives, I encourage you to discover what they like to read and talk with them about it rather than just force feeding them books that YOU like. If they don't know what they like, keep encouraging and nudging. Lots of reading lives are built on a teacher saying, "I read this book and I thought of you..." 

Also if you're a teacher and you want to build a classroom library but don't have the means, I encourage you to apply for a grant from the Book Love Foundation, which gives out ten classroom libraries per year. Applications are due May 1st. Even if you're not a teacher and you're reading this as a concerned  parent, feel free to share the Book Love Foundation website with your child's teacher or even make a donation to the foundation. Spreading Book Love takes a village.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Teaching: Never a Dull Moment

Actual thing that happened in my last hour class today: One of my 8th graders, whom I adore but he cannot sit still or be quiet for any extended period of time, noticed that I had The Crossover by Kwame Alexander sitting on my desk. He took it off my desk without asking, which normally I light into students for taking stuff off my desk, but I forgave it because clearly something about the book called out to him. He looked through it for a few minutes and then said, "This is a good book. I'm going to go flop around on the floor like a fish now." And then proceeded to plop down on the floor and well, flopped around like a fish.

I suppose I should have been mad about it, or tried to stop him, but he wasn't doing it to try to draw attention to himself (he moved over to an area of the room where others weren't around); I could see that this was clearly a self-regulating move on his part. So I just laughed and moved on to helping the next student. These are the kinds of moments that remind me why I teach. Because every day is always different and comes with new, interesting, and hilarious challenges. No matter how much politicians and the news media try to relegate my job to a set of data points, you will never get me to see my kids as numbers. All of them have hearts and souls and their own unique challenges. I hope one day we all come to understand that.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Monday, March 30, 2015

Reflections from MRA 2015

#mra15I just returned home from the 2015 Michigan Reading Association Conference in Grand Rapids and, as always, had a wonderful time.

It began on Friday with a great kick-off party co-hosted by Colby Sharp. The party included Ignite sessions and epic lip-sync battles.

On Saturday I presented two sessions, one with my friend and former colleague Kirsten LeBlanc called Students CAN Write. We presented this session at MCTE in October and NCTE in November with Kevin English, but unfortunately Kevin couldn't make it to MRA this year and it quickly became apparent to me that this presentation was missing his passion and energy. Not that Kirsten and I aren't passionate about this topic, but for some reason my words were just not coming to me. I obsessed over this disappointment for the rest of the morning but quickly had to let it go, as I was also presenting that afternoon with my friend Michael Stohrer in a session called Originality, Emulation, and Theft: A Plagiarism Manifesto. Thankfully, I was able to shake off my disappointment from earlier in the day and sound somewhat coherent with Michael. My lack of finding the right zone in the morning resulted in a fluid and seamless performance in the afternoon. I thankfully redeemed myself.

If you're interested in seeing slides from either one of my presentations, follow the links:
Students CAN Write: Changing the Narrative of a Deficit Model 
Originality, Emulation, and Theft: A Plagiarism Manifesto

Between my morning and afternoon presentations I happened upon Teri Lesesne, Kristin McIlhagga, Donalyn Miller, Katherine Sokolowski, Colby Sharp, and Tobey Antao. Instead of going to a session, we formed our own session as we sat around and talked books as well as authentic classroom practices. It just proves you don't have to always be in sessions to be learning at conferences. Sometimes the best learning happens in those hallway, hotel room, and mealtime conversations.

Speaking of mealtimes, one of my favorite memories from MRA this year will be having dinner with Lindsay Grady, Sarah Andersen, Cheryl Mizerney, Kelly Vorhis, Kathy Burnette, Jessica Crawford, Erica Beaton, and Brian Wyzlic at San Chez, a Spanish tapas restaurant that has become an MRA tradition. This year though, we brought even more celebration to dinner by throwing Brian an impromptu baby book shower since he and his wife Lisa are expecting at the end of June. We can't let a Nerdy baby come into the world without celebrating with books!

Overall, MRA was a great conference again this year. I'm glad I had the chance to present with two friends and colleagues, but more importantly, I was able to feed my teacher soul by surrounding myself with the people in my field that I admire most. They keep me going and passionate about my craft. I'm happy I've found and sustained my tribe.

Here's a Storify of Tweets I curated from #mra15

Saturday, March 21, 2015

5 things I loved about this week

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

1.  Blast from the past
This is what happens when you teach at the school you went to: you get to feel cool wearing your old varsity jacket during Spirit Week.

2. What a difference a booktalk makes
On Monday I booktalked Jo Knowles's new book Read Between the Lines to my 8th graders and to my utter delight, one of my resistant readers asked if he could come and check the book out tomorrow morning before class (I generally make kids wait until the next day to check out a booktalked book since I discuss it in all three of my classes). I was so excited that he wanted to check a book out, I told him that if he came after school, I'd let him check it out today. I have to admit, I didn't expect him to stop by. I figured if it was still available he might check it out when he came to class tomorrow. Lo and behold, only a few minutes after the final bell of the day, he comes into my classroom and asks if he can take the book.

3. Intertextual connections
 The Beekle poster in my classroom keeps falling down. One of my students said, "It needs a snicker of magic to keep it up on the wall." (A Snicker of Magic is the book I am reading aloud to my 8th graders right now.)
BEEKLE poster keeps falling down

4. Crushing English Teacher Stereotypes
After I said "get your nails did" in class one day this week, one of my students assertively asked, "Aren't you an English teacher?" To which we had an impromptu discussion about code switching and knowing your audience. So to answer my student's question, yes, I still get to keep my English Teacher Card.

5. A book review blast from the past
I recently came across this review I had written before I had a blog. I honestly forgot that I had read and written about this book. But someone recently liked the review on Goodreads and so I clicked on the link and suddenly it all came back to me. And I was reminded yet again why I used to love to play the piano. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Celebrate understanding spouses

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Bless my husband for putting up with my book obsession and being okay with the fact that I always seem to have said books in haphazard piles all over the house. This is the current state of our kitchen table. I should probably move these somewhere more permanent before I sit down to work on grad school homework, but sometimes I think I have them lying around because they keep me company. I guess I'll keep them here for a while before I attempt to find a space for them on our already overflowing bookshelves and in my equally overflowing classroom library.

Messy kitchen table

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Remembering Rachmaninoff

When I was a junior in high school, I mastered the most difficult piano piece I've ever attempted: "Prelude in C-Sharp Minor" by Sergei Rachmanioff.

The fact the I have tiny hands and was still able to perfect this piece with its giant, pounding chords is nothing short of miraculous.  So once I bought a brand new baby grand piano back in October, I vowed to attempt to master this piece again.

The past couple of weeks I have been tinkering with it again, and lo and behold, it is coming back to me. I can't even describe to you the excitement I feel when I get to the middle section that moves at breakneck speed with its wide, arpeggiated chords and my fingers actually cooperate with me, playing most notes swiftly and competently. I was practicing this piece again today and despite the melancholy, macabre tone of the piece, I felt nothing short of joyful.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Saturday, March 7, 2015

5 Things I Loved About This Week

1. Students walking out on standardized tests
Advocacy Day was on Thursday, so it was nice to read a couple encouraging stories this week. The first one comes out of New Mexico: 1,000 high school students walked out on the PARCC exam this week. The knowledge of how corrupt our educational testing culture has become has made its way to students and if you watch the video, these kids are incredibly articulate and understand the reasons behind their protests. It's not because they're lazy and don't want to take a test. It's because they recognize the education they are losing out on due to the ridiculous amount of flawed testing they are subjected to and recognize the ridiculousness of evaluating their teachers based on these test scores.

The other stories I enjoyed weren't so much stories as this blog post and Storify of ranty tweets re: standardized testing from author Kelly Barnhill.

Oh yeah, and she also wrote this amazing post that literally had me weeping:
Seriously guys, how do teachers do this every day?

2. Celebrating students past and present
This week was a veritable parade of encounters that made me smile, starting with a former student who saw my march fo(u)rth post (the same student who informed me that March fourth is the only date on the calendar that is a command) and sent me a Facebook message saying that she and her friends were reminiscing about being in my 6th grade class and asked if I still had a video of her telling a joke that she told that made me laugh so hard I cried.

I also had some pretty hilarious and touching encounters with current students this week, starting with one who told me, "Mrs. Shaum, a picture's just not a picture without Frank and Guenter in it." So I proceeded to go home, and post this picture to Instagram just for her:
Frank and Guenter

I also had a student who has been adamant since the beginning of the year that he hates reading, but he chose as his passion project to learn about the benefits of reading because he wants to be a better reader. When reading their research updates this week, this is what he wrote:

The benefits of reading are phenomenal. You get a better memory, imagination, attitude, and focusing skill. What I never knew was it makes you more attractive. Living in a house full of annoying siblings builds stress, but if you read it reduces stress. To me I have a good attitude but for the times I don't reading fixes that. It can help you to not have Alzheimer's.

Not only did this make me a little teary-eyed, but it also made me giggle a little when he pointed out that reading makes you more attractive. :)  Still, I am so proud of him for being willing to open his mind to how reading benefits your life. 

3. Lunch with the girls on this balmy 40-degree day
It has been a long, depressing winter here in Michigan. I really hate cold weather. Despise it. To the point where I keep bugging my husband every so often to check to see if there are job openings at Tesla (he's an automotive engineer) so we can move to California and leave winter behind forever. So the fact that it was 40 degrees today might give you pause since I hate the cold so much, but for reals, after how cold it's been 40 degrees feels like the tropics.

So it was nice to get out and meet up with my friends Sarah, Jessica, and Lindsay for lunch and a shopping date. It was so nice to catch up with them since I've been so into teaching and grad school mode the past few months so I haven't had much time to set aside for friends.

4. Me? An award winner?
Yesterday one of my grad school professors/advisors informed me that I had been selected as the outstanding grad student award in the English Studies program at my university.  I didn't even know this award existed so I was caught totally by surprise when I received the email from Cathy Fleischer. So as a result, I figured it was a good excuse to celebrate so my husband and I went to my favorite new restaurant in Ann Arbor, Aventura, which has amazing tapas.
Celebrating at Aventura

5. Teachers talk pen obsessions
I loved Michelle Hastletine's Slice of Life post this week about her pen obsession. To the point where it became an extended conversation on social media throughout the week, starting with this Instragam post from me, and then her response later in the week. It even filtered over to Twitter a few times as well. Teachers straight up don't mess around when it comes to their pens!

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres