Sunday, December 14, 2014

5 things I loved about last week

 It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Students owning their learning
My 8th graders are writing a reflective essay for their midterms and I'm having them use the comments feature in Google Docs to point out the skill-type things they learned like grammar, 6+1 Traits, etc. and in one period they pointed out to me things they had learned that I forgot to list on the requirements blog post or texts we had shared as a class. Apparently I missed an opportunity to create this assignment collaboratively since they were offering me things that I needed to add to the midterm. Note to self for the final exam.

2. Reading Epiphanies
I am going to pat myself on the back and say that I have been on my game as a writing teacher this year. But because I only teach writing, I haven't done so well motivating my students to read this semester. I want them to see the value of self-selected reading because I firmly believe it makes you a better writer, but having my classroom in a computer lab that is taking up precious bookshelf space (as well as precious space in my students' heads as to what they could be doing once they finish their work), I haven't been able to find a way to make books a part of our daily literacy diet.

Many of my students have said, "If books were actually about things I WANT to read then I would read them." A lot of them think that books aren't written with their issues in mind and clearly I haven't done a good job of communicating that there are lots of books out there for them. So I have decided that over Christmas break, I am going to reorganize my classroom library so that it is more appealing to my mature 8th grade readers. Clearly I am still in my 6th grade mindset and I need to move past that and appeal to my more mature readers.

3. But really, students are begging for books. I just need to pay better attention to their pleas.
To go along with #2, I have also been slacking on my read aloud this year. Students were so involved with NaNoWriMo for the month of November that we didn't read anything at all from Natalie Lloyd's A Snicker of Magic, and as December rolled around, we got busy doing things like preparing for midterms and having frank conversations about race through the lens of what is happening in Ferguson as well as the watermelon joke heard round the world at the National Book Awards that I lost track of our shared reading experience.

But on Friday, through the fervor of working on midterms, I mentioned that next week we would get back into the swing of our read aloud, when an unlikely student, one who rarely speaks and I often question his engagement said, "But you could just read to us for five minutes." Clearly I have been shirking my "literacy is everyone's job" responsibilities this semester.

4. Reason # I've-Lost-Count that I love Literati Bookstore
Last week, Literati posted this picture on their social media sites with the following description:

Since he was accidentally left behind at our store, Teddy has been acclimating to his new life. He alphabetizes books and keeps our typewriter filled with fresh paper. But he's secretly hoping for a holiday miracle to be reunited with his person. He asked me to put up one more post, just in case someone recognizes him.

I mean, how can you NOT want to shop at a bookstore like that?

5. Baby grand pianos have lots of practical uses. A Christmas tree stand, for example.

Is this not the perfect vehicle for a small Christmas tree and a place to put gifts? And I love even more that I don't have to move furniture around.

As you have probably surmised, I am still quite smitten with Tori, the baby grand. I love that now when I come downstairs, this is what greets me instead of a cluttered dining room table.

What did you love about last week? 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Walter Dean Myers Award: Challenge your students to read diverse books

Earlier this spring, a movement began on social media. Frustrated with the lack of diversity in children's literature and the fact that the organizers of the inaugural BookCon in New York City deemed “the world’s biggest children’s authors” to be all white males, authors Melinda Lo and Ellen Oh expressed their frustration via social media and shortly thereafter a hashtag was born: #WeNeedDiverseBooks, which was first tweeted by author Aisha Saeed and began trending on April 29th of this year. It created ripples all over the world of social media.

From this single hashtag, a movement began and now #WeNeedDiverseBooks has transformed beyond simple passive social media activism into something more tangible. Not long after the hashtag went viral, We Need Diverse Books was established as a nonprofit organization, and in October it was announced that they have created a new award: The Walter Dean Myers Award, which "will recognize published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing and '[allow] children to see themselves reflected back' in those works," (Publisher's Weekly).

The award is currently limited to young adult literature and winners will announced in 2015, but there are plans for adding middle grade and picture books to the award in the future.

In the wake of all the racial tension happening in our country right now, reading widely from diverse perspectives is more important than ever. As Matt de la Pena said recently in a panel at NCTE called Reshaping the Landscape of Story: Creating Space for Missing and Marginalized Voices, "The quickest way to create monsters in our inner cities is by never showing them mirrors of themselves in literature." We need to be giving kids positive portrayals of all cultural backgrounds, not just the voices of the privileged. As one contributor to the video above stated, "We need diverse books because they are the vehicles for empathy and empathy is the best weapon against hate."

So just like many teachers and librarians hold mock Newbery and Caldecott awards in their schools, I would encourage you to hold your own mock Walter Awards. Not only will this give your students an opportunity to read from a variety of cultural backgrounds, allowing them to not only look through windows but also into mirrors, it will also give teachers and librarians a chance to add more diverse books to their own classrooms and libraries.

Even though the Walter Award is starting in 2015 with only young adult literature, I would still encourage you to hold mock Walter Awards for middle grade and picture books as well. Encourage your students students to read from a variety of books with diverse characters and authors, and then create a ballot to vote for their favorites. Not sure how to dig in? Here is a list of 2014 titles to get you started. This is by no means an exhaustive list, mainly because my canon of diverse books needs to increase, and also because I don't know what the exact award criteria will be other than "published authors from diverse backgrounds who celebrate diversity in their writing,"  but it's a good place to start so you can seek out further titles. And please let me know what 2014 titles I should add to this list.

Young Adult
How It Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Fake ID by Lamar Giles
Promise of Shadows by Justina Ireland
Love is the Drug by Alaya Dawn Johnson
The Secret Sky by Atia Abawi
How I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson, illustrated by Hadley Hooper
Silver People: Voices from the Panama Canal by Margarita Engle
When I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
A Time to Dance by Padma Venkatraman
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow and Jen Wang
Everything Leads to You by Nina Lacour
Knockout Games by G. Neri
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero
Taking Flight: From War Orphan to Star Ballerina by Michaela and Elaine DePrince
Dreaming in Indian: Contemporary Native American Voices, edited by Lisa Charleyboy and Mary Leatherdale

Middle Grade
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander
The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney
The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Secrets of the Terra-Cotta Soldier by Ying Chang Compestine and Vinson Compestine
Five, Six, Seven, Nate! by Tim Federle
The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods
Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon G. Flake
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
Kinda Like Brothers by Coe Booth
Wrinkles Wallace: Fighters of Foreclosure by Marquin Parks

Picture Books
Firebird by Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Hana Hashimoto, Sixth Violin by Chieri Uegaki, illustrated by Qin Leng
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan
Green is a Chile Pepper by Roseanne Thong, illustrated by John Parra
The Hula-Hoopin'Queen by Thelma Lynne Godin, illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton
I Got the Rhythm by Connie Schofield-Morrison, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Sweetest Kulu by Celina Kalluk,illustrated by Alexandria Neonakis
Little Melba and Her Big Trombone by Katheryn Russell-Brown, illustrated by Frank Morrison
Ninja! by Aree Chung
Soccer Star by Mina Javaherbin, illustrated Renato Alarcao
Bravo, Chico Canta! Bravo! by Pat Mora and Libby Martinez, illustrated by Amelia Lau Carling
A Dance Like Starlight: One Ballerina's Dream by Kristy Dempsey, illustrated by Floyd Cooper
Twenty-Two Cents: Muhammad Yunus and the Village Bank by Paula Yoo, illustrated by Jamel Akib
All Different Now: Juneteenth, the First Day of Freedom by Angela Johnson, illustrated by E.B. Lewis
Sugar Hill: Harlem's Historic Neighborhood by Carole Boston Weatherford, illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

In the interest of full-disclosure, book links take you to my Amazon Affiliate page. If you buy any of these books through Amazon, it is my hope that you also regularly patronize independent bookstores, which are important centerpieces of thriving communities. While I am an Amazon Affiliate, that by no means implies that I only buy my books through their website. Please make sure you are still helping small, independent bookstores thrive in your community. To locate an independent bookstore near you, visit IndieBound.  

Cross-posted to my book blog, A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust

Friday, December 5, 2014

Celebrating NaNoWriMo accomplishments and hard conversations

My 8th graders turned in their NaNoWriMo stories on Monday and they are STILL talking about how much they loved the experience. One girl said today, "I learned so much about writing from NaNoWriMo. I wish we were still doing it." Another said, "Now whenever we're asked to a short essay, I'll be like, 'this is a piece of cake' after going through NaNoWriMo." I've only had a couple students write and talk about it being a bad experience for them. Most of them said they really enjoyed it. So I'm still basking in the glow of their writing motivation. Clearly I need to do NaNoWriMo with my students every year.

In addition to celebrating their NaNoWriMo accomplishments, however, we also had some really tough conversations this week about race in the wake of all that is happening in our country right now. I was initially very hesitant to discuss such an emotionally-charged topic with my students, but overall, they were very mature and respectful, even if we didn't always agree. It was hard to hear some of the things they were saying, but I also know that sweeping this issue under the rug would have been a missed opportunity for a teachable moment. I'm glad I decided to stick my neck out, crawl out of my turtle shell, and talk about the tough stuff with them.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Remembering Joy

Today I cried while playing a Chopin Nocturne.

It was fraught with wrong notes and stifled rhythms, and for a few moments, I had a hard time seeing the music through my tears. But I played it all the way through and it was glorious.

I cried because I remembered what it was like to sit at the piano again and feel joy. And while I have shed many tears over the past fourteen years as a result of my lost musical passions, today I cried for the first time, not for the years I lost, but instead because I remembered and it didn't hurt.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Today I am thankful for...

I've been back from NCTE for four days now and I still cannot put into words what an amazing experience it was. Every year this event inspires me to be a better teacher and sustains me for the rest of the school year.

Last year in Boston was the first year I presented at NCTE, and this year I presented three times!

Rather than write a long, detailed explanation of all the wonderful things that happened this year, I took a cue from Katherine Sokolowski and created an Animoto video to tell the story of my NCTE experience.

If you want more #ncte14 nuggets, check out my #ncte14 Storify

So today I am thankful for a tribe of teachers who sustain me and keep me going. Teaching absolutely is a calling, but it's one that requires a village to stay the course. NCTE is my village.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Going to NCTE? Hope to see you there!

I leave for the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention on Wednesday night. I can't believe it's here already! I treat NCTE like a holiday... I actually like it better than Christmas (Free books AND meeting revered authors? Hello? What could be better?)

If you're going to be there, I hope you can attend one of my sessions:

Friday 2:30 - 3:45 PM
Heart and Mind: Stories and Ideas That Keep Us Teaching  
Along with students’ narrative writing, teachers must recount their work, to build public understanding and encourage colleagues, especially with education so stressed. After featured speaker Sonia Nieto, three teachers will share classroom stories. Then, in this interactive session, participants write and photograph placards about teaching, published afterward in web videos.

Saturday 8:00 - 9:15 AM
Students CAN Write: Changing the Narrative of a Deficit Model
We’ve heard it in the news and teachers’ lounges across America: 'These students just can’t write!' The presenters in this panel, who span grade levels and subject areas, seek to silence this false presumption and prove that student writing is worthy of recognition and celebration.

And I was added last minute to this Ignite session on Saturday 9:30-10: 45 AM due to a cancellation:
Common Standards, Uncommon Teaching
The standards may be common, but our students deserve uncommon learning. There are spaces in the standards for the additional skills, topics, and passions we want our students to have. Each presenter will give a fast-paced, five-minute Ignite presentation with ideas on where these spaces are and what we can do with them. There will also be time for audience interaction.

My Ignite session is going to be about using social media to transform your teaching.

If you're able to come to any of these sessions, I hope you'll come say hi. Or if you see me in the hallways or exhibit hall between sessions, come talk to me too. I love meeting new teachers and hearing their stories. NCTE is a great place to re-energize your teaching and I love seeing, hearing, and feeling the enthusiasm. It is most definitely contagious!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Celebrate This Week: On Discovering Your Own Writing Journey

Conferring with students this week about their NaNoWriMo stories, I am continually impressed with the progress they are making in their own writing journeys. One particular conference reinforced just how powerful having the time to figure things out is so crucial. Because of the extended nature of this project, the time has allowed this student to see how to move his story forward. He had a problem, and rather than coming to me and saying, "I don't know what to do!" he worked it out for himself. He didn't need hand-holding. He just needed time. I worry that we're dismissing too many young writers as incapable because we're not allowing them the benefit of time...

As Penny Kittle said at the MCTE conference a couple weeks ago:
We need to be looking at embracing all of our students as individuals and helping them on their own journeys instead of forcing everyone down the same pre-determined path.

So in that vein, I am celebrating all the ways my students are discovering their own learning journeys this week.  Here are some quotes from my students reflecting on their NaNoWriMo stories.

On discovering yourself as a writer:
"I have learned that I do best when I listen to music and try not to be a 'perfectionist.'" - Alex H.

"So far my story is going pretty well. Honestly, it feels good and strange saying that because I usually struggle with characterization. At the beginning I was contemplating my entire plot and storyline in a whole, but now I have most everything figured out. With that being said, since I just recently discovered my plot, I still have all of next week to write it, making the weeks following crucial and busy." - Erin R.

"I just write what comes to my mind and when the music speeds up, tension rises and when it slows down, tension falls." - Seth K. 

"I've learned that I actually have really good ideas in my mind that I didn't know I had." - Monse S.

On knowing your writing process:
"It can be lit ablaze with just a spark of imagination." - Jonah S. 

"I learned that my writing process is fairly simple. I just need time and concentration. Sometimes when I am stressed, ideas tend to come slower to me." - Hailey W.

On embracing excitement and uncertainty:
"My story idea in my head right now is what I've always wanted to write, my story blossomed before my eyes which I am pretty proud of myself for. I struggle with actually typing it though. I have everything in my head and then just spitting the words out can be pretty difficult. I get frustrated because I don't know how to word stuff or where to put what. I feel nervous going into next week, but I will make sure to make an improvement this weekend." - Alex H.

On realizing goals:
"10,000 words is not too many words as it may seem." - Jared M

On embracing independence:
"I don't really need help, plus I want to learn on my own sometimes." - Jacksen K.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Putting Birthdays in Perspective

Yesterday was my birthday. I turned 35. I didn't want to make a big deal out of it, but at my new school, teachers' birthdays are announced over the PA in the morning so just about every teacher and every student wished me a Happy Birthday yesterday, in addition to being serenaded four times (even though I only have three classes).

Despite my somewhat curmudgeonly attitude, I am thankful for birthdays. Yes, as you get older they become less and less important and not the Big Deal they are when you're younger (I kinda forgot it was my birthday until my husband reminded me), but they also take on a new significance. We can wallow in self-pity that we are getting older, or we can celebrate that this beautiful thing called Life gave us the privilege of one more year. I choose to be thankful for one more year.
Thankful for the privilege of getting older

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Remember, Remember the 9th of November

Today is the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. My husband and I have visited Berlin three times and it remains my favorite city in the entire world. To be present in a place where the energy is vibrant and almost palpable yet still shows the scars of its storied past on nearly every corner is a fascinating dichotomy. But what fascinates me the most about this city is that The Wall fell peacefully. The power of the people, not weapons, made The Wall come down. This is something I don't think we study enough in history. We anchor our units of study around wars, but what happens when conflict doesn't result in war? Isn't that more worthy of a careful examination? We say that those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it, but if all we study are the wars, what does that say about what we value?

I will remain fervent in my insistence that the Cold War is my favorite era of history to study for the simple fact that it ended peacefully. Not only that, but it shows We the People have the power to make change -- a message of inspiration those of us in education really need right now.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

NaNoWriMo: Seeing my students in a new light

I am so impressed with my students right now I can't even tell you. They have been so focused and motivated since we started NaNoWriMo. My 6th hour yesterday, which has been my most challenging class all semester, actually made me cry because they have been the most enthusiastic and hard-working of all my classes so far. I had a student come up to me at the end of class, a student who has barely said two words to me since the beginning of the school year and who has shown little enthusiasm in his work, proudly inform me how many words he has written so far. It took my entire being not to just openly weep in front of him. These are the things you cannot evaluate with a standardized test score.

Students CAN write. When you believe it, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. We just need to give them the right conditions to make it so.

While students were typing their own stories, I was inspired to write this poem:

A NaNoWriMo Poem
The room is silent
except for
the hypnotizing click of keyboards
as stories begin to emerge
from grey matter.

The classroom is rife
with possibilities.
The motivation is palpable
as students rise to the occasion
and bear their souls
to a blank screen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Do you NaNoWriMo?

 This is the first year I am doing NaNoWriMo with my students as a whole-class assignment. In the past I have done it as extra credit, but I decided to throw caution to the wind, face uncertainty and see how my students fare when we do this as a class. We've only had two days of in-class writing so far, but from what I've seen these past two days, I am so impressed with my students. Each one of them is taking their writing goals seriously in their own way. Because they are all in different places and have different abilities, I am celebrating what each of them is accomplishing for themselves, not just based on what I expect of them. Which proves to me that no matter what the politicians say, the push for standardization is really harming kids' learning.

Despite the fact that I am giving all of my students the goal of 10,000 words for NaNoWriMo, I have emphasized to them that making the goal is not what I will be grading them on. Their attitude, willingness to work, and ability to focus on the task at hand is how I will be evaluating them. If they come to class willing to work every day, the rest will take care of itself. I am already seeing that in spades and we've only been writing for two days. Will all of them make their goal of 10,000 words? No, but I can guarantee that they will learn something about themselves as writers and they will continue to build stamina along the way. I can't wait to see the other ways my students will surprise me this month.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Celebrate Teaching and Learning with PLN Colleagues: #MCTE14

Yesterday I presented at the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference with two colleagues and friends whom I greatly respect, Kevin English and Kirsten LeBlanc. We discussed the topic of student writing an the need for teachers to view it in positive terms rather than the typical deficit model thinking you so often hear in exasperated voices in teachers lounges across the country.

Not only was the presentation a wonderful experience, but I was able to hang out and learn from some well-respected teachers throughout the state of Michigan and throughout the country. And as per usual, whenever Penny Kittle speaks, tears tend to flow and her morning keynote was no different. If Penny Kittle is speaking at a conference, you MUST listen. She is so inspiring.

Here is the slideshare of our presentation:
Students CAN Write: Changing the Narrative of a Deficit Model

And here is a Storify of the tweets I wanted to save from the conference:
#MCTE14 Storify


Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Happiness is a baby grand piano

Guess what was delivered today:

I have dreamed of owning a baby grand piano since I was a very little girl and now today I finally have one. It was an emotional day to say the least. I've spend the past three hours sitting at her and playing my heart out. I'm not playing very well since I haven't practiced regularly in over ten years, but having this beauty in my house will definitely motivate me to play more.

Now we can complete the circle from my first inkling of wanting to play the piano to finally owning my own baby grand. Today is a good day.


Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Finding value in our students' abilities

In teaching, maintaining a sense of humor, even when you're annoyed, is imperative. Students who have mastered the art of comic timing can turn an annoyed teacher into a smiling, laughing teacher in the blink of an eye. This was one such encounter with one of my students yesterday:

Me (to student): Turn around.
Student: Every now and then I get a little bit terrified and then I see the look in your eyes.
Me: *Shakes head and walks away smiling*
Student: My mom sang me that song.

You just can't be mad at a student that clever. His response felt like one of those "too perfectly scripted for TV" moments. I couldn't believe it happened. It just goes to show you that every kid that comes into our classroom has gifts and talents that don't always translate to a classroom setting and we need to be willing to work with those talents. Today, I tip my hat to my student who, despite not fitting inside the classroom mold that I and many teachers envision, knows how to deescalate a tense situation with a smile and a clever comeback.

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Sunday, October 19, 2014

5 things I loved about last week

 It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Author Carrie Harris visited my class

Carrie Harris, author of books such as Bad Taste in Boys, Bad Hair Day, and Demon Derby, came to visit my school on Wednesday to do a writing workshop with my 8th graders. Not only is Carrie's road to publication story riveting for kids to listen to, but the writing she did with my students for how to create a story plot from a single character will be a wonderful starting point for NaNoWriMo. Not only did my students create fantastic characters and story ideas this week, but I decided to keep my promise of writing with my students this year and was shocked to see that I, too, could come up with a storyline from first creating a character. If you live in Michigan or southeastern Ohio and teach middle or high school English, I highly recommend you invite Carrie to come write with your students!

2. Battle Bunny as Mentor Text
I've been writing a lot lately about how I love the book Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett. I had a pile of Little Golden Books just waiting for my students to deface them, and they did not disappoint. It was an assignment I took great joy from grading.
I laughed till I cried on this student's subversion of a Sesame Street Little Golden Book

3. Finishing presentations.  
 I'm presenting at both the Michigan Council of Teachers of English conference and the National Council of Teachers of English convention this in October and November. This weekend I finished my portion of the presentations I'm doing. Given how busy I am with grad classes and teaching, it feels good not to be getting things done at the last minute!

Check out what I'll be presenting about at NCTE (the first session listed is the one I'll also be talking about at MCTE):
Students CAN Write: Changing the Narrative of a Deficit Model
Heart and Mind: Stories and Ideas that Keep Us Teaching 

4. The excitement is building
Our empty lr and kitchen
This weekend we cleared out our first floor in anticipation of a hardwood flooring install tomorrow. Getting the hardwood flooring installed to me means one thing: we're getting closer and closer to the day (October 25th) that the new baby grand piano will be delivered. If you hadn't noticed, I can't flippin' wait!

5. Gets grading done... like a boss
This weekend I got all my grading done by early Saturday morning. That never happens. Usually I put it off until the end of the weekend. This weekend I didn't let it mock me from my giant rolley bag. I OWNED that rolley bag and got r' done! 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

5 things I loved about last week

It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Subversion
I love when teachers aren't so rigid that they can recognize when subversion in the classroom is a Good Thing. This past week we embraced subversion in 8th grade by celebrating the book Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett.

2. A student's vote of confidence
It made my day when a student said to me in class last week:
"You know what you should do, Mrs. Shaum? Next year when we're freshmen, you should move over and teach English at the high school."

3. Blanket Books
Kurt Stroh asked me to be a part of a blog post called "The Wonderful Comfort of Blanket Books." I love this idea of blanket books, which are books that you read and reread to give you comfort.

4. Finding answers
I have suffered from gastrointestinal issues for the majority of my life. Without going into too much detail, IBS is something I have lived with since I was in 7th grade and it has progressively gotten worse over the past few years. I have seen many different doctors about this problem and nothing has helped me. But I recently saw a new gastroenterologist at the University of Michigan who recommended me to a nutritionist who put me on an elimination diet called low FODMAPs. I have been on this diet for the past six weeks and have felt like a new person. I am so happy that I have finally moved towards something that will help me not have to worry so much about where the nearest bathroom is, or if I can go out to eat with my friends without having to go right home afterwards. I am feeling very thankful right now.

5. Michigan football under the lights
There is something about a Michigan football game under the lights that is incomparable to a day game. The energy in the stadium is like nothing I've ever experienced. It is electric. And with two ugly losses the past two games, Michigan desperately needed a win this week against Penn State. And with this win, it gave the fans a much-needed morale boost after the game against Minnesota where the air in the stadium was so hopeless and tense, that a large portion of the crowd cleared out before the 3rd quarter even ended. This week, while certainly not perfect, everyone -- players and fans -- felt a sense of renewal.
Go Blue
Go Blue

Friday, October 10, 2014

Celebrating a little subversion -- okay, maybe a lot of subversion

I recently found a collection of Little Golden Books at my library's used bookstore and I immediately had an idea: I'm going to let my students create their own versions of the infamous Battle Bunny by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett.
Little Golden Books

So today I introduced this extra credit project to my 8th grade classes, and this was one of my favorite conversations of the day:

Me: Today I'm going to talk about your extra credit project for 1st quarter if you choose to accept it, but first I have to show you a book trailer.
Student (rather begrudgingly): Does this mean we're gonna have to read this book?
Me: Well yes but it's a picture book.
Student: Oh, I guess that's OK.
Me: *Shows Battle Bunny Book Trailer*
Student (with entire class in concert): I HAVE TO READ THAT BOOK!

My next favorite conversation went something like this:
Student: Mrs. Shaum are Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett going to make any other books like Battle Bunny?
Me: Well, I don't know. They're on Twitter. Maybe we could ask them.
Student: Well get tweeting.

And still another favorite conversation (that happened repeatedly throughout the day):
Student(s): So wait. You mean you want us to write all over a book?
Me: Yes. Just don't use Sharpies because they'll bleed through the page.
Student(s)' thoughts and wheels turning are almost palpable: I can't believe a teacher wants us to destroy a book.

So Mac Barnett and Jon Scieszka, if you're reading this, I hope you do create more books like Battle Bunny. Based on my students' attitudes about reading, which have been tepid so far this year, this is the first book that they were CLAMORING to read.

Needless to say, I had a swarm of 8th graders coming to get Little Golden Books after school today so they could create their own Battle Bunny stories for extra credit. I can't wait to see what they come up with.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Pairing the old with the new

As I watched Bethany Mota dance to Colbie Caillat's song "Try" on Dancing with the Stars this week, I suddenly had a vision that this song would pair perfectly with Paul Laurence Dunbar's classic poem "We Wear the Mask."

I was not wrong. Today our journal topic in 8th grade English was to close read the poem, watch the video, and compare the two.
We wear the mask
My close reading of  "We Wear the Mask"

The discussions that poured forth in all three of my classes after we spent some time writing were so on point, I was so impressed with the things they were saying. And even better that the students led the discussion the entire time. I would interject every so often, but for the most part they got the connection without much prodding. The idea of metaphorical masks certainly seems to resonate with middle school students.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

5 Things I loved about last week

It's so easy to get overwhelmed and allow a sense of hopelessness take over when you're a teacher. The work just never seems to be finished. So in the spirit of Colby Sharp and Elisabeth Ellington, I'm going to focus on some of the amazing things that happened this past week.

1. Superheroes

Inspired by Cece Bell, my 8th graders started writing about their own superhero powers. More importantly, I led them in this writing assignment by sharing with them what I wrote about this topic, and I've never seen them more engaged and excited. Powerful things happen in a classroom where the teacher writes with her students.

2. Tori's coming home soon
Who is Tori you ask? If you recall, I recently wrote about watching a childhood dream of one day owning a baby grand piano finally come to fruition. On Friday we finalized everything and plan to have her delivered on October 25th.

(I named her Tori because Tori Amos is one of my musical role models)
She lies in waiting, but she'll be home soon

3. Google Classroom
Our school just signed up for Google Apps for Education so my students and I have been exploring Google Classroom and I have to say that I am in love. What an incredibly efficient and streamlined way to organize student work.

4. Andrew Smith books
Grasshopper Jungle was the first Andrew Smith book I ever read and I was completely wowed. In this sort of way
This week I finally decided to do something about only having read one of his books by starting Winger. And after page one, I have decided that Andrew Smith is the poet of expletives. I *bleeping* love his books. How's THAT for a book talk, kids?

5. My students crack me up
 At the end of the day earlier this week, some students in my last hour class drew this on my whiteboard:
How can you not love 8th graders?
(Incidentally, despite the fact that I like the song, I'm a little annoyed that I cannot get it out of my head. It is incessantly pounding on my skull and it won't go away!)

What did you love about last week? 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Changing my writing tune

I have come to realize two things during this new school year from being at a new school and having a fresh start:

1) Writing with your students isn't just a nice idea; it's a necessity if you want to see their writing improve.

2) Commenting on second drafts instead of final drafts has given my students a way to focus on better revision strategies for their final drafts.

At my former school I touted my expertise to my students and colleagues as the writing guru, citing the seminal work of inspiring teachers that came before me like Tom Romano, Nancie Atwell, and Penny Kittle. But the truth of the matter is, I frequently found myself frustrated with the lack of motivation my students possessed in moving from one draft to the next. The problem? I preached to them my gospel of writing, but I wasn't living it.

This year I am making sure to be mindful that my actions are much more powerful than my words when it comes to assigning writing and have already seen its benefits in spades. I am currently grading my 8th graders' "This I Believe" essays and am so impressed with how much they have revised from one draft to the next and the risks they are taking with their writing. That all happened as a result of writing with them and giving them feedback before their final drafts.

Today, we started a short writing assignment after I showed my class this inspiring video from graphic novelist Cece Bell:
El Deafo is a beautiful book because it takes something that people would normally consider a disability and turns that idea on its head. Cece took her deafness and made it into a superpower. My
8th graders started this assignment earlier this week with a journal prompt about if they were a superhero, what would their superpower be, and were also asked to give themselves a superhero name. Today we took that seed of a journal topic and expanded on it, watching it grow into something more substantive.

The day I assigned this as a journal topic, all three of my classes didn't seem to be all that into it. They wrote a couple sentences in their notebooks and that was that. But today was a completely different story. The one thing that was missing from the equation was me. I hadn't written anything yet. So once again, I had to shed my armor of professional distance to expose the soft, vulnerable underbelly and share with them my rough draft of my superhero power.

Not only did I see I change in motivation from one day to the next, but I also got some really helpful suggestions for revisions of my own writing. I had students coming up to me excitedly sharing their ideas, and also asking me for suggestions. At one point during my first class period, I stopped to listen to the chatter around me and not one conversation strayed from talk of superheros. At one point a student raised his hand and said, "Mrs. Shaum, I think once we're done, we should all share our superhero names and powers and then write a story where they clash with each other."

Oh the sweet, melodious music of writers. I'm so happy I've finally joined the band.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

It's a marathon, not a sprint

Last Friday was a really rough day at school. The kids were out of sorts and nothing seemed to be going according to plan. I felt like writing a big fat F for Failure on more forehead. The end of last week left me questioning my ability to do this job well. I think all teachers have days and weeks like that.

Today, however, one of my students who has admitted to me that he pretty much despises reading, looked at our bulletin board where we put our favorite book quotes, noticed a quote from Christopher Healy's The Hero's Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, and said to me, "Do you have this book in your library?" When I showed him the book, he immediately checked it out. What I loved about this encounter is despite this student's frequent admission to disliking books, he has not closed his mind to them completely. I see him entertaining the thought that he could love them again and I just pray that I don't mess this up for him.

Suddenly my memories of last week's ineptitude seem just a little bit more distant. I am reminded again why I'm here. Helping a student rediscover a love of reading. There's no better feeling.
Hero's Guide
A quote from a Christopher Healy book on our bulletin board intrigues a reluctant reader

Slice of Life is brought to you by Two Writing Teachers

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Celebrate dreams fulfilled

From the time I was born we had a piano in our house. It was a relic from when my sister took lessons for about a year, but as tends to happen with kids, she lost interest and the Baldwin spinet sat in our living room taking up space.

From the time I was old enough to talk, however, I showed a great desire to learn how to play this fascinating instrument with its white and black "teeth." Which is why, despite the fact that when my family moved from Michigan to Kentucky the year before I started first grade, we moved the piano with us. Otherwise, I'm sure it would have been sold.
First photo evidence of my desire to play the piano

My parents never actively sought out a piano teacher for me. Probably because they were waiting for the right time when they felt I was old and mature enough to begin learning. But as fortune would have it, a new family moved on our street and it just so happened that the mom was a piano teacher. So at nine years old, I finally began learning how to play the piano.

As much as I love the instrument, I have always been especially smitten with shiny black baby grand pianos in particular. The gloss and the curves hypnotize me. They always have. When my husband and I lived in Germany back in 2003, we even visited the Bösendorfer headquarters in Vienna, which are known for being the best pianos in the world. Just as it is the dream of every violinist to play a Stradivarius, so too is it the dream of a pianist to play a Bösendorfer. It was one of the most magical moments in my life when I had the opportunity play a few of those glorious instruments. But the minimum $90,000 price tag means that I will never get to own that particular brand of piano. Still, it was wonderful just to have the opportunity to try out a few.
025 - Beth playing a Bösey

042 - Beth plays a Bösey at the showroom

There was a time, however, in my storied history with the piano that I didn't want to play anymore. In fact, we're still on the back end of that time. I initially went to college thinking I would be a music teacher. I wish that thought had never crossed my mind. During most of my time learning to play the piano I had a wonderful, nurturing teacher who celebrated the individuality of all of her students rather than acted as a taskmaster who made all her students live up to some classical music ideal. Passion for music was more important to her than perfection. But when I arrived at college, my teachers -- one in particular -- represented the latter and squashed all the love and passion for music right out of my heart. I tried to hold onto it, but sitting at the piano was now painful for me rather than joyful.

When my husband and I were first married and living in Germany, he bought me a digital piano in an attempt to get me to try to find my way back again. But at that point, the wounds were still too new and too raw and I rarely played.

As the years have gone by, time has begun to heal my wounds and I recently entertained the thought that I want to fulfill that dream I had when I was little of one day owning a baby grand piano.

Yesterday I put down a deposit on this beauty:

I think I'm going to name her Tori. She's not a Bösendorfer, but she plays just like I want her to and has a lovely sound. I think think this is the start (and also the continuation) of a beautiful friendship.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Celebrating authors as mentors and changes of heart

I have a student who has declared in writing on several occasions that he hates reading. Like books make him want to cry, that's how much he hates it. On Friday in English we were talking about fragments and run-ons and how they're always vilified in grammar textbooks and made out to be this Bad Thing yet professional writers use them all the time. So we examined the first two chapters of Linda Urban's A Crooked Kind of Perfect and had a wonderful discussion about how Urban uses both fragments and run-ons effectively. Students really got what Urban was trying to do, creating rhythmic and musical language, whilst the main character, Zoe Elias, talked about her love of the piano. At the end of the discussion, the aforementioned student who hates books said in front of the whole class, "Do you have this book in your library?"

 *Cue heavenly angel choir*

It's amazing what can happen to students' opinions of reading and writing when we give them authentic texts to read, emulate, and discuss. 

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Celebrate the Unexpected

Wednesday night I was reading through student interest surveys and entering their responses into Evernote. Every year this assignment helps me get to know my students better, but in general, they're not very exciting to read. It's just listing information like their favorite music, books, subjects in school, etc.

On one student's survey however, I came to the question where I ask "What motivates you to do well in school?" Most students respond to this question with the usual "good grades" or "I want to get into a good college" but on this particular student's survey, suddenly I was laughing hysterically. He definitely got my attention.
Funny student survey

These are the moments I love as a teacher - when students surprise and delight me and remind me that we are all different and unique - something you will never see or be able to evaluate on a standardized test.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayers