Sunday, December 27, 2015

Links Worth Talking About 12-27-15

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas, not an angsty Christmas like Chase Holfelder, who made this way emo version of Mariah Carey's "All I Want for Christmas is You" in a minor key.

If you live in Michigan, I encourage you to sign this petition urging Governor Snyder to veto SB 571, which if it becomes law, "librarians would be sent to jail for sharing factual information about elections with their communities."

Everything Kwame Alexander writes, I will read. This School Library Journal article is no exception.

Kelly Gallagher tweeted the link to this article from 2011 and it just reinforces in my mind the need for mentors as we learn to write, whether those mentors are other writers, entire texts, or as simple as sentences on a page. I'm thinking I might make this an article of the week for my 8th graders.
Think You Know "How to Write a Sentence?"

Thanks to The Yarn podcast, I have recently begun dipping my toe into the world of podcasts, of which I had no interest before. So I enjoyed this Nerdy Book Club post from Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker about podcast recommendations to complement favorite books.

Kevin English informed me of this place last summer, but I have yet to visit it. I definitely need to go sometime: the University of Michigan Property Disposition Warehouse. I'm thinking if I ever need furniture for my classroom, this might be a good place to look.

Marquin Parks is a friend of mine from Michigan and fellow Writing Project teacher consultant who did an Ignite session at NCTE last month. I just discovered someone recorded it. It was by far my favorite Ignite session of the entire group.

Speaking of NCTE, who is submitting an NCTE proposal for 2016? The due date is January 13th.

And finally, I grew up in Dearborn. My mother still lives there. The city has the largest percentage of Arab Americans in the country. I have never felt unsafe there despite the rhetoric that is perpetuated by politicians and the media these days.  It's a place I am proud to have called home.
Dearborn, MI: Where the Muslims Are... Americans

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Links Worth Talking About (Return from Hiatus Edition) 12-20-15

Links Worth Talking About is a weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing. This weekly list of links was inspired by my friend and blogger Elisabeth Ellington. I started to join her every Sunday on this endeavor but I took a short hiatus due to how frazzled I have been finishing up my last semester of grad school. I am here to announce that I am done and have earned my master's degree in English Studies from Eastern Michigan University. Huzzah!

 The following links are ones that I have been talking about for the past few weeks:

With all the hateful rhetoric spurred on by certain politicians these days, this story has made me not lose lose all faith in humanity:
Blindfolded Muslim Student Asks Fellow Auburn Students for Hugs

I'm currently reading Ta-Nehisi Coates's Between the World and Me. This Huffington Post list of curated links will certainly be a good supplement:
The Most Important Writing from People of Color of 2015
I loved this Boston Globe profile of Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, authors of one of the most important YA novels of the year, All American Boys

I am so grateful to friends and colleagues who help me examine my own privilege. This blog post from Chris Lehman after NCTE was one of those examination of conscience moments for me. 

Kobe Bryant recently announced his retirement from basketball in the form of a poem. NPR's Bill Littlefield interviewed his former high school English teacher and it just made me so happy. 

If you love children's lit and you need a good laugh today, here is Travis Jonker's 2015 Children's Lit: The Year in Miscellanea post to get you out of your funk.

Show of hands. Anyone else have this problem with fancy notebooks? I know I do. 

Chronicle Books and First Book are pledging to donate a book to a child in need every time someone uses the #GiveBooks hashtag.

What are your favorite unconventional book dedications?
26 of the Greatest Book Dedications You Will Ever Read

Hip Hop music has the largest average vocabulary size
(But, you know, "kids these days" are ruining the English language as we know it)

I am convinced as the world is becoming more and more hateful that we need to teach empathy in schools and exercise it like a muscle. 
Six Ways to Flex Your Empathy Muscle

My friend Cheryl Mizerny wrote a post for Middle Web that references the NCTE presentation I gave with Kevin English, Amy Watkins, Lindsay Grady, and Dave Stuart, Jr.
 How Do We Teach and Have a Healthy Life?

Here are some great tips from Pernille Ripp about how to prepare students for a Skype visit

Given the title of my book blog, A Foodie Bibliophile in Wanderlust, I love this Nerdy Book Club post from Thursday:
Top Ten Books for Foodies

If you weren't in attendance to hear Laurie Halse Anderson give her acceptance speech at NCTE for the Intellectual freedom award, you can read the text on the NCTE blog

"Those of us who create for young readers know that our freedoms to think, speak, and write cannot bear fruit unless America respects the intellectual freedom of educators as well." - Laurie Halse Anderson

And finally, I hope you'll join #nctechat tonight to reflect on your 2015. Preview questions for tonight's chat on the NCTE blog.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

It's time to get uncomfortable, America

"Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace. 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
Where there is sadness, joy. 

O divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek 
To be consoled as to console, 
To be understood as to understand, 
To be loved as to love; 
For it is in giving that we receive; 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned; 
It is in dying to self that we are born to eternal life."  

- Prayer of St. Francis

These pictures were taken back in 2006 when the Catholic school where I taught visited the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, which is home to the largest percentage of Arab Americans in the United States. Almost ten years later and that moment is still vividly imprinted on my soul.

Prior to that visit, I, like so many in this country, had made certain assumptions about the faith of Islam that were purely out of ignorance and fear. But then I had to look my ignorance and fear straight in the eye and force myself to learn and grow. And you know what? It's really difficult to perpetuate that fear when you meet someone, shake their hand, look them in the eye, and see their humanity.

Even in a pluralistic country like the United States, where so many different ethnicities and faith traditions live under one banner, it is very easy for those in the white Christian majority to otherize people. To always refer to "those people" and remain comfortably at a distance.

But we can no longer remain comfortable in our complacency and oblivious bigotry. Because guess what? Our oblivious, quiet bigotry has now entered our public consciousness. And it is SHOUTING AT US.

So today I am celebrating discomfort. I am taking time out of my day to humbly beseech that we as a nation (i.e., those in the majority) stop hiding behind our ignorance and start educating ourselves and recognize that we can no longer afford to talk about a group of people with nothing but hearsay as evidence. As we become more and more of a global society, the notion that we can continue to make (and publicize!) those uneducated assumptions is downright dangerous. It's time to force ourselves out of our own contented bubbles and get uncomfortable, America. The health, vitality, and SAFETY of our nation depend upon it.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Celebrate the need for laughter and human connection

I have been reeling this week from the news out of California (and Paris and Colorado and...). I am having a hard time being productive because I can't stop focusing on the hatred and negativity that seems to be swirling around me, our country, and our world in recent days and months.

So I need to celebrate and focus on the good that is happening in the world and in my classroom. I need to celebrate laughter.

So here's a couple good laughs for you, and especially for me.

Last night while I couldn't stop festering about something that happened earlier in the day, one of my good friends posted this link on Facebook of an interview with Carrie Fisher on Good Morning America and it gave me the good laugh I needed. I have a confession to make, though: I don't even like Star Wars, but I have to say that this was the best celebrity interview EVER.

More laughter came in the form of a wonderful writing conference I had with a student yesterday. Students have been revising their author bios this week that they wrote at the beginning of NaNoWriMo. Many of them, now that they had spent a month donning the identity kit of a writer,  decided to completely overhaul their author bios and start over. I am a proud and beaming teacher right now to see them embrace revision in this way.

I came close to not having writing conferences yesterday because I was feeling particularly negative and questioned if they even make a difference, especially because they are so time consuming. And plus, I always worry if my comments are hurtful rather than helpful to their writing. But I pressed on. And I met with one particular student who completely changed his author bio and in so doing, had deleted one quirky detail that I suggested he put back in. In his first draft, he said that one of his hobbies was "lawn care." I have to admit, for an 8th grader that gave me a good chuckle and I said that I would love to see that incorporated into his final draft somehow. My good chuckle then turned into full on uproarious laughter replete with happy tears when he proceeded to tell me that he loves "lawn care" so much that his most recent birthday present from his parents was a backpack leaf blower. And he was serious. He said his parents haven't had to do any yard work for the past three years.

(But, you know, "kids these days" only care about spending time in front of screens.) <--- It's very hard to perpetuate that negative attitude when you actually force yourself to sit down with each student and talk to them as individuals. 

So had I not taken the time to confer with students yesterday, I would have never heard such an entertaining story that made me see this particular young man in a new light.

And as the world continues to fester in its hatred of those who are "Other," all I can do is hope that the personal connections I make with my own students will make a difference in helping to contribute to creating a more tolerant and accepting world. When it comes right down to it, humans just want to be validated. They want others' words and actions to say, "I see you." I am striving every day to try to make that a reality in my own classroom.  It's not always successful, but I am making a conscious effort.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Friday, November 27, 2015

NCTE/ALAN 2015: Failing to Find the Words

Every year I come back from the NCTE Annual Convention with an inability to properly articulate what a transformative experience it is. This year was no different. So rather than try to find the words, I decided to create a video. To all of my NCTE/ALAN friends, this is for you as much as it is for me. I picked the song very intentionally. There's a line in the song that says, "I try to picture me without you but I can't" and just know that I mean that with my whole heart. I hold firm in my conviction that I wouldn't still be a teacher today if it weren't for my NCTE family.

If you want more from NCTE and ALAN, check out my Storify archives:

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This is 36

Birthdays no longer feel like a big deal to me. I used to love it when people fawned all over me on my birthday but now I just want it go by without much notice or fanfare. A nice dinner and a stroll through my favorite bookstore in Ann Arbor was all I needed tonight to feel content and relaxed. It was a much-needed respite from the stress I've been feeling from school, work, and the upcoming NCTE convention next week. All of these things are good sources of stress, but sometimes even good sources of stress can overwhelm you when they show up all at once. So tonight I put everything aside, enjoyed my dinner, enjoyed the quality time with my husband, and I especially enjoyed walking into my favorite bookstore where the owner knows me by name and I can strike up conversations with random strangers about the books on display. Celebrations don't always have to shout. Sometimes instead they speak in low, languid tones. I've decided that's how I like my birthdays.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Celebrate Student Writers and Generous Authors

This has been a difficult past few days for me. With deadlines looming and NCTE convention fast approaching, I'm starting to feel like I can't get it all done. My to-do list feels like a fast moving Twitter feed that I can't keep up with. Truth be told, I really shouldn't be writing this blog post. I should be tackling my miles-long to-do list instead.

Students writing -- on their lunch period!
But there has been a shining beacon in my overwhelmed state of being right now and I feel like I need to celebrate that: my students. The entire 8th grade is participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Their fear and trepidation was palpable when I told them in October about the writing project we would be immersing ourselves in for the month of November. I mean, a WHOLE NOVEL? In 30 days? How is that even possible?

But now as I help guide them through the process and show them that writing a novel doesn't have to be as intimidating as it first appears, they are embracing their new identities as writers. Nothing was further proof of that than watching students voluntarily coming and giving of their lunch periods to write their novels. On Thursday I had 16 students come work on their novels. On Friday I had 25. I only have 27 computers. If this keeps up I'm going to have to start turning students away. That is a good dilemma to have.

In addition to motivated students, I also have wonderfully generous authors who have given and will be giving of their time to help my students with the writing process during NaNoWriMo. My friend Marquin Parks, author of the Wrinkles Wallace series (Knights of Night School and Fighters of Foreclosure), sent along some words of wisdom for my students via video message:

Not only did I have an author send a video message, but Gae Polisner, author of The Pull of Gravity and The Summer of Letting Go, Skyped with all three of my classes yesterday and offered her writerly words of wisdom along with a quick writing exercise.

Skyping with Gae Polisner
One of the best things about the day was that even though I didn't tell my students they had to take notes on Gae's advice, most of them were totally taking notes. And when Gae asked my first hour class if anyone had any questions, one of my more vocal students said, "Can we write our novels now?" I couldn't help but grin.

My favorite nuggets of wisdom Gae gave my students yesterday were as follows:
  • Don't care about sucking. First drafts aren't supposed to be good. Writers call first drafts vomit drafts because they just need to get it out.
  • Sucking at writing is hard to do because you're probably so used to writing for a grade that it's hard to write freely, so it's great that you have this opportunity to write and not worry about if it's organized, outlined, well-worded, or even makes any sense. That's what revision is for. 
  • She shared her writing process with my students and told them that even though it was contrary to what they probably learn in school and somewhat contrary to the advice Marquin gave my students, she doesn't like to outline. It stifles her creativity and so she showed them a productive way that she gets out all the things she wants to put in her book without outlining.It actually excites me when writers share contrary bits of advice to students because it proves to them that there is no one writing process. Everyone's process is unique to them.
  • The thing that drives your story even more than plot is being able to answer these two questions: 1) What does my character want? 2) What's getting in their way?

And with that, dear students, go forth and write!

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Celebrate This Week: Provoking Dialogue and Debate

I've been reeling since I heard (and saw) the news of the student in South Carolina who was thrown from her desk and the classroom by a student resource officer. I've tried to stay on the DL about my feelings regarding race on Facebook, at least with regard to initiating conversations in my own space. I've remained comfortably silent because I didn't want to get into the social media equivalent of a screaming match with friends and family who hold differing viewpoints than mine and might suddenly find myself with contentious feelings both from and about me.

But that's a coward's way of thinking.

And my One Little Word this year is Brave.

So I need to be brave and have these hard conversations and pose difficult questions, otherwise I'm not being a positive agent for change. My blog's title IS Use Your Outside Voice, after all. I'm a hypocrite if I don't speak up for my own beliefs.

So I posted something provocative on Facebook about what happened at Spring Valley High in South Carolina and sure enough, it raised some ire. But it was also done in a mostly respectful and productive way despite the differing and sometimes heated viewpoints.

In the end though, we need to welcome that kind of dialogue and debate. If our social media spaces are just echo chambers of our own views and we unfriend everyone who disagrees with us, then that is going to be a rude awakening for you when you leave the comfort of your electronic devices and have to interact with real people in the real world who believe and behave differently than you.

I want us to talk ABOUT these things. We can't do that if we're talking AT each other or we're afraid to speak up because we fear confrontation so we just unfriend people who don't agree with our way of thinking. So as long as it stays respectful, I'm going to keep talking about tough topics and posing hard questions. And we can all stay friends... even when we disagree sometimes.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

When words fail me, I seek the words of others

On October 26, 2015, an officer assaulted a defiant yet peaceful student at Spring Valley High School in Columbia, South Carolina. The shocking encounter was captured on video and immediately spread across social media. When I watched the video last night, I felt physically ill. I cried. How can anyone justify treating a child like that, defiant or not? But as I struggle to find my words, luckily, someone else managed to find them for me. In this series of 6 tweets, high school teacher and friend, Mitch Nobis, gets to the heart of a whole lot of systemic violence and hatred towards African Americans. THIS, this moment right here is why everyone needs to stop countering #BlackLivesMatter with #AllLivesMatter. Because actions speak louder than words, my friends. And right now (or EVER for that matter) The System isn't behaving in a way that can make those words true.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

All the things I want to say....

I have fallen off the blogging habit recently. I have been focused on finishing my last semester of grad school, dealing with anxiety issues, and frantically wrapping up the first quarter of the school year.

I have so much to write and no time to do it.

So here are all the things I want to say right now but don't have the time:

President Obama's admission about standardized testing this week feels like both a victory and a slap in the face. I worry with only one year left of his presidency, we're just going to have to go through the same rigmarole when a new president comes into office.

Yesterday was an amazing day of learning at #EdCampEMWP. I can't wait to do it again next year! Check out the Facebook photo album.

This coming week I'll be getting my students primed for National Novel Writing Month. All of my 8th graders will be doing this in class. Last year was the first time I did NaNoWriMo with my entire class. I fully expected it to be a complete disaster. What I discovered was that my students yearned to come to class to write every day.

A year ago today my shiny black baby grand piano was delivered. I haven't played it in weeks. I've been so busy. I think I need to take some time today and go sit down and tickle her keys.

I have so much more to write, but I must attend to other things...

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Why I Write

October 20th is National Day on Writing. This year the theme is Why I Write. I spent some time contemplating that very thing. Here are just some of the many reasons why I write:

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Links Worth Talking About 10-11-15

Links Worth Talking About is my weekly post of curated links about education, books, and apropos of nothing.

Don't forget: if you live in or near southeastern Michigan, you should totally come to EdCamp EMWP at Eastern Michigan University on October 24th.

In this NCTE Google Hangout on Air, Kim Parker talks about the importance of teacher research and why you should apply for an NCTE teacher research grant.

As someone who is an English teacher because I feared math in school (still do), this article resonated with me:
Does our approach to teaching math fail even the smartest kids? 

A powerful slam poetry performance:
On Standardized Testing by Olivia Fantini

As a fierce proponent of young adult literature, this article is a must-read for teachers who cast aspersions on this important literature:
A Letter to Teachers: Stop telling teens that you don’t like them!

Ann Arbor is my favorite city in Michigan, and Literati Bookstore is my favorite bookstore therein. Actually, it's probably my favorite bookstore in the whole wide world.
Literati and the Revival of  Ann Arbor Book Culture

A local newspaper did a profile on my friend Kevin English about his ILA 30 Under 30 Award. I was quoted in said article. :)  

And, of course, apropos of nothing:
 My husband and I have two pugs. If we ever get another pug, we shall name him Biggie Smalls, the Notorious P.U.G. 

Not only do I love that Jim Harbaugh returned to college football to coach Michigan because he seems to have turned the program around, but the dude is crazy entertaining to watch.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Links Worth Talking About 10-4-15

Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington's weekly Links I Loved Last Week posts, I've decided to curate my own set of notable links from the past week.

If you live in or near southeastern Michigan, you need to come to #EdCampEMWP on Saturday October 24th. It's going to be a fantastic day of learning, plus there's going to be giveaways and SWAG. Speaking of which, this is what greeted me on my front porch when I came home from work on Friday:
A delivery of TWELVE boxes of ARCs and SWAG from Scholastic! We also have SWAG and giveaways from Candlewick Press, Simon & Schuster, and a few professional texts from NCTE.

Speaking of NCTE, to close out Banned Books Week, I wrote a post on the NCTE blog:
On Banned Books and Beyond: Say YA to Reading

And on this Banned Books Week, Laurie Halse Anderson was awarded the NCTE Intellectual Freedom Award. I can't wait to congratulate her in person at #ncte15 in November.

Dav Pilkey shares a great video for Banned Books Week and why we need to change the language of censorship.

And Jacqueline Woodson is eloquent as always in this Washington Post article: It's Banned Books Week. Can We Stop Yelling at Each Other about It?

"Are you really protecting your child, or are you keeping your child from the tools they’ll need to deal with these issues?”

My friend Kaitlin just started a PhD program at Wayne State this fall and she came to my classroom on Friday to hang out and to share a book and a writing prompt with my students. She read the book Magic Trash about Tyree Guyton, founder of the Heidelberg Project, and then shared about a tour she took through Detroit last week to experience its street art.

I love this Washington Post article about private schools allowing staff to bring dogs into the classroom. It reminded me of an interview I did a while ago with my friend Danielle Kulawiak who brings her dog Tonka, a certified therapy dog, to her high school classroom.

This week hasn't only been full of good news and warm and fuzzy stories. We also had tragedy. Tragedy that I believe could be prevented. I'm tired of hearing these stories of mass shootings at schools. It's time to start doing something about it. The first thing I'm going to do is start better educating myself about the topic of gun safety and gun control, starting with the Brady Campaign, which was brought to my attention when someone shared it on Facebook this week when a friend asked for reliable sources about the topic of gun control. And this opinion piece from the Sydney Morning Herald eloquently explains why Australia is not like the U.S. to counter what President Obama said in his press conference this week. And while we're on this topic, here are a few more articles to read:
Mental Illness is the Wrong Scapegoat after Mass Shootings
Rehearsing for death: a pre-K teacher on the trouble with lockdown drills

Other blog posts I wrote this week:
One of my all-time favorite Twitter encounters
Confidence is a roller coaster
Celebrate the need for change

And apropos of nothing:
This "movie trailer" for Saving Daylight had me laughing until I was crying.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Celebrate the Need for Change.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

It's funny how when I get an idea in my mind, I become monomaniacal about it.

One of my favorite books is Natalie Lloyd's middle grade novel, A Snicker of Magic. I love the quirky town of Midnight Gulch and I love the main character Felicty Pickle's desire for a place to finally call home despite her mama's wandering heart.

I always thought I was more like Felicity than her mama. While I do have a sense of wanderlust, I also want a consistent place to call home. Lately I've been feeling more like mama than Felicity.

For the past ten years, my husband and I have lived contentedly in Canton, Michigan. I have been happy here. We have plenty of space, we live in a condo so we don't have to mow the lawn, shovel snow, or do yard work.

But lately I've been feeling the pull to leave this place. I've just outgrown it, metaphorically speaking.

I'm tired of the sprawl of the suburbs.
I'm tired of subdivisions and homeowner's associations.
I'm tired of sharing walls with neighbors.

I want to live in a tree-lined neighborhood.
I want to be able to go places without having to get in my car.
I want to live in a town where culture and activity are always around the corner or down the road.

I've been hinting at these thoughts to my husband for the past few months. This week, he finally acknowledged this desire of mine and said he'd be willing to entertain the idea of moving. We've decided that with winter coming though it's probably not the best of ideas to move right now. So we will begin looking for a new home in earnest in the spring. We plan to move to my
Hoping to get the chance to hang out on this corner in Ann Arbor more often
favorite town in Michigan, Ann Arbor, which has just about everything I want in a town: a downtown with loads of restaurants and cool shops, cultural events, mindful residents, it's walkable, and has those tree-lined neighborhoods I'm seeking. The only thing it doesn't have is a warm climate year-round, but we can't have it all, friends. :)

As I write this, I'm listening to the doors closing and walls banging of new neighbors moving in to the condo next door. This incessant reminder that the walls of this home are not completely ours is beginning to take its toll. As I said, once I get an idea in my head, it begins to fester. I'm ready for a change of scenery.

And so the process of change begins.


Thursday, October 1, 2015

Confidence is a roller coaster

Today was one of those days as a teacher that you dream about.

Where you don't feel like a fraud. Where you don't wonder why responsible people have entrusted you with the lives of these innocent children. Where everything just clicks. And suddenly you feel like, "Yeah... I got this."

It took almost ten years to get there, but I'm finally here.

That is, until a student fails to turn in that writing assignment on Monday that's already two weeks late.
Or I botch a lesson on Monday
Or a parent castigates me next month for not challenging their child enough. 

Because, truth be told, "I got this" is fleeting when you're a teacher.

And so right now, I'm just going to relish in this moment, because I'm sure to screw something up tomorrow.

Just keepin' it real.

One of my all-time favorite Twitter encounters

If you're a teacher and you're not on Twitter, here's a good reason why you should be. Because you'd miss out on nuggets of wisdom and humor like this:

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Links worth talking about 9-27-15

Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington's weekly Links I Loved Last Week posts, I've decided to curate my own set of notable links from the past week.

If you missed last weekend's #nctechat on censorship and young adult literature, you can read the Storify archive. I also curated my own set of Tweets for the chat that I found the most valuable.

Brian Wyzlic shared the letter he sends home to parents about his classroom library and why he won't censor books. This letter is especially poignant because, like me, he works at a Catholic school.

Teri Lesesne gets fired up about an EdWeek article that criticizes the merit of young adult literature.

On the NCTE blog, Cindy Minnich makes the case for why face to face learning at conferences still matters in this new world of social media armchair conference attendence. 

Pernille Ripp writes about public shaming in the classroom and also about the toll nonstop learning takes on students during the school day. 

From School Libary Journal: Teachers Find Many Reasons to Use Picture Books with Middle School and High School Students.

And speaking of picture books, here is a lovely interview with Kevin Henkes about his wonderful new picture book, Waiting.

Phil Bildner talks about how he used mentor texts to write his new book, A Whole New Ballgame.

Betsy Bird shares her Newbery and Caldecott predictions.

And of course, apropos of nothing:

Could the president and first lady BE any more adorable?

Stephen Colbert nails Cesar Flickerman in The Hungry for Power Games.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Links Worth Talking About 9-20-15

Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington's weekly Links I Loved Last Week posts, I've decided to curate my own set of notable links from the past week.

First off, I hope everyone reading this joins tonight's awesome #nctechat on Twitter at 8 PM ET: Say YA to Reading. A preview of tonight's chat is on the NCTE blog.

Yesterday The Educator Collaborative hosted a virtual conference called #TheEdCollabGathering and all of the sessions that were on Google Hangouts were archived. One of my favorite moments from yesterday's sessions was Kristine Mraz's closing keynote with when she says:

"If the rules of your classroom were the rules of the world, would you want to live there? "

The longlists for the National Book Award came out this week and the list for Young People's Literature is fabulous.  I'm rooting for X: A Novel because we need more diverse books like that in our canon of young people's literature. Even though it's historical fiction, it is still so very rooted in our present.

As a former classical pianist, I love this story: A Duo Raised on Hip-Hop and Classical Has It Both Ways

Language is glorious chaos

And, apropos of nothing...
Author/illustrator Jarrett Krosoczka appeared on Matthew Winner's Let's Get Busy podcast, but as you will quickly see, his snoring pug Frankie upstages him. I laughed so hard I cried.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Links Worth Talking About 9-13-15

Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington's weekly Links I Loved Last Week posts, I've decided to curate my own set of notable links from the past week.

Last week I celebrated my students' willingness to put in the hard work.

And on the NCTE blog I wrote a post about how my PLN pushes me to be a better teacher

Speaking of NCTE, If you're a teacher who has always wanted to attend the their Annual Convention but knew you'd never be able to get funding, this year NCTE is helping you make a case to your administrator as to why you should be able to go.

Continuing with more awesome NCTE info, they have a pretty epic #nctechat scheduled for next Sunday in honor of the upcoming Banned Books Week, which revolves around YA Lit this year.

Speaking of Banned Books Week, guess what, Tennessee mom? I'd never even heard of this book before and now I want to read it. #SeeWhatYouDidThere
Tennessee Mom Calls Henrietta Lacks Book 'Pornographic,' Seeks to Have It Banned in School

YA author Jason Reynolds gave this amazing virtual keynote for School Library Journal where he said that the reason he writes books is "to acknowledge the lives of those who seem to have been unacknowledged.”

After watching this video, I DEFINITELY want to read A Fine Dessert and make blackberry fool with my students. 

Michigan principal Ben Gilpin shared some amazing classroom cribs in his own building. Leaders like Ben Gilpin and Sue Haney are certainly making a name for themselves and showing that the small town of Parma, Michigan is an enviable place to work.

But while teachers in Parma, Michigan might have pretty swag classroom cribs, teachers in Silicon Valley can't even find a decent crib because even modest homes are going for millions of dollars.

Kevin English writes about what he learned teaching summer school this year (that can totally apply to regular school).

And speaking of Kevin English, he shared this video on Twitter last week with a great suggestion to pair it with the book What Do You Do with an Idea? by Kobi Yamada, illustrated by Mae Besom

Pernille Ripp bravely asks students why/when they feel disengaged.

I love debating grammar "rules" with pedantic grammarians. It's my favorite.

And here's a good blog post to also give pedantic grammarians:
Error in Student Writing: A Balanced Developmental Approach

This Washington Post article about the right and wrong way to get kids to sit still in class is everything. Bottom line: kids need time to play, not just sit on bouncy balls.

Another win for introverts:
I Argued That Class Participation Was Necessary. Then I Heard From Introverts. by Jessica Lahey

It's safe to say Stephen Colbert has started off his tenure on the Late Show making quite the impression, especially this heartfelt interview with vice-president Joe Biden.

And it wouldn't be a Links Worth Talking About post if I didn't have some "Apropos of Nothing" links to share too:

If you're not following Hipster Barbie on Instagram, remedy that right now. She's way more authentic than you.

Because I like to be on fleek with the young people lingo, I had to look up just what the heck #SquadGoals means.

This light art installation project is cool. I hope they're able to make it happen. It would be yet another reason to love Chicago.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Celebrating students willing to put in the hard work

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

This week I hastily gave my students some reading to do to go along with a writing assignment, not realizing just how challenging the text was.

You know how I found out?

I read it (after I assigned it).

Go figure.

See, I gave them the text of JK Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement address because we have been talking and writing a lot about failure and why it's good for you. I remember some students at my old school did a portion of the speech as part of their forensics declamation performance and being so impressed with the speech's message. Ever since that moment, it has always been a part of my classroom mantra.

But it had been a while since I had watched the speech in its entirety and I foolishly asked my 8th graders to read it for homework without having gone back and reread it for myself. After all, if 6th graders were doing a portion of this speech as a forensics performance, surely 8th graders could handle reading it on their own.

None of my 8th graders actually complained about how hard the speech was to read. I just happened to point it out in class the next day and they affirmed my hunch. The thing is, I get the sense that they didn't mind how hard it was. They have seen that I have been modeling a reading and writing life for them, and as such, I wouldn't assign them anything that I don't see value in. Because they knew that I thought the message of that speech was worthwhile for their writing and for their lives in general,  they were willing to try without complaint. As a result, I have been reading some really thoughtful responses in their writer's notebooks. I'm looking at the printouts of the close readings they did and they have pulled out some really meaningful quotes to apply in their own writing.

So today I am celebrating my students' grit and determination to try hard things. Their acceptance and willingness to fail. Their inherent ability to know that the only way out is through and experience the rewards on the other side. 8th graders, you are awesome.

For every adult that has a lament over "kids these days,"  I have just as much, if not more, praise to dish out. To modify the well-known quote from R.S. Grey, "I believe they can, and they do."

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Links worth talking about 9-6-15

Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington's weekly Links I Loved Last Week posts, I've decided to curate my own set of notable links from the past week. Last week was my inaugural post so I'm hoping, like Elisabeth, to make this a weekly event.

Another weekly event I participate in is Ruth Ayres' Celebration Saturday. Yesterday I celebrated the music of my heart -- and even got brave and sang for my blog post.

On my other blog, I reviewed three books:

A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen
This is finally the Berlin Wall novel I've been waiting for since I first visited the city back in 2004 and fell in love with its vibrant, youthful energy.

The Truth Commission by Susan Juby

Beastly Babies by Ellen Jackson, illustrated by Brendan Wenzel

On the NCTE blog, LuAnn McNabb encourages teachers to invite stakeholders into their classrooms because, as she writes:

Remember, stakeholders are just another group of students, and there’s no better way to engage students than by getting them to actively participate.

Linda Darling-Hammond, the renowned professor at Stanford who in my opinion should have been our Secretary of Education these past 7+ years, is launching an education think tank "aimed at shaping education policies nationwide." I'm excited to see where this leads.

This Chronicle Books blog post talks about the many benefits of coloring. Given my recent realization that I am struggling with anxiety, I think it's time to start pulling out the crayons and colored pencils again like I loved to do when I was a child.

Sarah Larson writes a New Yorker piece about Why You Hate Google's New Logo. Not only do I agree with her, but I also think the writing is stellar and worth sharing with students.

Thanks to Colby Sharp and Travis Jonker's new kid lit podcast The Yarn, I have begun to explore other podcasts, because sometimes I just don't feel like committing to an entire audiobook, but I can handle a 15-20 minute podcast episode. A couple of my favorites right now: Stories from the Teaching Life with Penny Kittle and Magic Lessons with Elizabeth Gilbert. What are some of your favorite podcasts?

Speaking of Travis Jonker, how can you not want to watch an Ignite Talk he gave at the 2015 Michigan Reading Association conference entitled "Be the Flava Flav of Books"? Though I was really hoping he'd wear sunglasses and a clock necklace when he gave his talk.

My friend Sarah Andersen wrote about helping high school teachers in her district and neighboring districts spread book love in their schools and classrooms.

And congratulations to my friend Kevin English who made the International Literacy Association's 30 Under 30 List. So well-deserved! 

I love Pernille Ripp's and Kristi Mraz's reasons for discouraging teachers the use of public behavior charts in their classrooms -- and also Kimberly Moran's empowering way she took the behavior chart that she was required to use and turned it over to her students.

Back in 2013, Ta-Nehisi Coates gave some wonderful advice about writing and the stamina needed for it. I think I'll be showing this video to my students in the near future.

Two Vlogbrothers videos I loved this week: John Green talks about how everyone's been misinterpreting the famous Robert Frost poem "The Road Not Taken" all these years and Hank Green talks about society's unproductive addiction to outrage.

This adorable baby who cries every time a book ends proves to us all that the struggle is real. 

Banned Books Week is coming up soon. On the NCTE blog Millie Davis talks about intellectual freedom. I particularly love the video at the end of the post.

Pope Francis continues to prove to me time after time that he is the Pope the Catholic church needs right now, choosing not to maintain the status quo, but to minister humbly and simply, just as Jesus would.

Here's another on point op-ed from Leonard Pitts, Jr. this week where he says:
In deciding between its children and its guns, America had decided the loss of the former was... "bearable."

A single Tweet is all it took for me to follow Christian author Rachel Held Evans.

Apropos of nothing related to this blog other than the fact that it includes a place in my beloved Ann Arbor, and it's a restaurant I love, here is USA Today's 10 Best: Awesome Burgers Across America.

Also apropos of nothing other than my husband and I are big Michigan football fans and have season tickets for the first time this year (and I love Charles Woodson):

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Celebrating the muisc of my heart - one imperfectly attempted song at a time

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

It's been almost a year since I made the decision to buy a new, shiny black baby grand piano. Just like the kind I've always wanted since I was a little girl.

I'd like to say I play it all the time and that I've gone back to the dedication and ability I had when I was younger and took piano lessons from age nine until twenty-two.

But here's the honest truth: Even though I play more than I used to, it's nowhere near as much as I thought I would.

I was hoping I'd revive some of the old classical pieces I used to play with such verve and enthusiasm that my hands would just remember how to play them. Pieces like Rachmaninoff's Prelude in C-Sharp Minor, Beethoven's Sonata Pathetique, Chopin's Waltz in C-Sharp Minor, Mozart's Fantasy in D Minor.

But that didn't happen. I just don't have the time or the stamina anymore.

What I do have, however, is the love of music. The desire to still grace my fingers across those keys, no matter how awkward and clunky it might be. The pleasure to play has come back where it wasn't before. But I have resigned myself to the fact that I will likely never really perfect a difficult piece of  classical music ever again. Very rarely do I have the stamina or attention span to attempt an entire piece from start to finish. I dip in and out of songs, playing a phrase here, a section there. When my hands don't feel like playing a particular piece, I move on to something else. When my hands tell me that they love the way a particular song feels as they move along the keys, I oblige. And while it's never close to perfect or even always pretty, my heart has finally come back to the piano. One imperfectly attempted song at a time. Just like this one (my hands are particularly a fan of playing this song):

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Links Worth Talking About 8-30-15

Inspired by Elisabeth Ellington's weekly Links I Loved Last Week posts, I've decided to curate my own set of notable links from the past week. I'm hoping, like Elisabeth, to also make this a weekly event.

On the NCTE blog, LuAnn McNabb talks about the ways legislators around the country have been trying to stifle teacher voice. If this doesn't get teachers to start speaking up, then I don't know what will. We've remained silent for far too long out of fear for our jobs. Our perceived submissiveness has resulted in our profession being taken away from us. It's time to start taking it back.

On the second week of school, I assigned my students their first article of the week. Since we're still working on building our classroom community of learners in addition to discussing the ways we can be brave by reading the book Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo and watching the music video Brave by Sara Bareilles, I decided this blog post by Jennifer Gonzalez called The Breathtaking, Life-Altering Power of Being a Dork would be the perfect first article of the week for my 8th graders. I'm looking forward to discussing it with them tomorrow.

Speaking of my 8th graders, yesterday I celebrated a tall pile of their writers' notebooks on my kitchen table. And on Tuesday I celebrated a pulchritudinous day.

And while we're talking about building classroom community, I have to say I absolutely love the ways Brian Wyzlic is encouraging community building with his 9th graders on the first week of school.

Ever since I read the book Quiet by Susan Cain, I have felt so relieved to know that there is nothing wrong with being introverted and I should stop trying to force extroversion on myself. So I love coming across posts like this one: 10 Myths About Introverts because every single one of them applies to me. For those of us who are teachers, I think it's important to understand why forcing extroverted tasks on your introverted students is forcing them to be someone they're not. The better question in our minds should be, how can we create an authentic classroom community that welcomes and values both the extroverted and introverted students.

I'm very excited about the new calendar integration of Google Classroom and some of the other new features. If you're a teacher and haven't used Google Classroom yet,  start talking to the necessary people you need to in order to make your school a Google Apps for Education school. It's totally free so there should be no reason why it can't happen. Google Classroom completely streamlines the grading process and saves you so much time. As someone who is organizationally challenged, I can attest to what an incredible Godsend it was to me last year.

On Friday I read the picture book Rules of Summer to my 8th graders. I admitted that I don't really understand what the book's about. So we had some really great discussions about the book and what we think might be happening in the story. But then Elisabeth Ellington pointed out to me in a Tweet that even Shaun Tan doesn't really know what's going on in the story and then I felt better about myself. :) 

Mind numbing district faculty meeting + Les Mis + flash mob = pure awesome.

John and Hank Green do Question Tuesday: Goat Edition and these two brothers never cease to make me laugh.

In which I rant about celebrities writing children's books.

Josh Funk, author of Lady Pancake & Sir French Toast, writes a great blog post about how to buy picture books without actually buying picture books (and I promise there's no shoplifting involved).

And speaking of picture books, here's a fantastic Huffington Post article of 50 more great 2015 picture books.

And finally, Leonard Pitts, Jr. wrote an absolutely beautiful piece about Jimmy Carter and what REAL faith should look like in America. 

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Celebrate a Pile of Notebooks

This is my Saturday morning. Reading writers' notebooks and doing laundry. I much prefer reading the notebooks over laundry.
Reading student notebooks over tea and toast while laundry taunts me from the right

Despite this looming pile, I really do love reading my students' notebooks. It helps me get to know them better and also see those treasured nuggets of wisdom that are often revealed when they embrace the mantra that "writing is thinking."

So I'm going to cut today's celebration post short. I have lots of notebooks to read and writers to nurture.

Celebrate This Week was established by Ruth Ayres

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A Pulchritudinous Day

Today was a great day.

  • We are reading The Crossover as a class and relishing in its playful language. I may or may not be overusing the word swag to describe it. ;)
  • We listened to Filthy McNasty during sacred writing time.
  • We learned what the word pulchritudinous means. Now let's see it catch on.
  • A student told me, "Mrs. Shaum, your laugh is priceless." I hope that I have created a classroom where joyful laughter occurs frequently. 
  • I scored some great books at my library's used bookstore today. 
  • When I got home, there was some unexpected book mail from HarperCollins on my doorstep.
  • I am perpetually tired when I get home from work but my students never cease to make me smile.

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