Valentine Recap

Valentine’s Day has come and gone. It was a very festive time in our house. But in the midst of the busy schedule and endless to-do list we made time to appreciate the people in our lives that mean the most to us.

Here’s a look at 3 events that we participated in last week.

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1. Random Acts of Kindness Week Ornament Drop

At the elementary school my daughter attends they focused on doing acts of random kindness. This was promoted with spirit-dress week and the end-of-week project.

For this project the students created an ornament with a positive message to be delivered to someone of their choice. They were to take a picture with their ornament and let their teacher know who they chose and why that person was selected. My daughter’s teacher challenged the kids to choose someone they don’t know very well.

Instantly, our daughter thought of our next door neighbor. She’s a single, middle-aged woman who tends to keep to herself. Whenever we have the rare opportunity to see her we wave and smile. Aside from doing yard work or shoveling snow at the same time we haven’t had many opportunities to interact with her.

Following our daughter’s lead, our whole family went next door and delivered the ornament. The neighbor was so grateful and let our daughter know that it made her lonely Valentine’s Day so much better to receive that gift.

 

2. Classroom Party

Weeks ago my daughter and I scoured Pinterest for the perfect Valentine’s Day box. Then, using my Cricut and a few supplies from Michaels we put together a pretty cute unicorn-themed box. With her craft skills she used blank heart-shaped notecards, stamps, and stickers to create homemade valentines cards for every member of her class.

I had the opportunity to attend her class party on Friday afternoon. My job was to bring healthy snacks for the class. Oh Joy! helped me out with a blog post about a healthy snack craft. My daughter and I used Thursday night to prepare our cupid-stricken oranges. These were a big hit in the classroom.

 

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3. Speed Dating in the Library

This last event I can take absolutely no credit for having put together. The librarian at my school put lots of planning and energy into the idea, but I have to share because it was so awesome.

On Valentine’s Day my classes reserved the library to pick out new independent reading books. Instead of turning them loose to select books on their own our librarian organized a speed dating session. Students were exposed to an array of books and got to know the one’s that caught their eye.

After the process was done they were to check out the book that they connected with the most. Many of them also took pictures with their books in a photo-booth themed heart. I snagged some of my teacher friends to jump in with me for my photo.

I’d love to see some of your Valentine’s Day crafts and boxes. Comment a picture or description below.

The Ameri Brit Mom

The New Columbus Library

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It’s been a long time coming, but the wait is finally over!

Over a year ago the Columbus Metropolitan Library Main Branch shut its doors to begin the remodeling process. Already it was the most beautiful library I had ever visited and I couldn’t imagine what type of work would go into this new construction to make it even better. It took over a year between the time the doors were locked and the reopen on June 25. Sadly, we were in England for the grand reopening, but earlier this week we were able to make the twenty minute trip to investigate all of the improvements for ourselves.

The good news is that it is still the same awesome library we said good-bye to last summer. The even better news is that it is now easier to navigate than before.

There are three floors:

Floor #1– Returns, Customer Service, Children’s Books, Gift Shop, Coffee Shop, indoor/outdoor seating

Floor #2– Audio books, Adult Fiction, Teen Fiction, Reading Room over looking a scenic park

Floor #3– Non-Fiction, Reference Materials, Meeting Rooms

All three floors are clean, spacious, and open. The grand atrium is breathtaking. And most of the place is lit completely by natural sunlight. Here is a look at some snapshots we took during our family trip to the Columbus Metropolitan Library Main Branch.

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The Ameri Brit Mom

 

Motivating Readers and Myself

Yesterday, I took part in a very motivating Professional Development session at the public school where I work. It was a collaborative meeting that focused on the transition from 8th grade Language Arts to the freshman level, which I teach. I was particularly motivated and recharged during our discussion about teaching reading.

It’s true that I haven’t been reading as much as I should. Life gets busy and the state mandated tests have kept my classroom time from being as devoted to reading as it should be. I left my meeting with some really awesome and practical strategies for implementing a reading environment in the classroom and reaching the relunctant or emerging readers. A lot of our conversation was based on ideas from Donalyn Miller’s book, The Book Whisperer, which is now #1 on my summer MUST READ list. Below are some ideas I took away from our group discussions. (I am not taking credit for these ideas. Most of them were from 8th grade teachers and librarians in my district).

We began our meeting with a short reading from Donalyn Miller’s blog. The article, What the Kardashians Taught Me About Reading Instruction (No, For Real), highlights the importance of marketing reading in the classroom. Christopher Lehman, the author of the article, does a great job giving reasons for and examples of motivating readers toward a genuine love for reading. Please take a look at the link for this article, but to simplify, the points I took away from the reading let me provide you some bullet points:

  • Brand yourself as a reader by making reading look as glamorous, branded, and fashionable as Kim Kardashian.
  • Realize that any press is good press: Any type of book conversation is a good thing whether you are talking about a book you love or how hard you’ve found it to read lately.
  • Post your reading life anywhere you can! (I personally have a few classroom ideas for letting the students know what I’m currently reading. A Kardashian pun-involved poster: Keeping Up with Mrs. Sisley)
  • Treat your classroom library as a consumer machine. Promote it. Update it. Draw in the readers! (Rotate your stock often)
  • Be sure your reading instruction models reality. (Worksheets don’t make us better readers!)
  • Every effort you make to live as a reader, design spaces that inspire reading, and support real reading time, will in turn make each one of your students a star.

From that discussion we segued into ways to promote a culture of reading in our classrooms. Not only am I planning to next year be more vocal about the books I am currently reading, but I plan to model reading in class more often. Already, I set aside fifteen minutes at the beginning of class every Friday for independent reading. I also make it a point to read myself during that time (although it can be very tempting to use this time for grading and responding to emails). Next year, I would love to take it a step further and move into discussions about the books we are reading and include myself in those discussions. Additionally, some of the other teachers have set up Twitter feeds and hashtags where students can respond as a community to their independent reading books. At first, I was a little apprehensive to incorporate social media into my classroom, but I’m learning to embrace the inevitable fact that social media is not going away and teaching positive ways to engage in the online tools is becoming more and more a part of the teacher’s responsibility. I’m hoping to either set up a Twitter page over the summer or some other social media hub for communicating about books. (I should probably get a personal Twitter first 🙂 )

Another really neat idea I gathered for promoting reading in the classroom is a personal experience of mine. Recently, I posted a book review for The Orphan Train here on my blog. I sent a copy of my review to the author, Christina Baker Kline, and she responded to me! I shared this with my students and they thought it was one of the coolest things all year. I pulled up the email I received onto my Smartboard and they were blown away. Next year, I would love to implement an assignment where my students either send a review to the author of the book they just read or write some questions to the author.

Now that I’m super motivated to finish the two books I am currently reading I have decided to also create a summer MUST READ list. The following are five books I plan to read by the time I travel to England in late June. All photos and overviews are from Barnes and Noble.

#1- The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller

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Donalyn Miller says she has yet to meet a child she couldn’t turn into a reader. No matter how far behind Miller’s students might be when they reach her 6th grade classroom, they end up reading an average of 40 to 50 books a year. Miller’s unconventional approach dispenses with drills and worksheets that make reading a chore. Instead, she helps students navigate the world of literature and gives them time to read books they pick out themselves…

#2- The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

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Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

#3- Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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In Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl, Cath is a Simon Snow fan. Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan, but for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.

#4- All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

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Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.

Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister’s recent death.

When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it’s unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the “natural wonders” of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It’s only with Violet that Finch can be himself—a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who’s not such a freak after all. And it’s only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet’s world grows, Finch’s begins to shrink.

#5- I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

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Jude and her twin brother, Noah, are incredibly close. At thirteen, isolated Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude cliff-dives and wears red-red lipstick and does the talking for both of them. But three years later, Jude and Noah are barely speaking. Something has happened to wreck the twins in different and dramatic ways . . . until Jude meets a cocky, broken, beautiful boy, as well as someone else—an even more unpredictable new force in her life. The early years are Noah’s story to tell. The later years are Jude’s. What the twins don’t realize is that they each have only half the story, and if they could just find their way back to one another, they’d have a chance to remake their world.

What are you Reading!?! 

Love Me Some Young Adult Fiction

If you were to ask me to describe my idea of a perfect day my description would in some way involve a trip to a bookstore with a follow-up reading session in a nearby coffee house. My husband and I both possess the gift to linger amongst books in bookstores or libraries for hours at a time. I could spend a bit of that time wandering the aisles which hold the books on religion, home improvement, and healthy living. However, if I could only make one stop during my visit I would have no problem camping out within the rows of Young Adult Fiction.

I have a natural affection for Young Adult literature. I love the creativity that is brought to the plot development of YA fiction. Many of the best authors in this genre write to convey a message relevant in today’s culture. In order to appeal to this generation of readers YA authors usually mask those lessons in creative settings, circumstances, and societies. One of my favorite sub-genres is the dystopian novel. These novels allow the readers to see the roots of corruption and inspire leadership in those who venture to read these books.

My near obsession with YA fiction is key to my passion for English education. One of my aims as a teacher is to develop a love for this genre within my students that mirrors my own. I attempt to accomplish this feat by creating regular assignments that push my students to delve into literature. So many of my ninth graders enter my class without having ever read a book that truly captured their interest. This is a sad fact. Each quarter my students spend a day in the school library where the librarian gives book talks using technology to introduce students to novels. She features books that she has recently read and I usually add my own discussions about books I have read recently as well. The students are expected to pick a novel to read by the end of the quarter.

On a weekly basis I plan for in-class reading time. I intentionally turn off all distractions in the classroom and we spend about fifteen minutes at the beginning of class with our noses in our books. Generally students must follow-up that reading time with writing responses related to their reading or discussing with their classmates about their book.

My goal in creating a classroom that regularly institutes reading is to help students foster a love for reading. I was a child who loved reading from the moment I learned to sound out my first word. I seemed to always have a list of To-Reads. However, when I reached my high school years I began to replace my reading wish list with required classical reads that were assigned by my teachers without choice.There is nothing wrong with reading classics occassionally, but unless that is your cup of tea it can become daunting on the once avid YA fiction reader. It was during these years that my love for reading was stifled. I vowed that once I became a teacher I would make reading for leisure a priority in my classroom and allow my students the freedom to choose reading materials based on their own interests and personalities. Yes, I have certain texts to cover in my class as part of the state curriculum, but I continue to invest valuable classroom time into novel reading with a particular emphasis on YA fiction.

Over the years I have seen reluctant readers become fans of particular authors or genres. There have been students who have shared with me about enjoying their first book ever during my course. I’m always looking for new novels and reading on my own time so that I may help match students with books that may pique a new reading interest. I have built up my own classroom library by visiting library book sales and I buy a couple of books per year for my collection. I spend time at the beginning of each year making my classroom library visually appealing and a focal point in my classroom. This year I decided to sort books according to their genres so that students could more readily access books in the genre that most interests them. Here is a look at my classroom book shelf:

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This week my students presented their third quarter reading projects. Their assignment included five different options. They were to create a tangible presentation of their book that would last 3-5 minutes. These were their options:

1. Create a work of art (painting, poster, sculpture, etc…) and explain how it relates to your novel.

2. Write a song, rap, or poem to perform in front of the class that illustrates some of the significant events in your novel.

3. Construct a 3D scene from your novel and explain the relevance of your scene to the novel.

4. Produce a short video re-enacting an important scene from the novel.

5. Bring in a bag filled with 8 objects that relate to your book. During your presentation show and explain how each object relates to your novel.

Overall, I was pleased with the results of the project. So many of the students found extra time during the snow days this quarter to delve into their novels and had informative feedback to share with their classmates. (I may have added some of their novels to my own To-Read list after those most enticing presentations) I am a proud teacher and I am most pleased with the fact the students are taking ownership in their own reading. So…I am going to stop writing about reading and actually pick up a new book. The next book on my list!?!…

I am going to leave you with some of the art projects that my students created for their presentations this week. Happy Reading!

IMG_0370 The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

IMG_0371 The Underdogs by Mike Lupica

IMG_0372 The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

IMG_0373 Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley

What’s on your To-Read list?