Friday, January 25, 2013

Happy Endings?

As expected, finishing Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry produced more questions than answers - including a few of my own.  Students responded to two polls on Edmodo.  One asked whether they like the novel's ending, and the other polled them on their satisfaction with it.  Often, these two concepts are at odds with one another.  Sad endings can be very satisfying, while happy ones can feel contrived. While it's pretty easy to determine whether or not we like how a book ends, deciding on whether the author wrote a satisfying conclusion is a little less subjective.  Ultimately, the author has an obligation to resolve the plot as well as its subplots.  The reader should be shown, or have an idea of, the results of that resolution.  In addition, the best endings are those that are a direct result of the characters' actions.  'And then it was all a dream' leaves the reader feeling empty and frustrated.  Likewise, the resolution needs to pull threads from the beginning, middle, and end.  This provides a sense of continuity and encourages the reader to reflect on the longterm progression of the story.  Finally, readers should care about what happens to the characters.  A well-written ending will elicit an emotional response from its readers.

The ending of Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry is not a happy one, and many students were angry with Mildred Taylor.  Not surprisingly, Edmodo poll results showed that only 59% of them liked the ending.  After some often heated debate however, they began to realize that a happy ending would have been incongruent with historical facts.  As to whether or not the ending was satisfying, 67% of respondents believe that it was.  While there were some tough critics, 14 to be exact, most students felt that the novel's resolution was satisfying, if not agreeable.

Peer Editing - Click for photo gallery

Writing circles, in their current iteration, met for the last time this week.  Their focus: the editing conference.  After weeks and weeks of selecting topics, drafting, choosing kernels, revising, and illustrating, authors took the final step of the publication process.  Each student assumed the role of editor twice and assisted authors in 'finalizing' their pieces.  Works will be published next week, new writing circles will be formed, and the process will start all over again.  I am anxious for students to reflect on their writing circle experiences in order to make the next undertaking even better!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Commercials and Golden Sentences

Self-Selected Reading Time - Click to view gallery
Having just read The Book Whisperer by Donalyn Miller, I find myself inspired even more to help instill in my students a love of reading. While teaching writer’s craft and reading skills are an essential part of my curriculum, I cannot let myself forget that those skills are lost on those who choose not to read. While there are a myriad of reasons and hypotheses attempting to explain the decline of adult readers, research has consistently pointed to a solution: reading begets reading. Students who are immersed in a literacy-rich environment, know how to choose books, and spend regular, sustained time reading are more likely to become lifelong readers. The fact is that middle school students’ lives are often booked solid with extra-curriculars, lessons, and family engagements. Many can barely find the time to complete their homework, say nothing about carving out a moment to read for pleasure. Sadly, pushing aside reading for pleasure skips a crucial step in developing a love of books. As I mentioned last week, I am making it my personal mission to allot students a snippet of time to read their books in the midst of their often hectic days. The response has been amazingly positive. Students have thanked me over and over again for this opportunity and, lo and behold, have even begged for more time.

Book Commercials - Click to view gallery
With the increased reading time, the literature students have been promoting the books they are reading through book commercials. Similar to Mrs. E’s Book Talks, the commercials are short, impromptu advertisements for their books. While there is a component of summarizing to these commercials, their focus is to encourage others to try something new. Students ‘sell’ a book by explaining their love for it and persuading others to give it a taste. This weekly activity has generated more volunteers than I can accommodate!

Golden Sentence - Click to view gallery
From their Story Grammar books, composition students used an author’s sentence as the beginning of an opening paragraph to a story. Their goal was to create the first paragraph and no more. Paragraphs had to be a minimum of five sentences long, and each of those sentences needed to include one tool like a phrase, word, or an independent or dependent clause. Once drafted, students shared their opening paragraphs with their peers and participated in revision conferences. Even though students published their complete story openers to Kidblog, we worked specifically on crafting well-written sentences. To that end, each writer chose his or her most powerfully written sentence to be the Golden Sentence. Once the Golden Sentences were buffed and polished, authors shared them in small groups and micro-responded to one another. Finally, students published their Golden Sentences and hung them in our classroom to be a part of a Gallery Walk. As students walked through the gallery, they wrote positive comments on Post-It notes and affixed them underneath the published works. Kids loved the opportunity to incorporate visual thinking along with their writing and they appreciated the responses of their peers.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Six-Word Memoirs

Using the now-famous narrative form, the Six-Word Memoir, composition students boiled down one aspect of their lives into six, short words.  This challenging activity forced writers to be concise and to use extreme care with word choice, one of the Six Traits of writing.  After revision, peer review, and editing, sixth-grade authors considered how their memoirs could be visually enhanced.  Here are the results:

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Clean Slate

One of the things I love about the new year is the twelve untouched months that roll out in front of me.  I know that no matter what last year brought, I've been given a new opportunity and clean slate.  It's like waking up early in the morning right after a fresh snowfall.  Before the snowplow comes down the street.  Before the neighborhood starts to clean its walks.  Before the sun has had a chance to melt the snow on the pine boughs.  And, most importantly, before the kids frolic in the front yard and permanently alter the once flawless blanket.  Everything is new and untouched, breathlessly awaiting the sleds and the shovels, and in that moment, the possibilities are boundless.  Walking into my classroom each day, I am filled with that same sense of limitless potential - it is one of the best parts of my job.  Each day is a new one, fresh and untouched.

I am so excited for this year!  It holds the promise of new learning experiences and teaching techniques, new connections and understandings, and new opportunities for my students to reach their potentials.  Most importantly, we will be reading and writing more than ever.  Yes, we!  I, too, plan to be in the trenches with the kids more than ever.  Additionally, they will be making more choices about the books they want to read and the writing pieces they want to create.  Research validates over and over again the strength of student-choice in the classroom.  To that end,  I have already implemented more self-selected reading time into each of my literature classes, and, in composition, students are close to completing their first round of writing circles.  One thing's for sure, the air in the classroom seems to be more charged lately.  Could that be a result of more student-ownership?  Or, is it that the kids like the clean slate, too?  Maybe it's a little of both.  Here's to 2013!